For much of 2011, my focus has been the Destiny USA project.  This should not come as a surprise to readers who waded through my thirteen posts on the topic.  I had planned to not write about the Destiny USA project again.  But then I came across a press release while I was at Greenbuild: 

Destiny USA in Syracuse Aims to be America’s Largest LEED® Gold Certified Commercial Retail Project; More than 100 Tenant Retail Spaces to Also be Certified

As you may recall, the Destiny USA project received over $200 million in tax-free financing through the federal government’s Green Bonds program.  In exchange for the financing, the developer of the project promised, among other things, to get LEED certification and rely on massive amounts of renewable energy. The IRS is now investigating the project because it appears the renewable energy systems were never installed.

I think it’s safe to say the Green Bonds program was a failure.  But there is another policy issue that bothered me that I have not previously touched on. 

Did the US Green Building Council act appropriately in assisting the Destiny USA project? 

As I was reading the Destiny USA press release, one passage caught my eye: 

"This project is important to me and to USGBC," said Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO & Founding Chair, U.S. Green Building Council.  "Not only is it in my backyard but it will also be a showcase in the community for what can be done with green building and LEED.  The visitors who walk through the Destiny USA doors every day will learn about the importance of green building and be able to see today’s latest green building strategies in action."

For those looking for an argument that LEED should never be used in regulations or law, I present to you Exhibit A: 

  • The Destiny USA project has to get LEED certification as a condition of a federal law.
  • The USGBC is a non-profit entity responsible for the LEED rating system.
  • The USGBC CEO states the project is important to him and his company because it is located in his hometown of Syracuse, New York.

If a federal official displayed this type of favoritism for a project, he would be removed.  Litigation would certainly ensue challenging the procurement process.

If LEED is going to be used in law, whether it be through incentives or mandates, then the USGBC and its CEO should not get to play favorites with projects.

Of course, this is not what is happening.  And this type of conflict of interest and favoritism could undermine the credibility of the LEED rating system and of the green building movement.