LEED is the Worst, Part I: The (now) Obvious
October 18, 2010 § 7 Comments
Change a few words and the Prime Minister’s commentary on democracy could easily be applied to LEED. The USGBC’s system is barely ten years old, yet it has been has been remarkably successful in transforming the public’s view of architecture and the market for architectural goods.
But if you are familiar with the system or have tried to get a building certified you know it has some major problems, some more obvious than others:
It’s clumsy, brutish, long, and expensive.
Of course that may describe the architectural process itself, but nonetheless LEED creates an additional layer. It is in essence a scheme of regulatory compliance in which owners volunteer to participate, and one that appears at times tailored to obscure. Almost by definition, regulations impose, they don’t facilitate. LEED is not designed to be a good tool for making the goal-seeking process of architecture more efficient or effective. Although certification is dangled in front of us as a reward, the process of dealing with LEED itself is more stick than carrot.
The Reference Guide is over 500 pages long and costs $160. How many have us have read it cover-to-cover let alone the included reading list? LEED documentation is complex and circuitous. I was privileged to work on what was arguably the first green building in Chicago, the LEED Platinum Chicago Green Tech. It’s LEED documentation was an eight-foot bookshelf of four-inch black binders that got boxed and shipped to USGBC. Things have improved, but the USGBC’s newest streamlining effort — the new LEED Online, is awkward and sluggish at best. The old one is almost unusable. Official LEED reviewers are often uneven, inconsistent, unreachable, and inexperienced, a result no doubt of the incredibly rapid growth the the USGBC and the newly formed Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI). And there seems to be a new fee every time you turn around. If you want to work in all the many LEED systems — there are seven now: NC, EB, CI, CS, ND, Schools, Retail, and Healthcare, each with their own $160 guide — you are encouraged to achieve accreditation in each of them … for an additional fee.
When the developer of a LEED Gold Core & Shell project I’m working on wanted to bump up his pre-certification to Platinum, USGBC wanted an extra $2,000 to review the two additional credits required. $1,000 per credit? Let’s get real.
There are signs that USGBC/GCBI is considering reform, but without a clear direction we can expect these joint organizations to continue along their present trajectory – focusing on self-propagation at the expense of all of the participants.
What do you think?
note: this post is the first of a multi-part critique of LEED. Look for future posts in the coming weeks.
Check out Part II
Kevin Pierce, AIA, LEED AP, CEM
Kevin is Managing Director of Shaw Sustainable Design Solutions of Illinois, LLC, — an integrated firm providing comprehensive sustainable design services. He is involved in projects nation-wide in energy efficiency, green infrastructure, clean energy, and green building. Kevin is Chairman of the Resource Center, a Chicago-based nonprofit focused on urban agriculture and extreme recycling, adjunct associate professor at a the Illinois Institute of Technology, and a board member of American Institute of Architects, Illinois.
1. The Official Report, House of Commons (5th Series), 11 November 1947, vol. 444, cc. 206–07. (via WikiQuote)