Is LEED really green? - Page 2

How developers use a popular environmental certification program to sell projects and mislead the public

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The proposed 8 Washington project (center) is being marketed as a green project to wealthy buyers

No deal was reached for 350 Bush, and as Regional Public Affairs Officer Traci Madison said, "There was no other option to choose from."

Although it's a measure of a structure's material sustainability, LEED does not consider a building's life cycle, or even its use. Consider 8 Washington. The developer has boasted that it's the most expensive housing project in San Francisco history, with a hefty price tag of $3 million to $10 million per apartment.

"Who can afford these luxury condos, and what do they use them for?" Paul asks. "These guys who work for hedge funds on Wall Street," who use the condo as a second or third home and commute on their private jets to get there.

Johnston said 8 Washington will be marketed to a "mix of buyers, including young professionals, empty-nesters looking to move back to San Francisco, and families ... The project has many two- and three-bedroom units, encouraging family living," he said. But it's unlikely that those who can afford a condo of this luxury will make it their only home.

"[Board President] David Chiu says he's worried about SF becoming a bedroom community for Silicon Valley," said Paul. "I'm more worried about this being a bedroom community for New York, Boston, L.A."

Instead of providing the affordable housing that San Francisco so needs, projects like 8 Washington attract the wealthy, who aren't using public transportation. Instead, Paul said, they burn tons of fossil fuels using their new condos as weekend getaways.

 

LEED FOR THE RICH

LEED certifies buildings as "sustainable developments" based on the following categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation in design and regional priority.

Earning points in each category brings a building closer to LEED certification, which requires at least 40 points. Above "silver" and "gold" status, a "platinum" LEED certification requires 80 points. But how builders get the points is what matters. For example, a developer might skimp on the insulation to install extra solar panels and get more points for a less efficient building.

Does LEED consider a building's actual use? "The short answer is no," said Jennifer Easton, a communications associate at the USGBC who added, "We want [LEED] to be used by every type of project." But despite its billing, LEED tells an incomplete story.

"It's just green drapery," said SF attorney Sue Hestor, a slow growth advocate. "They've really had a PR machine. They keep touting all this greenness."

LEED certification has value, Paul said, but it doesn't turn multimillion dollar condos green. "There is absolutely no need for high-end luxury housing in the city right now," he said.

Building luxury condos in place of affordable housing encourages the "Manhattanization" phenomenon, attracting wealthy out-of-towners to expend fuel on their private jets to get to their new crash pads.

"They aren't gonna be living there all year," Olague said of residents of luxury housing. "We hear a lot of, 'We need more housing.' If you keep building housing for the top 2 percent, how does it lessen the demand on your average workforce?"

But not everyone sees luxury condo-building as counterproductive. "Building that project actually allows for more affordable housing," said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of SPUR (San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association). "It'll provide housing for some people, and that can only be helpful to the housing market. If you don't build new condos, then people just compete for the crumbs, and that means people who are rich push the rest of us out."

In other words, if you give the rich housing, then they won't take over your flat in the Mission — if they ever really wanted it in the first place.

Comments

A few would own private jets, but this site which has Bayviews, next to the ferry building, downtown and union square. Can't forget North Beach. Too bad the idea building high end homes and using some of the proceeds to build more low to affordable units.

Posted by garrett on Jul. 06, 2011 @ 10:55 am

Developers are given this LEED badge to flash around, even when they build a mega monstrosity in the middle of a desert.
City Center Las Vegas has LEED certification. Give me a break.
http://www2.citycenter.com/press_room/press_room_items.aspx?ID=778

Posted by Guest on Jul. 06, 2011 @ 11:07 am

The City of San Francisco is absolutely right to be concerned about the future of high-rise residential development. But absent consensus rating certification systems like LEED (or Living Building Challenge, or whatever program you choose) I submit that market forces -- such as the mega-wealthy WANTING to have 2nd/3rd trophy homes in the City -- would generate such luxury high rises anyway. So unless SF legislates a ban on trophy condos for the "public good" (sic) then those buildings would be constructed ANYWAY. Then as a result of their being no reference-based sustainability assessment system to try to drive down excess resource consumption of those buildings, perhaps as much as a 50% GREATER environmental impact could result. LEED is not much different conceptually than the EPA MPG ratings for motor vehicles. Your actual results will vary. That is why I agree in principle with Engineer Gifford's real concern -- claimed green buildings need to prove it and improve energy efficiency in operation, not just be a product of a some paper-chase or bean count. That is why the LEED Technical Advisory Group for Energy and Atmosphere -- the chair of which the journalist should have contacted for current updates -- has been very diligent in updating the energy efficiency criteria in LEED to be more real-world oriented. Eventually all LEED buildings will be not only energy efficient on the drawing boards, but in the real world as well with tracking data and verification in order to remain certified over time. The article is interesting however flawed, in attempting to tar LEED as a culprit somehow in a larger complex social engineering -- which history shows San Francisco frequently becomes en-mired.

