published Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

It isn't easy — or cheap — being green: LEED standards are expensive, ineffective

Energy efficiency is a laudable goal. When that efficiency comes in the form of constructing more environmentally sustainable energy efficient buildings, it seems like a win for everyone. Unfortunately, the reality of green building efforts in the United States is much different than that hunky-dory image.

The federal government, along with dozens of states and hundreds of municipalities, has created a taxpayer-funded monopoly for a private environmental organization that oversees a green building certification program. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a flawed standard that lines the pockets of a private organization with tax dollars, has fallen short of delivering the energy efficiency it promises, and rewards select players in the building and construction industries.

LEED is managed and overseen by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), which is not a government entity, despite what many think. The USGBC is a private — so-called "nonprofit" — environmental organization led by Rick Fedrizzi, the group's founder and president. Fedrizzi earns a yearly salary in excess of $500,000 according to publicly available records. The group boasts 13,000 members, most of whom are architects, builders or building suppliers. Many of these members specialize in — and profit from — some of the products and construction designs that USGBC mandates in order for a new building to achieve one of its levels of LEED certification, according to the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

A building achieves LEED certification by earning credits that are spelled out by the USGBC. The credits, however, too often have little or nothing to do with energy efficiency. USA Today recently published a revealing three-part series that examined LEED. In those articles, it was noted that buildings could get a credit simply for having a LEED expert on its design team and that some schools received credits for teaching about green buildings in the classroom.

The Palazzo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas achieved LEED certification partly by installing bike racks in its garage, placing cards in rooms that tell guests when their towels are replaced and by establishing preferred parking for fuel-efficient vehicles. By gaining LEED certification, the owners of the hotel received at $27 million tax break.

The USGBC has quietly established a monopoly on green building construction with the federal and local governments. The General Services Administration, commonly referred to as the "landlord" for federal government buildings, mandates adherence to LEED standards for all new federal buildings. It's no wonder that the highest concentration of LEED certified buildings is in Washington, D.C. Many states, and some of the nation's largest cities, have followed the practice of the federal government. Not only have governments mandated adherence to LEED for the construction of public buildings, many localities have enacted laws that gives tax breaks — like the $27 million windfall for the Palazzo — for private construction of LEED certified buildings.

The USGBC has been able to make LEED certification a requirement across the country for public and private construction projects alike. And the organization is handsomely rewarded. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance found that the USGBC collects up to $35,000 for each new building it certifies.

These fees and the USGBC's monopoly might be less objectionable if so many questions didn't surround LEED's record of saving energy or reducing costs. The New York Times estimated that LEED certification adds as much as 20 percent to constructions costs. Meanwhile, a study of 11 LEED certified buildings belonging to the Navy showed that four of them used more energy than non-LEED counterparts and three of them left green footprints almost identical to buildings that do not have such certification.

The evidence is clear: With its high costs and ineffectiveness at reducing energy consumption, the LEED program costs taxpayers money, harms the economy and is plagued with a trail of questions about its effectiveness.

One dubious environmental organization should not dictate green building policy throughout the country — especially without oversight, and when alternative green building standards exist. American taxpayers and voters deserve to know why our elected officials have farmed out important energy and environmental policy to a private environmental organization. At the very least, there needs to be a competitive, market-driven process among the various green certification standards available if our government is going to rely upon outside groups to assess the greenness and energy efficiency of our nation's buildings.

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nucanuck said...

Drew seems to want MORE government involvement in energy efficient construction.

The real question is do we favor designing buildings with higher standards for energy use and sustainability...or not? LEEDS may not be perfect, but it is certainly a step in the right directon for most of us, Drew excluded.

April 3, 2013 at 1:54 a.m.
gjuster said...

I favor building your structure any way you want without Leeds or Government interference - (following the applicable codes for safety of course). If I want to build energy efficient, that is up to the marketplace and myself. Leeds is a boondoggle, unnecessary, and costs taxpayers millions of dollars. It's another big corporation rip off - living off the taxpayers back through the federal government

April 3, 2013 at 7:18 a.m.
librul said...

Gjuster:

Go stick your "markets" where the Dow don't shine.

