I told you that I would be thinking about green building on my recent vacation.  As luck would have it, one of the most important green building stories in the last year came out while I was away.  

It seems that the mainstream media publishes one article every year critiquing the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Leadership in Energy and Environmental (LEED) rating system.   On September 22, NPR published an article titled "Critics Say LEED Program Doesn’t Fulfill Promises," and included critiques from the preeminent LEED critic, Henry Gifford.

"LEED certification has never depended on actual energy use, and it’s not going to," he says. "You can use as much energy as you want and report it and keep your plaque."

Gifford says LEED should have teeth. If the building doesn’t perform as predicted, yank the certification.

In response, the USGBC brought out the big gun, CEO Rick Fedrizzi.  And Fedrizzi did not hold back, proclaiming that LEED decertification is all but certain in future rating systems:

Last year, the USGBC unveiled LEED version three…  Owners of all new LEED buildings must now tell the USGBC how their buildings are performing for at least five years as part of the "existing buildings program."

Fedrizzi predicts that data will be used to enforce performance in the future.

"Once a LEED plaque is assigned to a building, and there is proof that the building is no longer performing the way that it should, there’s a very good chance that that information will then result in the ability for USGBC to remove the certification from the building — most likely on our website," he says.

Not by removing the plaque. Fedrizzi is walking a tightrope between persuading builders to go green and alienating customers who don’t want the performance of their multimillion-dollar projects scrutinized by the public.

We know that there are buildings obtaining LEED certification that are not performing as anticipated.  In fact, one study found that 25 percent (pdf) of LEED buildings don’t perform as anticipated.  When the USGBC implements its decertification process — which should occur in the 2012 rating system — there will be plenty of potential victims for decertification.  And when a building is stripped of its LEED certification, LEEDigation is likely to follow, at least in some instances, because certification is so valuable to owners and developers. 

What do you think? 

Photo credit: Wade Roush