Posted by Guest (Bion Howard, Member USGBC) on Jul. 06, 2011 @ 4:32 pm

The City of San Francisco is absolutely right to be concerned about the future of high-rise residential development. But absent consensus rating certification systems like LEED (or Living Building Challenge, or whatever program you choose) I submit that market forces -- such as the mega-wealthy WANTING to have 2nd/3rd trophy homes in the City -- would generate such luxury high rises anyway. So unless SF legislates a ban on trophy condos for the "public good" (sic) then those buildings would be constructed ANYWAY. Then as a result of their being no reference-based sustainability assessment system to try to drive down excess resource consumption of those buildings, perhaps as much as a 50% GREATER environmental impact could result. LEED is not much different conceptually than the EPA MPG ratings for motor vehicles. Your actual results will vary. That is why I agree in principle with Engineer Gifford's real concern -- claimed green buildings need to prove it and improve energy efficiency in operation, not just be a product of a some paper-chase or bean count. That is why the LEED Technical Advisory Group for Energy and Atmosphere -- the chair of which the journalist should have contacted for current updates -- has been very diligent in updating the energy efficiency criteria in LEED to be more real-world oriented. Eventually all LEED buildings will be not only energy efficient on the drawing boards, but in the real world as well with tracking data and verification in order to remain certified over time. The article is interesting however flawed, in attempting to tar LEED as a culprit somehow in a larger complex social engineering -- which history shows San Francisco frequently becomes en-mired.

Posted by Guest (Bion Howard, Member USGBC) on Jul. 06, 2011 @ 4:33 pm

Bion,

Thanks for the insight, you have some good points, however your argument essentially boils down to this: San Francisco is going to build these structures, anyway, so why not profit from them? LEED, like other mindlessly branded "certifications", is a business, one that YOU profit from. There is not much wrong with that, as people certainly do more horrible things for a profit, and at least the brand is philosophically looking in the right direction, however you are missing the point of the article. You shouldn't be personally offended, but rather inspired to continue to improve LEED through your undoubted influence, as you commented yourself that it is in a process and will always be so.

When somebody profits somebody else loses. It's relatively inevitable, but can be mitigated. This complex will cause a lot of loss in a time when we cater so mindlessly to the rich. I agree whole heartedly with lessening the unsustainable impact of a structure, however I would like to personally benefit from these structures. There will always be rich people, and they will always be absolutely unsustainable, so why not construct affordable housing? I patronize businesses who are LEED certified, and am proud to do so, since they serve a more common and legitimately accessible good.

If anything, Bion, I would imagine that you are ASHAMED that a brand you support and have so much confidence in is being used as a marketing tool to sell to the top percentage of Americans.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 09, 2011 @ 4:56 pm

I never realized there were so many private jets to be concerned about. I can picture Brad Paul walking down the street muttering to himself about them.

Posted by mc on Jul. 06, 2011 @ 10:34 pm

in low income housing in that spot? Or any spot?

That red herring around jet exhaust is too much. If we don't build it they won't come, they won't go anywhere else either.

The essay is so amazingly opportunist in it's arguments that its awe inspiring. Taking out the red guard classism, where were the "environmentalists" complaining about all this when they rebuilt Valencia Gardens?

Oddly most of these arguments should have been made about Saint Obama's cash for clunkers scheme at the time.

Posted by matlock on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 3:49 am

Thanks to SFBG and all commenters for a great discussion. Without getting into the site-specific pros and cons of this particular project, an important point that also needs to be considered here is the common misunderstanding, as demonstrated herein, about what "sustainability" really means.

Sustainability is more than "green". Sustainability is a blend and balance of environmental, economic and social components which combine to produce optimal results for present and future generations. Although the individual components of sustainability have come together in definition, we must remember that these components were initiated and promoted by separate advocates and frames of reference. This article provides some historical foundation behind today’s reality: while we all acknowledge the need for equity between economic, social and environmental concerns and work passionately to promote it, the sustainability movement continues to struggle - http://www.triplepundit.com/2010/08/origin-of-sustainability-movement-le...

