A Washington lawyer and public relations powerhouse who has railed against everything from the Environmental Protection Agency to Mothers Against Drunk Driving now has the LEED building standard in his sights.
At a website called LEEDexposed, the building rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council is attacked on a number of fronts: for its “questionable science,” its “arbitrary point system,” and its cost to taxpayers.
It didn’t take long for the website and some of its claims to make a splash.
Does energy use intensity matter?
Among the writers who objected to the method as well as the message was Lloyd Alter at the Treehugger website. He focused specifically on assertions that large, privately owned LEED-certified buildings in Washington, D.C., had a higher energy use intensity (EUI) than did non-certified buildings. The conclusions evidently were extracted from a report issued by the District of Columbia late last month.
EUI makes a lousy point of comparison, Alter wrote in a blog posted at Treehugger on March 7, and it’s no mystery why LEED-certified buildings might score higher.
“In fact, this is often the case,” he says, “because LEED buildings are newer and modern office planning packs people in more tightly, with more computers, so that they use more energy per square foot … On its own, EUI isn’t a very useful metric; a bunch of rich old fossil fuel lobbyists in big corner offices are going to use a lot less energy per square foot than the kids packed into the USGBC headquarters.”
Alter makes the connection between LEEDexposed, a group called the Environmental Policy Alliance, and Washington lawyer Richard Berman, as does Sara Johnson in an an article she wrote for Architect. Berman has a long history of taking on unpopular causes for corporate clients and was the subject of a 60 Minutes segment entitled “Dr. Evil”.
Green is no simple business
The Green Building Council also rebutted the broadside.
“We can tell you that the recent claims made by the fictitious organization ‘Environmental Policy Alliance,’ which runs LEEDexposed, are false,” the USGBC said via email. “As a recent report by the District of Columbia states, Washington’s commercial buildings are exceptionally efficient, scoring on average 77 out of 100 on the ENERGY STAR scale, well above the national median score of 50.
“Commercial buildings in the District of Columbia have reduced their energy consumption by an average of six percent from 2010 to 2012,” the statement continued. “These positive results are due in large part to the District’s use of LEED, the most widely used global green building program.”
Johnson calls the LEEDexposed site an example of “astroturfing.” That phrase describes the antics of organizations that pose as grassroots outfits when they are in fact bankrolled by big corporations trying to to get their message out.
Whoever might ultimately be funding the LEED-bashing site, it’s not the first time the U.S. Green Building Council program has come under attack. It’s been center-stage in such diverse public spats as the ongoing squabble over timber certification to a well-publicized lawsuit filed by Henry Gifford in New York over LEED’s energy-efficiency claims.
In the end, it’s about who gets the competitive edge as green certification gains ground in the marketplace. The U.S. Green Building Council is, after all, competing with a variety of other building-rating programs, such as the Green Globes initiative mentioned at LEEDexposed. A war of words will help determine where the green certification money goes.