Is LEED still relevant?

I was thumbing through an old copy of the New York Times Magazine recently and came across a short item about the U.S. Green Building Council‘s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification process (better known as LEED certification). LEED has become the standard bearer for green design, making it pretty easy for developers to brand their projects as environmentally friendly by following a checklist of requirements.

The LEED scoring system still has some wrinkles to iron out. While it usually costs developers more money to jump through all the hoops that are necessary to obtain LEED certification, there’s little evidence that a LEED-certified building will actually be more environmentally sustainable than one that hasn’t sought certification.

Here’s what the NYT had to say about LEED:

Developers end up having to bring in a small army of consultants and reviewers to approve every step… At the same time, if you’ve got the cash, LEED is an easy system to game. As critics like to point out, a $395 bike rack and a multimillion-dollar low-energy A.C. system both get one point. Nor does the point system consider regional particularities; two critics wrote in a 2004 paper that “water conservation is more of a priority in hot, dry climates, yet the U.S.G.B.C. awards the same number of credits for water conservation in Seattle as in Phoenix.”

Some other criticisms in the NYT piece are that the LEED process doesn’t take into consideration the life cycle of buildings and the maintenance they will require down the road, and that the system puts forth “proscriptive requirements” that discourage innovation.

The U.S. Green Building Council is responding to criticism, and they’re set to modify standards in January. According to a press release, “points will be allocated differently and reweighed, and the entire process will be flexible to adapt to changing technology, account for regional differences and encourage innovation.”

What’s the benefit of having a single governing entity like the U.S. Green Building Council? Is LEED certification even important anymore?

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