LEED building standard criticized even from within


The LEED green building standard is the most widely known green construction standard in the country. And Washington State is the seventh most prolific state for the LEED standard, with 10.5 million square feet of buildings certified last year.

But the U.S. Green Building Council and its LEED standard have a lot of problems, especially when it comes to wood.

In recent years, LEED has come under increasing pressure (which we last about here) for its failure to allow any other wood-certification programs besides the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). This is especially galling because the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) standard is the largest wood certification program in the world.

To understand the ubiquity of SFI’s independent, rigorous standard, just look to this week’s presidential inauguration. The stage on which President Obama took the oath of office was built with SFI wood by California’s Sierra Pacific Industries, the second-largest timber producer of lumber in the U.S.

According to SFI President Kathy Abusow:

All of us who value wood and lumber can take pride that the 10,000-square-foot presidential platform was built entirely of wood. We know that wood, when sourced responsibly, is second to none as a building material: a sustainable, natural, and renewable resource that has been used for ceremonies like this since the first days of the American republic.

The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research, which has criticized FSC in the past, recently issued a new report calling out FSC for its varying standards.

And finally, one of LEED’s biggest supporters wrote a story entitled, “As Important As It Is, LEED Can Be So Embarrassing.” Kaid Benfield, a director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said LEED is often undemanding, is beholden to revenue from the very applicants it seeks to review and can be “more about earning points than achieving actual environmental performance.”

I worked in a building that, when applying for a LEED-gold certification, simply turned off its water fountains, presumably in a strategy to grab another water efficiency credit point.  The result was that the building probably did use less water, but at the cost of reducing workers’ access to drinking water.

LEED also gives a point for installing an outdoor bike rack, which few seasoned cyclists in urban situations would risk using, but not for actually giving employees bikes or heavy-duty locks, which might be more effective in encouraging cycling.  LEED even gives a credit point for itself; an applicant who employs a LEED “accredited professional” will score higher than one that does not, even if the applicant’s building is identical to one whose sponsor lacks accreditation.

With friends like these, not to mention its critics from across the spectrum, LEED is not in good shape.