Is LEED a Load?


I'm just wondering when all the hype over LEED certification will die down, then become irrelevant. Not saying we shouldn't move into the Next gen of Sustainability - we should & we should be in front. But, it just seems like LEED is one more way to pad a resume or a businees card full of post-nominals. Case in point - LEED GA: WHy the faak would a non-designer, some admin-type need that certification? I can see that a lawyer would want to do it to expand his litigation prospects, though.

With that said, I'll keep up on my sustainable building skills. Heyll, I'll probably even take the LEED exam, but I don't think one more set of letters is gonna make or break my career.

Oct 29, 09 1:56 pm
liberty bell

Hi Mystery!

I don't mind the leed designation, at least it means someone is aware that the notion of wise use of resources exists.

I won't take the exam, though, unless I go to a firm that will pay me to do it.

Oct 29, 09 2:58 pm  · 

The best reason to have LEED AP after your name is so you don't have to answer the question "Why don't you have LEED AP after your name?"

Oct 29, 09 3:09 pm  · 

i only got accredited as the exam cost was paid by the firm and it's sort of an unwritten requirement w/ the pool of workers here in the NW.

but LEED is a total crock. it's not as succesful as it should have been. this is what happens when industry leaders (like carpet mfrs and real estate agents) come up with a system.

watch for the push towards minergie, breem, passivhaus. LEED doesn't require significant energy savings and is a joke. the intent was in the right place, but i'm not convinced it's been worth it. perhaps if LEED mandated a 80-90% reduction in energy usage, it might be, but until that time, it's just a glossing-over.

Oct 29, 09 3:22 pm  · 

i'm with holz....

Oct 29, 09 3:32 pm  · 

(btw this whole reorganization of the usgbc and the leed program - the push for increasing specialization in particular - is a pure capitulation to those 'consultants' who make their living peddling leed certification services. they've been bitching for years about how 'anyone' can get certified and it's become lucrative enough to be a pure leed consultant - not a sustainable design consultant - that the hardcore consultants made a push to weed out the ranks a bit...)

back to regular programming...

Oct 29, 09 3:35 pm  · 

just add water

Oct 29, 09 6:27 pm  · 

Is there any "tangible" benefit to being LEED certified? Probably not, most of us will not work on a LEED project in a given year or even decade. That said, its one of those holes you just have to get punched on your card. Most people expect that an architect in a job position where they have responsibilities and have to demonstrate technical ability, would be LEED certified. Particullarly if you are 40 or under.

LEED in a lot of ways is BS, but I think it has served the function of moving the discussion in the construction industry towards sustainability. Its a recognized, legitimate idea that product manufacturers, politicians, and all other kinds of people can group around. I don't think LEED was ever something that USGBC ever thought would be done on a high % of projects, it exists more to at least have people think about it.

Oct 29, 09 7:44 pm  · 

I only took it because the firm paid for it...

do you think LEED will become something like ADA, something mandatory?

Oct 29, 09 10:39 pm  · 


it already is...

GSA - new buildings and substantial renos: LEED silver
Seattle - new city funded, over 5000sf: LEED silver
San Francisco - muni projects over 5000sf: LEED silver
NYC - rating dependent upon cost (i think)

and the problem w/ a lot of these projects is that they've hit LEED silver/gold whatever - but you don't have to have significant energy savings to be certified. it's retarded. there should be a max energy consumption to hit a certain level.

e.g. passivhaus - 15 kWh/m2/yr (4.7 kBtu/ft2/yr)

Oct 29, 09 11:07 pm  · 

It's a pain in the ass, but I have a hard time understanding why people insist it is ineffective. In the projects I work on, the mere existence of LEED has pushed owners with no previous outward commitment to sustainability to implement sustainable features into their buildings.

Holz, I think you are overemphasizing energy performance; there are other aspects of sustainability that are also important.

And a pre-emptive note: There are certainly project teams that have gamed the system to get plaques and not serve LEED's intent, but so what's new? The same thing happens with building codes. Unless we want an entirely prescriptive design environment, designers and owners are going to have to take some responsibility for doing the right thing.

Oct 30, 09 8:10 am  · 
won and done williams

i'm with houseofmud. while the leed program is far from perfect, i feel it was a major step forward from where we were. while i suspect it would step on the toes of capitalism a bit too much to codify, i believe we will see elements of it adapted into the building codes. instead of dismissing the system entirely for something new, this is a case where it is important to try to improve it.

