Not always LEEDing the way

Los Angeles will now require all new construction to be LEED certified—the biggest city to make the leap to regulated green building. It’s good news. It really is.

Only, well, what about all the criticisms that folks have laid out about LEED? Three years ago, authors Auden Schendler and Randy Udall meted out a detailed list of what was wrong with the system—LEED Is Broken, they said, hastening to add: Let’s Fix It.

The first problem: it’s just too darned expensive. Getting your building certified takes a long time and a whole lot of paperwork. Some projects assign a person just for the task of compiling LEED credentials; that’s an entire salary just to earn a plaque. Other criticisms included the complexity of the forms; the miles of red tape; overreaching claims of green benefits (that bamboo will not save the world, sorry).

I think they missed a couple of things. Lots of folks have been talking about the local factor—a building in Phoenix should have a different set of criteria related to water than one in Massachusetts, right? LEED needs to be regionalized—hard to do when what we’re trying to do is make is applicable to as many folks and places as possible, true.

And another thing: When I see glass box skyscrapers—no matter how clad in solar panels they might be—rising where single family homes were before, I hark back to a Jane Jacobs-style argument. How about pace and scale? How about the notion of the vernacular, fitting in to an existing urban fabric?

We should build with local materials, install graywater systems, grow cacti on the roof, yes, and that stuff should indeed be compulsory (as well as tailored to a region). But I wonder if LEED is ready to translate into policy? We’ll be looking to Los Angeles to find out.