How LEED is flawed

9 June, 2009 § Leave a comment

In economic development efforts, there are circles that heavily promote “green” building and helping out the environment. To help standardize these efforts, there are a group of standard building practices that developers can abide by. In return, they may receive incentives such as tax abatements, municipal-guaranteed funding. The City of East Lansing and the City of Lansing (both in Michigan), along with other cities, uses LEED to qualify certain development projects for incentives.

LEED, created by the United States Green Building Council, stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED has four different certification levels that a project can attain. They are in ascending order: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Projects receive their certification based on points that they earn through different energy saving/reduction goals.

Many projects that vie for LEED certification truly have the environment in mind when developing their site. The following are local developments that truly deserve their LEED certification:

Christman Company Headquarters, Lansing, MI. The Christman Company bought a vacant building in downtown Lansing and restored it using LEED principles. The building now has a new use and is saving energy that would have otherwise been wasted had it not been developed for LEED certification.

Old-Town Medical Arts Building, Lansing, MI. This development in Old Town, Lansing took the former Cedar Street Elementary School and turned it in to a medical office building. A good reuse came out of a vacant and unused building.

And now for bad examples:

Michigan State University Federal Credit Union Headquarters, East Lansing, MI. MSUFCU moved out of their former headquarters on the Michigan State University campus and left behind a mostly vacant building. They moved their organization off of the campus, 2.9 miles away from campus, to a site that was a former tree farm. With this, they laid down surface parking lots, installed roads, sidewalks, and utilities in an area that never had a need for them before. The project applied for LEED certification and recieved it. How is it that an organization can force their employees to change direction by 3 miles, where there are no neighborhoods nearby, destroy a tree farm, and claim that they are being stewards of the environment?

Michigan Dental Association, Okemos, MI. The MDA is in the process of moving out of their headquarters building in downtown Lansing and in to their new headquarters building on Okemos Road, less than a mile away from a freeway exit. They are building their new headquarters on a wetland and leaving a large building empty on Washington Square in Lansing. They are also applying for LEED certification. How can an organization move from being in a public transportation friendly area (downtown Lansing, only about four or five blocks from the bus station) to a location that only has one bus route service it every 40 minutes and still claim that they are sustainable? If an employee ever considers getting some food for lunch at their new location, their first thought will be to turn their car on and drive to a fast food restaurant, not walking like they would have done at their old location.

This is how LEED should be changed:

  1. When a company moves locations, they should lose points if they are moving away from a business district.
  2. If the company is relocating to vacant land, especially wetlands or agriculture, they should lose points.
  3. If the company is leading the push of utilities to the site, they should lose points.

If all three of the above apply, they should not qualify for LEED certification and should not recieve any incentives. The only way to continue green growth and environmental sustainability is to find good reuse of buildings that have already been constructed and convert current uses to better uses (i.e.: massive surface parking lot to a mixed use building that covers half the square feet, and replaces the other half with vegetation).

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