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Is LEED Certification the Perfect Greenwash?

Is LEED Certification the Perfect Greenwash?

"Even though (builders) may still have a full parking lot, they had to think about how they sized that parking lot, which is something they didn't have to think about in the past."
-Scott Horst, LEED

December 31, 2007 —

If you follow green architecture and design or have ever read a corporate social responsibility report, you've no doubt heard of LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED certification is handed out by the U.S. Green Building Council, a 15 year-old nonprofit founded to inspire some of America's larger builders to strive for environmentally friendly structures — especially in the area of energy efficiency.

The LEED program has been wildly popular of late, with companies up and down the Fortune 500 boasting about their new LEED certified corporate headquarters, and many American cities mandating certification for all public construction projects.

But while there are certainly benefits to a LEED-inspired boom in green building, architecture writer Daniel Brook is less than smitten with the program. Brook writes that many within architectural circles have seen flaws in the program for years, and that the point system used to score a design's sustainability is out of whack. For instance:

  • Installing a $400 bike rack scores a builder just as many points as a $1.3 million environmentally sensitive heating system.
  • A casino in Philadelphia received points for being located within a quarter-mile of a subway stop, even though the project includes a 3,200-car garage.

But the biggest problem with LEED probably isn't the array of correctable flaws in its point system. Allowing builders to opt into environmental responsibility — and to take credit for living up to a set of standards similar to those that every new European building must meet — takes the public focus off of improving the baseline standards for all new construction projects.

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