Sustainable land development is beyond buildings. The predominant industry focus to date has been on making buildings more efficient and healthier to inhabit. That’s a great start, but it’s not near enough to achieve true sustainability. Biodiversity, soil and water management, waste management, and much more needs to be integrated – and that’s just the environmental concerns. Social and economic needs must be considered as well - http://www.triplepundit.com/2010/08/beyond-buildings/

“The SLDI Code” balances and integrates the triple-bottom line needs of people, planet and profit into a holistic model that becomes increasingly detailed, guiding effective decisions throughout the community planning, financing, design, regulating, construction and maintenance processes while always enabling project context to drive specific decisions - http://www.triplepundit.com/2010/10/worlds-first-sustainable-land-develo...

The principles embedded in The SLDI Code sustainable development matrix are universal in their application and need not be confined to land development projects. In the Pass-It-Forward spirit, The SLDI Code Sustainable Development Matrix has been gifted on behalf of the sustainable land development industry to be used by anyone on any effort in which triple-bottom-line sustainable results are desired - http://www.triplepundit.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/THE-FRACTAL-FRONT...

Sustainable Land Development Initiative
http://www.triplepundit.com/author/sldi/

Posted by Guest on Jul. 07, 2011 @ 2:56 pm

I agree with Bion Howard. Thank you for doing your research! I would expected more from the journalist of this article.

Posted by Noe on Jul. 08, 2011 @ 8:23 am

Bion Howard is has a special interest in LEED meaning something, much in the same way commercial farmers have a special interest in FAIR TRADE meaning something, since he has a product to sell which will sell better with LEED.

Your comment is like saying, "I agree with Steve Jobs. Thanks for doing your research on the benefit of iPhones to US troops! We should sell more to them. I wish the journalist in this article had just as much of a profitable interest in iPhones to really sell me on the idea."

Just saying. Google him.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 09, 2011 @ 4:41 pm

Stupid me, in reading Maggie Beidelman’s article “Is LEED Really Green?” I thought I was getting an interesting progressive perspective on LEED’s shortcomings. Instead all I got was an anti-development diatribe on 8 Washington. Don’t get me wrong, I totally expect anti-development rants from the Bay Guardian but they’re usually conspicuously labeled as such. This article reminds me of my days in college when I didn’t get through the reading and then on exam day I’d have to write gibberish on something I knew about (anti-housing for the rich) and pepper it with a few key words (LEED) in order to make it sound like I was on topic. Well don’t worry Maggie, I’m sure the Bay Guardian choir will give you a passing grade for your effort, thought anyone looking for intellectual discourse will award you a solid "F."

By the way, since when is Sue Hester “slow-growth?” Did I miss hearing about a development she supported in the past 20 years?

Posted by No, I'm not a developer okay on Jul. 08, 2011 @ 1:17 pm

It was advocacy journalism, your taking it's stated aims too seriously.

It wasn't about LEED, it was about advocacy to keep people unwanted by progressives out.

If you don't like a certain development because the wrong people will move in, find some reason to complain about it, although you've never complained about these same things in the past when it was going your way.

A high end NIMBY argument.

Posted by matlock on Jul. 08, 2011 @ 2:23 pm

How can you consider yourself a Green Builder and not consider a Ventilation Strategy to your HVAC ductwork?

Posted by Guest Greg on Jul. 09, 2011 @ 6:33 am

Hey Greg,

Please elaborate on what you mean about ventilation. Multistory/multifamily buildings must bring in enough ventilation air to keep the building positive above what it is venting out.

There are innovate variable speed fan systems which respond to the duct pressure when a fan is turns on so as not to waste energy when the (bathroom, dryer, range hood/kitch) fan is off.

Am I close?

Posted by Airborne Disease Guru on Jul. 13, 2011 @ 9:38 am

I'm poor. WAAAAAH!!!! The only GREEN I see is my own ENVY!

Posted by Guest on Jul. 18, 2011 @ 4:50 pm

You've been drinking the FOGG (Friends of Golden Gate) Kool-Aid. No building will be demolished for this project- it's mostly parking lot and a walled-off private tennis club on public property.

It sounds like you haven't read the DEIR, instead relying on FOGG's outdated and frankly, hysterical data. The project includes affordable housing units. Most of the current planned parking is to fulfill Port's lease commitments to the Ferry Building's commercial tenants. As for Sue Hestor, she's one of FOGG's land-use lawyers, so she's not exactly impartial.

While there are many reasons to complain about LEED certification, your analogy the 8 Washington project will result in an increase in private jet traffic is ludicrous.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 25, 2011 @ 7:33 pm

Positive? Outgoing? Unique? - 23 (brisbane)

Posted by Guest on Sep. 10, 2011 @ 6:11 pm

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