The USGBC recently launched its new program (v.03) that includes recertification of buildings each year. In addition, the LEED-EB program has a recertification component that must be completed annually. There has been an uproar in the green building industry arguing that a building is not just about energy consumption, but also the types of construction material used, site selection and occupant comfort.
I agree that material selection and indoor environmental quality is just as important to getting a building certified as being energy efficient. However, let’s not kid ourselves in thinking that a building that fails to remain a good steward of the environment should continue to hold the privilege of being called a green building. A building that drastically consumes more energy than when it was originally certified has issues that require investigation. Sadly, the green has wilted away and has turned brown.
Let’s look back at why we call it sustainable building. Sustainability focuses on constructing a building that efficiently consumes energy, water and other resources with minimum impact to occupants and the environment. How a building consumes energy and expunges waste contributes to its carbon footprint. Current technology does not allow for buildings to operate fully on clean energy; therefore, existing buildings continue to leave huge footprints causing irreversible damage to the environment. It should be every building’s goal to keep its footprint to a minimum by performing proper maintenance on its systems and constantly monitoring its energy patterns to identify opportunities for conservation.
Optimal building sites, sustainable building materials and healthy indoor air quality are important characteristics for green buildings and should be incorporated into the certification process. These factors should be considered at the baseline and are unlikely to change significantly overtime. However with daily use, a building’s systems and equipment may come out of sync, become old, outdated and inefficient, resulting in greater consumption of energy and increased waste. Without constant vigilance to determine how much energy these buildings consume on a daily basis, we cannot guarantee that these buildings are living up to their green labels. Without these requirements for energy monitoring, I agree with critics who favor decertification of buildings who fail to meet LEED standards following their initial certification.
The LEED certification process says a lot about how building owners view energy. Following a comprehensive design, an energy model should be performed to predict how the building will function. But it shouldn’t stop there. I’ve seen companies brag about their supposed “LEED-certified” buildings, screw the plaque onto their pristine walls before commissioning is completed and actual building performance is validated. What message is the USGBC sending when they give certifications out before performance is verified? There is no value to the plaque if a building doesn’t measure up to LEED standards from the beginning or throughout its lifecycle.
I have requested the USGBC to modify its program during revisions in LEED-NC 2.2 and my suggestions fell on deaf ears. If the USGBC will not change its policy on certifying new buildings prior to validating its energy consumption, then I say grab the screwdriver and uninstall the plaque after the first year if the building doesn’t meet Energy Star requirements. This may sound harsh, but we must have integrity and make sure our buildings perform as we say they do.