Manipulating the System

The introduction of the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification program into the building and real estate market allowed environmentalists to breathe a sigh of relief. Buildings, the leading producer of GHGs, finally had a trendy and very marketable adaptation technique to combat global warming. In recent years, the rating system has made monumental gains in popularity in both the public and private sector.  Unfortunately it seems some builders have found ways to manipulate the system to their advantage. The New Republic recently published an article showcasing how the Bank of America Tower in Manhattan has done just this.  

LEED is a point-based certification system that awards a silver, gold, or platinum rating to buildings based off of various sustainability-based criteria on a point system. The inherent flaw in the system lies within this point system, suggests Roudman. It allows developers to skew their data enough to receive top ratings but still be one of the largest energy consumers. This is the case with the Bank of America Tower. The way it works now, developers can pick and choose which categories to participate in while avoiding others. This method allows for substantial categories, including building operations, to be all but dismissed while users can amass an abundance of points in a plethora of other slightly insignificant categories.

The New Republic piece revealed how the Bank of America Tower not only found loopholes in the point system, but also in the division which they chose to enter. The building was considered under LEED’s “Core and Shell” program, which is meant for buildings whose intended use is for rental to future, unknown occupants. Bank of America knew exactly what the building’s use would be. 

This is not a stand-alone instance either. Cases like this are popping up all over the country. While the onus is ultimately on the developer, this simply illustrates the deficiencies in the system, and it should also serve as a lesson to dig deeper.Certification should not be taken at face value, and if we wish to implement real change, something needs to give. Whether it be a reform of the rating system or a complete overhaul of national building and energy policies. As senior VP for LEED, Scot Horst, said himself “We are not the government…we can’t regulate anything.” 

One possible remedy can be found in the LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) initiative. This partnership between CNU and the United States Green Building Council goes beyond the traditional certification that LEED uses.  Instead, it uses a larger lens to see how buildings relate to each other in the neighborhood context. The focus on an entire district enables the certification system to function as intended: to create sustainable places and encourage better design. This method emphasizes integration and harmony. This should be the take-away. It is not about the individual but rather the community and how it can operate together more efficiently.


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