Recent research from LEED Exposed, as reported by the Daily Caller, showed that buildings in Washington, D.C., with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification consumed about 3 percent more energy than those without.
LEED certification is nothing more than a seal of approval for buildings that meet certain standards set by the U.S. Green Building Counsel, a private entity. The problem with the system is that the government then uses the certification to favor certain buildings through tax deductions, coming at a large cost to taxpayers, despite apparently having no environmental benefits.
LEED buildings can get away with being less efficient because the requirements for receiving certification are based on a checklist. Buildings can score points simply by installing bike racks and reducing the size of their parking lots. They can get more points for having “quality views” that “give building occupants a connection to the natural outdoor environment.” Up to seven points can be gained if the building happens to be near public transit. None of these factors has anything to do with the building’s energy efficiency.
The worst part is that the government subsidizes this whole operation by providing tax breaks for LEED buildings. Tax deductions received under the 2005 Energy Policy Act resulted in almost $4 billion less in potential government revenue. This gap has to be filled somewhere, and that’s where the taxpayer comes in. In addition, when government buildings receive certification (and they are required to do so in D.C. and Santa Monica, California), the taxpayer foots the bill for all the fees associated with the process. This can cost up to almost $28,000 per building.
LEED Exposed uses energy-use intensity (EUI)—energy used per square foot—to measure a building’s energy usage. EUI is calculated as total energy consumption of a building divided by the square footage. Senior vice president of LEED Scot Horst was quoted in National Review as saying, “Detroit would have the best EUI ever” due to having large but empty buildings that do not use any energy.
But physicist John H. Scofield, PhD, in a 2009 research paper, counters Horst’s argument by showing that larger buildings do actually tend to consume more energy.
It’s much easier to criticize the validity of the research findings by arguing they’re just measuring the wrong thing than confront the all-too-clear reality that the LEED certification process has been a colossal waste of money and has done nothing for the environment.
If businesses find it in their interest to achieve greater energy efficiency out of their own free will or because it will minimize their costs, they can do so of their own volition. People can pay for LEED certification if they feel it adds market value and indicates real savings rather than just having political value. There is no need for the government to step in and grant preferential treatment to companies that build with LEED certification, especially when it signifies nothing about their energy consumption.
Mallory Carr is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.