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Breaking and Fixing LEED

It's inevitable: combine a complex rule system and the potential for economic benefit, and you have a ripe opportunity for "gaming:" seeking the optimal combination of minimum effort and maximum result. Gaming a system isn't cheating, per se; you're following all the rules to the letter, even if you're not following the spirit of the rules. It has a similar result, however: the devaluation of legitimate effort, and confusion over the utility of the rules.

With greater attention focused on green buildings of late, it should come as no surprise that the LEED guidelines, with lists correlating green methods and points toward silver, gold and platinum status, may have been gamed by builders. Grist has published a couple of very interesting articles about the phenomenon and -- more importantly -- what can be done about it. Fixing a gamed system isn't insoluble, but like so many other bad situations, the first step is admitting you have a problem.

Comments (7)

Daniel Haran:

This is inherently broken. For all its difficulties, I'd rather have a foot print analysis for new buildings then a checklist.

Buying green power is not as good as designing for less power use. Daylighting is better than installing specific ligthing fixtures.

In my city a house has to have a septic system if it can't be connected to the sewage system. One green minded builder was forced to blast through granite to install a septic tank- and to this day it hasn't been used- they have a composting toilet. Had the rule been re-written to allow for any design that included facilities but did not release untreated water no extra costs would have been incurred.

Whether mandating tail-pipe systems for industry or rotation for organic farmers that want to practice permaculture, every rule based system will always prevent progress and be easily gamed. The number of rules will almost always increase as will compliance costs. They will never be future-proof.


Well the reason for the rule of sewer or septic is that even your shower and sink and washer need to go somewhere and that water also needs treatment.

As for gaming the system. If 2 things are generaly worth the same amount of energy savings then you should indeed use the cheaper one first. IF energy savings is your goal.

It all depends on what your trying to do and just because its green doesnt mean it will do what you want green to do.

Daniel Haran:

Wintermane- there's ways around the other problems for water. Grey water can be reused and/or treated with a lot fewer problems than black (!?) water.

In the case of the article, it definitely seems broken to me. Quoting the article:

EED awards one point for providing employees in non-perimeter areas the ability to control temperature, air flow, and lighting. We did one better while working on the Snowmass Golf Clubhouse in Aspen, designing it so that there were no non-perimeter workspaces, thus providing every employee with access to views, daylight, and fresh air. But by eliminating non-perimeter workspaces, we didn't get extra credit; we lost our shot at the credit entirely.
The other examples are often equally appalling although not surprising. Install a charger for Electric vehicles? Check! Vehicles that might use it? Uhm... point awarded.

Best buys first is a philosophy I share- point mongering to pass stupid certification hoops is a different animal altogether.

I wonder if there's enough institutions to back up an alternative certification system?

This kind of work has been my daily bread for about 25 years. I feel very conflicted about LEED. It's been invaluable in bringing environmental building into the "mainstream". It has provided objective, measurable indices for what constitutes "green". That sure beats hand-waving.

But I'm very worried about LEED and its future for two reasons. The first is fundamental to its process. I've probably designed several hundred environmentally-conscious buildings in my career (never bothered to count), some better than others, but I've never designed a building by checking off boxes. There are many times when it's important to focus on optimizing one or two important attributes, and not to spare resources and time to extraneous issues. LEED doesn't really work that way: to earn a high "score", one needs to devote attention to a multiplicity of factors, many of them not relevant to a particular project.

Second, I've lately been alarmed by the entire tenor and focus of LEED. It has recently accepted industry trade groups as members. The Vinyl Institute can now be an important player in LEED's future. Oh goody. It has all the earmarks of a group being captured by special interests who are capitalizing on the goodwill and naiveté of its founders. It has a management that appears to be more concerned with perpetuating its existence and extending its reach than with performing its mission.

That's anguishing, because LEED has done so much good that it's become the de-facto standard for environmental building. It has clout, and I'm afraid that its clout will now be misused. It's time for a strong, definitive voice from the grassroots of the environmental building community, before LEED becomes a joke. It's seriously in danger of that.


The problem is daniel not all placed allow the same levwl of grey water usage. I remember a place around here would NOT let you use shower or bathtub water nor sink water as greywater wich of course begged the question what the heck else is there?:)

Oh also in other cases you have to have one or the other because both are assessed fees and every homeowner must pay the fees thus they force you to have one of the items. Its entirely possible that place has fees for septic tanks and feees for sewer hookups and insists you have one or the other so they can charge you money.

Ward Squires:

LEED seems no longer interested in functioning as a groundbreaking institution. Instead, and this is proven by the fact that they are now allowing industry special interest groups (like the aforementioned "Vinyl Institute") become voting members. Thus placing themselves in the unenviable position for an interval takeover, when all their original motives were probably only to gain capital to sustain themselves. it certainly is a pity; a waste of a once fine organization dedicated to the benefit of the environment. Now that they have become part of the mainstream, therefore compromising their original integrity, which I liked, I'm not entirely certain I still want to become a member.

Ward Squires:

Sorry for the above mistake, I missed it during my rereading. It should have read "internal takeover" not "interval takeover". Sorry again....


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