An article in the New Republic has kicked up a storm, calling the LEED-Platinum-rated Bank of America Tower in Manhattan "toxic." The article makes some good points about how developers have pulled the wool over the eyes of tenants and the public by (falsely) marketing LEED-rated buildings as energy misers.
A LEED rating does not equate with energy consumption or holistic energy efficiency. It never has and it likely never will. For a thoughtful article on BOA Tower's energy use, check out Nadav Malin's piece in Green Source, updated last September, called "On Target: Bank of America Tower's High Energy Use Aligns Closely with Design Predictions.
There is one statement in the New Republic article that I think is wrong: "The nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) unveiled LEED in 1998 as a way to measure a building’s environmental footprint."
From my understanding, LEED was all about market transformation, not environmental footprint measurement. It focused attention on sustainability, both in design and construction, but it is aspirational not measurable. It is not about building operations, though there may be some movement in that direction.
LEED is a point-based rating system. For example, a building gets credit if there are low-flush toilets. It doesn't forecast or track how many times the occupants flush those toilets. A building gets points for energy-efficient equipment. It doesn't track how the equipment is run or for how many hours in a day.
LEED points do not control plug loads. There is no way to track how many occupants plug in space heaters or computers or minifridges. It also doesn't track if the computers are left on all night or if the lights are left on.
The issue of predicted energy performance and actual performance is a hot one. ENR has written about how energy modeling does not align with energy consumption in "Big Usage Gaps Exist Between Building Energy Models and Performance. There are efforts to make the gap smaller, especially on the part of cities that are starting to require building owners to reduce energy consumption.
The U.S. Green Building Council set out to focus attention on green buildings some 20 years ago. They have succeeded on a global scale--likely beyond their wildest dreams. The whole idea was to introduce a voluntary rating system that would become popular because of free-market forces.
It is too bad that LEED is so misunderstood. In that sense, if the New Republic opens the eyes of the deceived-by-some-developers public and clarifies some general misunderstandings about LEED, then the article is serving a valuable purpose.