Is LEED really green? - Page 3

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

"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.

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