If crap were worth a dollar a pound you would be demanding government subsidies for plumbing conglomerates, poop conservation laws in every city and stiff fines for leaky sewer lines to prevent the waste of such a valuable resource; There would be brisk trading in "poop futures" and you would be lobbying Corker, Alexander and Fleischman to create a cabinet level "poop czar" to oversee a plethora of laws to regulate the inter-state movement of poop.

On the up side, maybe the national goal, long forgotten, of making all the nation's streams "fishable and swimable" could then become a reality.

April 3, 2013 at 8:09 a.m.
nucanuck said...

Because of the LEEDS standards and earlier experiments such as the Saskatchewan House, there is now an ever growing body of information available to guide us toward better building practices that make us more comfortable and lower our operating costs while reducing carbon emissions. Finding fault with a process that builds a knowledge base for all seems beyond small minded.

Because of the amazing green building information now available in the public realm, my family was able to take a 106 year old uninsulated house and transform it into a model of energy efficiency. The house is now ready for the next 100 years, no matter how expensive energy becomes. The comfort level inside the house has gone from drafty to amazing.

Thank you LEEDS and everyone who has worked to bring construction standards in line with today's needs. As to poor Drew, what can I say?

April 3, 2013 at 11:22 a.m.
gjuster said...

Librul - Did you actually read what i wrote - and you are accusing me of wanting to have the government give big business money? I am against all the subsidies - to business and agriculture - it is economic fascism.

April 3, 2013 at 11:51 a.m.
librul said...

Yes, I read it. The whole idea of government being "bad" or "interfering" because it sets standards in law or encourages and funds initiatives to bring about changes which would benefit society at large is without basis. Individuals left to do "whatever they want" and to simply follow the dictates of a profit-driven "market" will never go the extra mile to do the sort of things LEED seeks to encourage.

We live in the "sunbelt" yet the long-term benefits of solar technology are not widely promoted. They have a solar array on their roof but TVA is always there to say "use all the power you want, we'll make more and we'll be glad to build more nukes to supply it".

We are decades behind in the use of alternative technologies because corporate lobbyists and the "markets" they serve paralyze government from taking actions that would make technology affordable for rugged individualists to freely utilize for their own benefit. Those attacking LEED are fronting for old "markets" which oppose it because it would force changes in the status quo making sacrifices necessary by "markets" dependent on mature technology. Such initiatives by the government will, if left to mature, create new ways of doing things that will eventually be embraced as "status quo" in the future to everyone's benefit. I say thanks to visionary movements and GO LEED!

I doubt if hybrid autos pushing toward 60 mpg would have come about without a regulatory mandate toward higher fuel effiiency standards.

April 3, 2013 at 12:35 p.m.
Leaf said...

Drew is awfully young to be such a crotchety old fogey. What nucanuck said.

April 3, 2013 at 2:35 p.m.
timbo said...

It's got to be wrong when nuckanuk and librul are for it. If this is sound policy, this will evolve naturally on it's own merits. If it were such a good idea, there would be private funding instead of government subsidies. Subsidies are a sure sign that it will fail and was not a good idea in the first place. The marketplace will set the standards. Government is good at very little. Especially bad at green energy. If you guys want to waste your money, go for it, just don't waste mine.

Would you guys just name me one government program that you don't like? Just one that you think is a waste of money? Just one that hasn't failed miserably? That is, excluding the military...

Just give us one.

April 3, 2013 at 3:09 p.m.
timbo said...

gjuster...I finally figured these two guys out. They either work for the city or have some kind of contact with one of these "non profits" that hire every idiot child of the power structure they can find.

April 3, 2013 at 3:13 p.m.
nucanuck said...

timbo, I certainly don't support the government's massive bank bailouts with taxpayer money. The banks gamble big with high leverage and when they lose, their share and bondholders should be wiped out. That didn't happen. The US would be in better shape today if those banks had been allowed to fail. As it is now. the system is just as vulnerable as it was before 2008.

There are plenty more government programs that make me sick.

April 3, 2013 at 8:48 p.m.
conservative said...

I agree with timbo.

It is time to be brutally honest. Too many Americans have prostituted themselves for government handouts which are nothing more than the receiving of stolen property, i.e. the theft of other people's money.

Unsavory people will always praise their benefactors - those who give other people's money to them in some form in exchange for their vote to keep them in power and to continue the cycle of theft.

