Overtly car-oriented LEED buildings should be disqualified

Source: triplepundit.com

Source: triplepundit.com

Let me preface this post by saying that the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification program is an excellent way to improve energy efficiency in building design and reduce a facility’s carbon footprint. It is an excellent marketing tool for promoting energy efficiency and good building design.

That being said, no matter how environmentally sustainable a building is, if it is built in a location (particularly in urban areas) where most everyone working there must drive a car to reach work, it is illogical for LEED to certify the building. Any building located on an urban/suburban site that does not have public transit access or is not within close walking/cycling proximity to affordable housing should be automatically disqualified from receiving any level of LEED certification, unless it has a STRONG emphasis on hybrids, plug-in electric vehicles including charging stations, and carpools/vanpools. The perceived benefits derived from constructing a sustainable building are too likely to be offset by its poorly chosen location. So, how is such a scenario any better than constructing a non-LEED certifiable building in an urban locale that is easily accessible to transit, bike routes, and sidewalks? Both miss half the equation for good sustainability. So, why honor one and rue the other?

Some may think my posting may be a bit harsh, but if we are going to achieve “real, measurable, perceptible” improvements in terms of our collective environmental impact on the planet, it is rather bogus to hand out awards and certifications to those facilities that are only superficially beneficial to the environment. As has been said, “you cannot judge a book by its cover” – well, that also goes for awards. Just because the bricks and mortar are dazzling and energy-efficient, does not mean the nuts and bolts (including the chosen location) are too.

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15 Responses to Overtly car-oriented LEED buildings should be disqualified

  1. This is such a logical argument. How can anyone not agree? And the greenest building is one that already exists… why tear down a perfectly serviceable building to build another, no matter how “green” the new one is?


  2. basil berchekas jr says:

    Being transit friendly should be a criteria! The “holistic” picture!


  3. It IS a bit harsh! If you’re going to want this level of inclusivity, how about advocating that LEED certification also include proper resistance to natural disasters in the area, including tornadoes and hurricanes, per FEMA? I see plenty of “green” buildings which omit resistance to natural hazards. They don’t even include “safe rooms” where FEMA 320 urges them.


  4. Mike says:

    LEED and other point systems are usually positive in their orientation — giving points for positive actions. That makes it difficult to factor in scoring for negative aspects of a building, like a site that is remote or has a higher/better use. It would be easier if their could be proxy measurements that deduct from the scores in energy, site selection, pollution, etc., such as a ratio of parking lot area to building area, distance to transit, or human density of surrounding neighborhood.


  5. Sarah Hammitt says:

    I think it’s important to have positive incentives for a variety of scales, starting with the building. Facilities that require high levels of security, such as military campuses, NASA campuses, etc. cannot be sited with accessibility to public transit or sited in the middle of a city, but they can work to continuously reduce their footprint. And they are – the military has requirements for new buildings to meet a certain level of LEED certification.

    Other important scales are the neighborhood and citywide levels, and of course these buildings would not get credit for LEED Neighborhood Development, which does provide points for access to transit and walkability. While the ideal is for a green facility to weave into a larger scale pattern of sustainable development, I find it narrow to forget that buildings have other requirements besides sustainability and if we can at least reduce the footprint of those individual buildings, we are making progress.

    That being said I agree with you that such facilities should focus on the provision of means of collective transportation, bikeways, and other more sustainable means for employees to reach their facilities. And these achievements could earn more points. But throwing these facilities out for certification altogether could discourage large institutions from using LEED as a benchmark toward building greener.


  6. Sam McKinley says:

    I think that early-on there was an idea of “pick your battles.” If you try to take on building construction practices AND development patterns at the same time, there’s a good chance you’ll make progress on neither. Is it maybe time for LEED to grow up a little and take on development practices? Could the USGBC accomplish the same thing by making LEED-ND the main focus? I kind of like the latter, as much of the “action” – where developers are finding new ways to make great projects, winning new customers – is in more urban areas now. Similarly to the original LEED story, achieving LEED-ND can mean more profit.


  7. urbanexus says:

    Perhaps there is room for a compromise here? Save the highest ratings–such as LEED Gold and Platinum for buildings that combine building and location efficiency. But still encourage efficiency by allowing the lower rating standards to apply to structures that meet them regardless of location. That way you continue to encourage, and certify, some standard of efficiency overall, but highlight those structures that also have an efficient location.


  8. stevefrisch says:

    Hm, since I can think of more than one “development” that has had its entitlements processed while simultaneously achieving high LEED ND status and has subsequently been litigated by the Sierra Club I have to ask, if one wishes to encourage good behavior, what responsibility does one have to defend the good actor when irrational behavior threatens the outcome?

    It is one think to want to encourage better development patterns and building design through regulation, tax policy, and other policies to internalize the externalities. It is quite another thing to stand with the actor who makes a good moral decision; in the end it is by changing behavior by lending moral support to drive market transformation that permanent change will be made.


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