LEED Lawsuit a Waste of Energy

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Dan Probst - Jones Lang LaSallePosted by:
Dan Probst
Energy and Sustainability Services

A year ago, a lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Green Building Council, claiming that LEED buildings are no more energy-efficient than other buildings. The plaintiffs cited a study released a few years earlier, which had looked at the efficiency of some of the first buildings to be LEED certified.

Last week, a U.S. district court dismissed the lawsuit “with prejudice,” which means the plaintiffs can’t re-file. Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chair of USGBC, called the ruling “a testament to our process and to our commitment to do what is right.”

Actually, the ruling found that the plaintiffs could not cite any legal interest that LEED allegedly violated. The question of whether LEED certification is a testament to energy efficiency was never addressed.

Two thoughts on this: First, the idea that LEED’s value is based wholly on energy payback is simple-minded. Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of LEED knows that health, well-being and  productivity of building occupants; and environmental benefits such as waste stream reduction and storm-water management are addressed by LEED standards alongside energy concerns. If your sole interest is energy efficiency, you’re better off pursuing an ENERGY STAR label than LEED certification.

Second, the study that the lawsuit was based on was conducted on the first wave of LEED certified buildings, virtually all of them new construction (NC) projects where the energy performance was unknown. To keep their LEED status, buildings would have to recertify under standards for existing buildings, where performance (as determined by ENERGY STAR) was a prerequisite. But at the time of the study, there was no mechanism in place for measurement and verification (M&V) of performance of NC certified buildings.

As of 2009, NC certification has an M&V requirement. Is this standard strong enough? If you don’t think so, you can suggest a better way during USGBC’s frequent comment periods, or get on one of their committees to improve the standard from within.

It wasn’t really necessary to make a federal case over this. And it turned out to be a big waste of energy.

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