April 4, 2013 at 7:25 a.m.
Easy123 said...

Conservative,

Your opinion of taxation is brutally ignorant and completely incorrect. Read the Constitution, moron.

April 4, 2013 at 10:58 a.m.
Leaf said...

timbo,

Unlike government mandated building codes for safety of occupants and workers, LEED certification is not mandated. It is the builder's choice if they want to follow LEED practices, and there are even several levels they can choose. It's like one builder may install single pane windows and one may install double-pane. The double panes are more expensive to install but save money for the building owner in the long run.

To complain about builders following a voluntary industry standard of best practices is just ridiculous and reactionary. Why not take it on its own merits instead of assuming it must be bad because "the other side" thinks it's good?

It is in the best interest of this country to have energy independance and less pollution. Or are you going to argue against that, too, just because I said it?

April 4, 2013 at 2:03 p.m.
timbo said...

Leaf..good to know that you are in favor of fracking for natural gas. It follows both your requirements, energy independence and less pollution. I guess I misjudged you. You just don't ever know when you will find another "fracking fan."

As far as being against something because you liberals say it, I am just going by your track records. To go the opposite way of you guys makes it about a 99% certainty that I will be right. Even a blind hog is right sometimes, thus the 1%.

By the way, the standards might be voluntary but the subsidies to encourage using those standards make it wrong. If it makes sense, people will use those standards without the government.

April 4, 2013 at 4 p.m.
fairmon said...

Tax reductions for buying hybrid cars, windows for your house which is requiring those who cannot afford or don't need those things help pay for them, that is wrong, wrong, wrong. The same goes for reduced taxes due to interest on buying a house. The poor ass that prefers to rent is required to help those buying pay for it.

The government finally spent several million to study something we really need, how to properly use a condom. Check out the stimulus money spending and the number of grants etc. that created zero jobs. Washington is hemorrhaging money that is non additive and down right wasteful but buys votes.

April 5, 2013 at 12:26 a.m.
anticorp said...

nucanuck, all the building efficiency is a wonderful thing. It is only a temporary benefit for the consumer that will be consumed by the profiteering energy companies.

They see higher profits from lower production and increased costs as you do their work for them. The need real competition from us.

Not that we shouldn't do that; we should. To really get a handle on true energy independence it requires "Distributed Energy Production" locally and individually.

It varies by local opportunities, but I just saw a quote of complete electricity replacement generation with Photo Voltaics (dollar for dollar), financed, for less than 15yrs payments and the system that is completely (panels, inverters,etc) guaranteed for 30 years and lasts at least 40.

I am working on a quote for our community facilities for 125 Watts. I'm really eager to see the results from the vendor. http://suncommercialsolar.com/

In Florida we have zero state subsidies. We have managed to get "Net Metering" though. That's as it should be, in a strictly Libertarian sense.

April 5, 2013 at 4:55 p.m.
anticorp said...

timbo, I wonder if you feel the same about subsidies for coal, gas and oil? “If it were such a good idea, there would be private funding instead of government subsidies. Subsidies are a sure sign that it will fail and was not a good idea in the first place. The marketplace will set the standards. Government is good at very little.

I’m curious if you think I-75 should have waited for private funding? How about all those state and country roads that sit idle most of the time? Can you honestly say those are not subsidies for industry, not mention your personal use? How many can you think of that would exist without government? In my state (Florida), the power company has been granted over $9/mo extra from each rate payer to pre-pay for grid up grade and new nuclear power plants, yet they charge inflated prices for energy that we are legislatively roped into buying.

I bet you support more highway building but oppose rail and broadband internet corridors, just like your support for coal and legislative accommodations but oppose the same for green energy. Some would move on to name calling at this point but I’m wondering, do I have you totally wrong or are you embarrassed at facing such duplicity?

I don’t have you wrong though. You’ve bought the Libertarian hyperbole that is not even closely supported in the real world. Who do you think does all the core research for science and technology? Granted government doesn’t always get it right, but it sure sounds like it by the way the Righties rail about it. What many don’t understand is it is right that government take on high risk research rather than complete industries failing from mistaken ventures. I challenge anyone to a tit for tat comparison of government successes and failures to private enterprise.

No one will take it, but they will go on making unsupportable statements such as yours.

April 5, 2013 at 7:29 p.m.
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