Opinion / Editorial
Should the State Follow
LEED or Get out of the Way?
Imagine a knock on your door. The salesman
on your doorstep tells you that he can cut your energy costs
by 35%, make your house more livable and improve your quality
of life. And to top it off, he would provide this service
You might be a bit skeptical.
Imagine if he then told you that you had no choice – that you were required
to make the changes he was offering. You would become very skeptical of the promises,
and you would be right to.
That, however, is essentially the offer some environmental activists are proposing
in the legislature. They are asking the legislature to require the state to follow
building standards created by Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED),
with some exceptions.
Proponents of the LEED standard understand that the public and legislators have
become sensitive to the cost of every new environmental requirement. When promoting
these new standards their emphasis has been on the potential cost savings these
buildings provide. According to a fact sheet published by one group advocating
these new requirements, LEED would add between 0-2% to upfront costs and provides
an "average cost savings of 39% for energy and 25% for water."
Many of these claims, however, are overblown or simply don't match the
facts. Some of the examples cited by LEED supporters indicate that the initial
costs are greater than advertised and the returns can be far less.
For instance a Tacoma middle school was projected to achieve 35% energy savings.
During its first year and a half of operation, however, it is actually using
25% more energy than the average middle school in Tacoma, including one school
built at the same time without the green building elements. This is not to argue
that LEED will increase costs, but when statistics vary 60% from their projections,
it is reasonable to call into question these claims.
Supporters also underestimate ongoing costs in some cases. The Lake Washington
School District found that some of the systems used to meet LEED standards require
significant maintenance, which eats into any potential savings. In one instance
they had to pay $5,000 a year for window washing because "green" buildings
use more windows to take advantage of natural light and the windows need to be
There are some commonsense elements of LEED, such as asking architects and engineers
to design energy systems that fit the specific needs of a building, rather than
using standard boilers and other equipment that may use more energy than necessary.
Unfortunately, activists used that foundation as a Christmas tree on which to
hang the restrictions they want. They added political requirements that suit
their political agendas, but may also increase environmental impact on forests
and our air.
For instance, LEED rewards builders for buying locally. The definition, however,
allows, in their words “lumber from Vancouver, British Columbia” to
be counted as local as long as the final assembly is in Kent. LEED builders can
actually outsource timber jobs to Canada (with forestry standards that even the
environmental activists admit don’t match ours in Washington) and still
be counted as local.
Just as we would be wary about someone who forced us to take a deal that seemed
too good to be true, the people of Washington should be skeptical of the promises
made by advocates of LEED’s green building standard.
• First, it appears that the estimates of initial costs are underestimated
while the promises of energy savings are, in some cases, significantly overstated.
• Second, the standards may actually encourage the loss of local jobs by
using a standard that allows outsourcing of most of the process.
• Finally, LEED includes some environmental standards that may actually
increase the amount of impact on the environment.
Encouraging environmentally responsible building is a goal we should adopt, but
a rigid, counterproductive and mandatory standard is not the way.