Is LEED really green? - Page 3

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

|
(17)
The proposed 8 Washington project (center) is being marketed as a green project to wealthy buyers

"I don't think we can impose some kind of hipster elitism that they're not our kind of people so they're not allowed in," Metcalf said of the wealthy out-of-towners.

LEED agrees. "We don't want [LEED] to be for one specific group of people," Easton said. "We have LEED-certified homeless shelters, but having a LEED certified luxury condo building is an advantage. We can't control if someone is flying across the country in a jumbo jet every day — but we can control their energy efficiency in a building."

 

WHO RIDES BUSES?

For the typical working class San Franciscan, living modestly is a must and public transportation is essential. So there's an inherent environmental advantage to attracting residents who don't rely on polluting planes and cars.

"There's a definite need for workforce housing, middle class housing in San Francisco," Paul says. "I guarantee you none of those people get there by private jet. The less income people have, the more likely they're going to be to use public transit."

But 8 Washington and luxury developments like it don't foster public transit. The more wealthy people who move in, the more low-income residents get displaced — to the East Bay or other areas with more affordable housing. It's another strike against sustainability when these workers opt to drive back into the city for work instead paying for BART, says Paul, particularly when they drive older, less-efficient cars.

"LEED was a way to spell an environmentally friendly product, but you have to figure in the extra driving," said Paul.

But 8 Washington gets LEED points for building on a site close to public transit in an attempt to discourage individual car pollution. But will wealthy condo owner actually take the infrequent F-line with all the tourists instead of parking their $150,000 car in the underground parking garage right below their feet?

"When you're talking about sustainable practices and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and how it relates to land use planning, it makes you wonder if that's supposed to [solely] relate to housing people near transit corridors," said Olague. "It seems to me you have to look at equity."

The garage at 8 Washington, to be built below sea level under the condos, will house 415-plus parking spaces. The developer says that 250 of the spaces will be offered as public parking for the busy Ferry Building down the street, but the 165 additional spaces guarantee one parking space for each residential unit.

"Given the larger size of the residential units and the fact that the majority of the units are two to three bedrooms, we believe that one parking space per dwelling is appropriate," said Johnston. Appropriate, maybe, but not environmentally friendly.

 

PROMISES AND REALITY

Wealthy people and affordable housing aside, LEED doesn't actually measure the energy used in a building, says New York City-based architectural associate Henry Gifford. He filed a $100 million class action lawsuit against LEED last October for gaining a monopoly on the sustainable development market by making false claims about buildings' energy savings.

"They say that the building is required to be energy efficient. But the building doesn't have to be energy efficient — it just has to earn points, to promise it's going to be energy efficient," Gifford said.

It's up to the developer what computer software is used to predict a building's energy efficiency, and Gifford says that computer diagrams can easily be manipulated and do not consider inconsistent factors, like weather.

"California is the promise land," said Gifford. "All you're required to do is provide a promise.

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

Also from this author

  • Parking on the park

    Rec-Park proposes facilities for more food trucks in Dolores Park

  • Alerts

  • Replacing the Concourse

    Huge project in Showplace Square begins new residential push in the eastern neighborhoods