What LEED is All About

When is a LEED building a LEED building and when is it not (and how do you know)? seems to be the basic gist of the on-going controversy in the Northland Pines High School case. Chris Cheatham has produced an excellent series of posts on the brouhaha, the last of which is on GreenerBuildings.com this week.

The logical next question is "What do you do with a LEED project that for whatever reason is 'not'?"

First of all, what is LEED? LEED is not a regulation or a law; it's not a stone tablet sent down from the heavens. It was intended to provide guidance for and verification of a project's green attributes. It set up a gradated series of requirements, both technical and procedural, intended to guide people toward making better buildings. Not perfect buildings, greener buildings.

When we were building the system we were very cognizant that our knowledge and the tools available would be improving over time and that our expectations should match. We considered an "It's LEED or it's not" type of approach, but realized it is simpleminded to expect binary answers to multidimensional questions, particularly when the current knowledge base was so limited.

Or, as Aristotle put it, "It is the mark of an instructed mind to rest assured with that degree of precision that the nature of the subject admits, and not to seek exactness when only an approximation of the truth is possible." I'm sure the $76 million in Recovery Act funds recently allocated to projects ranging from net-zero energy buildings to improving analytical tools will help us improve our degree of precision regarding green buildings.

It seems to me that in this imperfect world we ought to give a project a chance to re-comply before seeking "punishment." And what should this "punishment" be? LEED-EBOM certification within a defined timeframe. Whatever the LEED-EBOM certification level -- better, worse, or none -- would be the "answer".

At the end of the day, does Nature care whether the Basis of Design was completed before the bid documents? No, Nature does not care. But it's easier to get a better building if you follow the process requirements of LEED to the letter.

Do I think there are circumstances when LEED certified buildings should be decertified? Absolutely. If a LEED building doesn't recertify under LEED-EBOM after 5 years, I think the certification should be pulled. There are good reasons not to do this, but I think the good reasons to do it are better. There are no right answers to questions such this, only opinions.

And speaking of opinions, if the Northland Pines folks were smart, they'd put the whole thing to rest by recertifying the building to EBOM.

As far as the credibility of USGBC and GBCI goes, EVERY time someone points out a legitimate problem, the organizations and their smart and dedicated volunteers get to work and fix it.

Sometimes the USGBC's solution doesn't satisfy everyone. Tough. Get over it, or try to do it better and see what happens. To date, the road is littered with failed attempts to do it better, so I recommend a bit of humility when approaching the task. And, while they may not be the solution to all of humankind's ills, USGBC and GBCI are not the enemy; the sin is not in making mistakes, it's in not fixing them. I'll give Shari Shapiro's mother the last word on this: "There has to be something between everything and nothing."

In our ongoing pursuit of building perfection, this week there are several new items and initiatives helping us move toward green nirvana. Still bleary and delirious from Wednesday''s U.S. victory in World Cup soccer (it ended at midnight here in Beijing), I'll start with green progress in college sports as reported in a new survey by ProGreenSports. More than 60 percent of the top NCAA sports programs responded to the survey and of those, just over half report green as a high priority, with an increasing number adopting strategic greening plans and programs.

Help is on the way from the Environmental Protection Administration for state capitals looking to green their communities. EPA will provide comprehensive technical assistance in support of the Greening America's Capitals program, which is a partnership with HUD and DOT. The program should nicely complement the new LEED for Neighborhood Developments rating system, as well as the U.S. Conference of Mayors' various resolutions in support of making member cities greener.

Cathay Bank started construction on a 400 KW photovoltaic array at its El Monte, Calif., corporate headquarters. The PV system is expected to provide about 1/3 of the site's energy needs, but its impact is likely to be even larger, given the reduction in the urban heat island effect that will result from shading most of the company's outdoor parking lot.

Elsewhere on the solar front, Marc Gunther reports on an interesting new partnership between California's Pacific Gas & Electric Corporation and SunRun, an innovative financer of solar electric projects that could ultimately lead to a lot more projects such as Cathay Bank.

The FTC's new lighting facts label is definitely a step in the right direction in giving customers better information about lighting products. In terms of efficiency, I'm not sure why they didn't include a "miles per gallon" type of rating such as lumens/watt and I'm also wondering how most consumers will interpret the brightness attribute absent a familiar context.

This week's Look-Grandpa-I-picked-up-the-$20-bill-you-said-was-fake-but-it's-real! award goes to Starwood Hotels and Resorts for partnering with Conservation International to develop ambitious targets for energy and water savings -- 30 percent and 20 percent, respectively, by 2030 -- as well as adopting sustainable meetings guidelines.

Rob Watson
is the executive editor of GreenerBuildings.com. You can reach him at rob.watson@greenerworldmedia.com and folllow him on Twitter @Kilrwat.