Can the Green Building Council Polish LEED’s Tarnished Standards?

By Alec Applebaum of Fast Company


When Charlotte, North Carolina christened its Imaginon children’s center and library in 2005, it highlighted the building’s energy efficiency; it had applied for a LEED silver rating, which it earned officially in 2006. The center was wildly successful when it opened, drawing 150,000 more visitors than expected. But when a reporter for the Charlotte Observer investigated Imaginon’s energy use, he discovered that instead of consuming a third less fuel, as expected, Imaginon was using twice as much as predicted.

It turns out that Imaginon’s theaters were used seven hours a day instead of the expected two hours, and offices were used on weekends. That energy draw was left out of the model behind the building’s LEED certification–and like most LEED buildings today, Imaginon was under no obligation to track its energy usage after receiving that initial certification.

LEED, or “leadership in energy and environmental design,” is a point-based rating system written voluntarily by building professionals and administered by the nonprofit United States Green Building Council. It began in 1993 and now applies four ratings–certified, silver, gold or platinum–to over 4.5 billion square feet of built space. The council has an annual budget of $80 million, and offers LEED certifications to homes, existing buildings, commercial interiors and, most ambitiously, ground-up new neighborhoods in 91 countries. The organization has gained so much market force that local governments from New England to New Mexico are now writing laws that require new public buildings to earn high LEED scores. Read more.