Is LEED really green? - Page 4

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

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

The sad thing is that it removes all the integrity from the process — it encourages lying."

Furthermore, once the building is built and has achieved LEED certification, the building's actual energy use in its life cycle isn't considered. The only way you can truly know if a building is energy efficient is by looking at the utility bills, says Gifford. But once it's LEED-certified, who cares?

There is a voluntary program called Building Performance Partnership (BPP) that tracks a building's energy and water use over time. "The idea is we want LEED to be a system where it enacts change in the actual building," said Easton. But the problem is the building has already gained LEED certification before the first utility bill is even mailed.

"We publish baseball scores. With everything in life, people get scored," said Gifford, who operates with transparency in developing energy efficient buildings in New York, hosting open houses after buildings are built with printouts of their recent utility bill history.

LEED was never intended to have the final say on sustainable building, to be a seal of green approval, according to a New York Times op-ed by Alec Appelbaum last year ("Don't LEED us astray," 5/19/10). "Rather it was to be a set of guidelines for architects, engineers, and others who want to make buildings less wasteful. However, developers quickly realized that its ratings — certified, silver, gold, or platinum — were great marketing tools, allowing them to charge a premium on rents."

Therein lies the issue. Yes, 8 Washington will "allow for more 'eyes on the street' at all hours of the day" and provide two or three-bedroom units for families who can afford them, as it promises. But a sustainable structure is far different than the promise of a sustainable life cycle of a building. And a promise is just that. *

UPDATE: Jennifer Easton at LEED wrote to inform us that, although the 8 Washington website clearly states that the project will include LEED certified buidlings, "We would like to clarify that 8 Washington is not a LEED-certified project, nor a LEED-registered project."



July 7: Community Vision for San Francisco's Northeast Waterfront

July 14: City demographics and sustainability; the need for low-income housing; presentation of "jet fuel burn rate" argument.

July 21: 8 Washington's EIR approval hearing

All hearings to be held at 12 p.m. in the Commission Chambers, Room 400, City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place.



Let's assume that just five of the 165 condo buyers at 8 Washington (3 percent) are Wall Street hedge fund traders or venture capitalists using them as second or third homes. Let's also assume they'll use them 1.5 times a month and commute to SF aboard their business jet, a reasonable assumption for Wall Street execs making tens of millions in salary and bonuses. Why would they fly by private jet rather than take Southwest or Amtrak? Because they can. This must be factored into any environmental analysis of a project that explicitly markets to this demographic and include the following:

Mid to large size business jets used to fly cross country (Hawker 800XP, Gulfstream G2/ G3, Bombardier Global Express) on average burn 400 gallons of jet fuel/hour, take 6 hours to fly New York to SFO and 5 hours for return trip. Therefore, a single round trip burns:

11 hours X 400 gallons per hour = 4,400 gallons of jet fuel per trip.

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