© 2004 Carolyn L. Bates
Wind NRG Partners� LEED building in Hinesburg, Vermont, has three active solar photovoltaic systems in addition to several passive solar systems.

Veteran “green” architect Russell Perry has long imagined a greater potential for the environmental performance of buildings than he thinks is possible with the increasingly popular LEED green-building rating system. “It pains me when I hear of project teams [that] settle on a LEED  rating level and then cease the pursuit of initiatives that would give them points unneeded for that level,” says Perry.

“Limiting the search for environmentally intelligent solutions was never the intent of LEED,” adds Perry, , vice president, Smith Group, Washington, D.C., and an early shaper of LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

In barely seven years, the rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council has given green building a prominent place at the table. But Perry and many others in the sustainable construction food-chain envision an even better LEED. “We are prepared for a much deeper discussion of the metrics necessary to truly understand and quantify the environmental consequences of our activities as an industry,” he says.

Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.
Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.
Toyota�s Torrance, Calif., LEED building beats state energy code requirements by 60%.

A big gripe of building team members is that LEED is too prescriptive and should be more performance-based. They also complain that it offers a one-size-fits-all approach and that certification is given for good intentions, not good performance. Many think that the documentation required for certification draws attention away from good design, while others sound off about the high cost and long duration of certification, which can take two to six months, depending on project complexity.

“The program’s design targets and goals are antiquated, and the LEED certification process is too onerous,” says Sarah Tholen, marketing communications manager for Johns Manville Commercial Building Products, Denver.

More specifically, users say there is no weighting system for LEED credits counted toward certification, and there should be. Others would like to see credit given for proximity to mass transit. There are even those who want greater penalties for adding to sprawl.

Almost all are concerned that LEED is too single-building focused, though that may change when LEED for Neighborhood Development is released in several years. “Infrastructure and commu-nities must be ‘revisioned’ to support sustainable development,” says Don Horn, director of sustainable design, Public Buildings Service, U.S. General Services Administration, Seattle.

Sources say LEED and sustainability are often used interchangeably, when they are not at all synonymous. “LEED is the most popular measure of sustainability, but not the, or even a, definition of sustainability,” says Dirk M. Kestner, staff engineer with the Waltham, Mass., office of Simpson Gumpertz & Heger and chair of the Structural Engineering Institute’s sustainability committee.

Kestner wants LEED to create more opportunities for innovation and design credits. He would also like to see reduced credits for common construction practices and hopes LEED will address regional sustainability issues. “Water conservation, while important in all areas, is a bigger issue in some regions than others,” he says.

Bill Wallace of the Steamboat Springs, Colo.-based Wallace Futures Group LLC, though aware of its impact, says LEED is just “accessorizing for sustainability.” He maintains it has the unintended consequence of “replacing project-level greenwashing with global greenwashing.”

For greater sustainability, Wallace looks toward the project sustainability management guidelines from the International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC). The guidelines, available at www1.fidic.org, offer “a framework and a process for setting sustainability goals and objectives that enable designers and engineers to design projects that truly and verifiably contribute to sustainability,” he maintains.

"If LEED were widely implemented, it would not go far enough to save energy."

— Rodney Taylor, managing director, AON Environmental Services Group, New York City

Rodney Taylor, managing director for Aon Environmental Services Group, New York City, is also a bit sour on LEED. “If LEED were widely implemented, it would not go far enough to save energy or provide adequate, cost-effective shelter to the world’s population,” he says. “At best, it could provide better structures of the type we are already using today.”

Despite its limitations, a LEED building has clear advantages to owners and employers, sources agree. These range from discounted insurance rates and public utility commission rebates to increased worker productivity and reduced absenteeism, says Ted van der Linden, director of sustainable construction in the San Francisco office of DPR Construction Inc. In some places, LEED projects get permits faster and with density bonuses. LEED buildings not only conserve energy, they often cost less to run and maintain and can command higher rents and increase value.

Greg Reitz, former green building adviser for the city of Santa Monica, Calif., and principal of REthink Development, says LEED’s discrete point system has the unintended consequence of rewarding discrete techniques and technologies. “LEED will need to evolve to evaluate overall building performance on a more granular level that measures human health, comfort and well-being and the environmental and cultural impacts of buildings,” he says. “This amounts to an integration of a sophisticated life-cycle assessment, energy models and human health, comfort and well-being metrics that can be quantified to yield an overall performance rating.”

Phil Dordai, a principal of Hillier Architecture, Princeton, N.J., foresees a more integrated metric that would provide the overall carbon footprint of any project, both for initial construction and  maintenance and operations.

LEED may have its drawbacks, but even Smith’s Perry recognizes its impact. “Colleagues from around the world now look to the U.S. as having a discussion about a much richer agenda, one that values quality of habitat, soil, water, air, workplace” and more.