Oct 30, 09 8:51 am  · 

in my own limited experience, i have seen many projects now have sustainable aspects just to get the LEED certification that they would never have even attempted previously

So i think those who say it is worthless are completely wrong. Yes, it is not perfect by any means at all, but i seriously doubt those who are so opposed to it are building completely sustainable buildings all the time without LEED.

yes, there are other ways to make your building sustainable besides the LEED points, but unless you can tell me you always get your clients to buy into them without LEED certification, i dont see how LEED is bad

I worked shortly on a basic spec supermarket, which went for LEED certification. The only reason they considered any sustainable aspects for the project was because of the marketing benefit of being LEED certified. They wouldnt have been able to afford it otherwise, and just saying, oh we are efficient, wouldnt have gotten their higher ups to foot the bill.
So without LEED, that building would be the typical supermarket with nothing at all sustainable about it.

People need to realize we cant go from 0-sustainable instantly.
It's a necessary first step towards sustainability, where it, as someone mentioned, most likely will be integrated into building codes soon enough.
LEED doesnt mean your building is perfect, but it usually is better than it would have been without it
That's a good first step

now how worth it is it to become a LEED AP? Personally, i think its not quite that big a deal really
For someone young in the business though, it makes a lot of practical sense in that you never will be asked the question, so why arent you a LEED AP.
Its not a hard test to pass, so its just an easy check off on your resume, especially if your firm will pay for it.

For someone more established, like a principal level or something, I think its not really a big deal
Unless you want to specifically do consultant work, you can get by without it

Oct 30, 09 12:53 pm  · 

If you are an intelligent designer, then yes LEED is pointless.

If you don't have a single bone of design talent in your body and you need to use a checklist to create what you think is responsible design, then LEED is your ticket.

It's meant to raise the bar for everyone and everyone includes the people who don't know how to do it on their own.

Unfortunately it's just a pain in the ass (more hoops to jump through) for the people who would already be designing with environmental and social responsibility in mind, oh and it gives clients a false sense of what a good building is.

Oct 30, 09 1:04 pm  · 

its more than being just a good designer though
your client has to be willing to buy into it as well

LEED is a way to get some clients to buy into it, when they otherwise wouldnt bother

It's not even about it being better, some clients just care about getting their building up as efficiently as possible, and would rather do it the same way they have been forever because they "know" the result already

LEED helps get some clients to think about it more

i mean honestly, its not really architects who need convincing

Oct 30, 09 1:11 pm  · 

while LEED has made a baby step in the right direction. I think its more about padding different industries wallets. It has becomea fad, a fashion statement, for buildings.

Oct 30, 09 3:13 pm  · 

while LEED has made a baby step in the right direction. I think its more about padding different industries wallets. It has become a fad, a fashion statement, for buildings.

Oct 30, 09 3:13 pm  · 

as has anything "green" in any industry at all

Construction is no different

but considering it is a fad that makes most buildings at least partially better than they would have been before, i dont know what the point of bashing it is really

its up to architects to help make it more than just a "fad"

complaining online is probably not the best way to go about it

Oct 30, 09 3:24 pm  · 

i still see its validity as a problem is that leed should be viewed only as a means to an end...never the end itself...

Oct 30, 09 3:57 pm  · 

yeah it all is very project specific, as some projects with certain owners are interested in sustainability and see the value in paying for it, and are able to

other owners may see the value, but have a very strict budget to begin with and simply cant afford to
That is where LEED's real value is to me
Some random grocery store or warehouse that will be built anyway, and could be a huge building that is just a drain on the environment

With LEED, now these owners can find a little more money or are a little more open to sustainable design
These buildings are at least a little better than they would have been before
I think that is a very good first step

Big high profile projects will be sustainable these days anyway, as most cities are starting to mandate it as a baseline
Its the small, throwaway projects where it can make a big difference though

Oct 30, 09 4:05 pm  · 

LEED, like others have said, has brought sustainable design into the forefront/mainstream. I feel that many clients a few years back would have just snubbed their noses at the intiatives, based not only on higher prices, but the idea that (at least in regards to finishes and furnishings) the products were not as high quality as other "traditional" products as well. Green matierials are becoming more competitive, which means, we're now able to spec them without the client cringing. For this I am grateful that the USGBC started the program.

Oct 30, 09 4:54 pm  · 

All of America's success is built on standardization and having LEED is no different.

The most sustainable shelter is perhaps the cave, but it will not fit 6 billion people who all want to be comfortable.

If any architect considered LEED a fad, it only demonstrates short cut to thinking or didn't read the book or never completed a LEED project.

Calling LEED a fab is not so different than calling the uniform building code a fad; life safety of people v.s. life safety of the environment we inhabit.

As in any games, a benchmark needs to be established. an intellegent designer would not call LEED pointless since it only make it more difficult to design buildings or spaces that is considered environmental friendly and aesthetically pleasing.

The holistic design philosophy behind LEED is critical even in project that does not aim for LEED certification, and it is our job as architect to educate client responsibly.

One of the step to improve LEED standard can be the requirement of more prerequisits, making it more difficult to obtain now that its has become popular.

USGBC need to stay vigilant in enforcing its initial goals that brought us LEED. It will be considered a sucess when legislation passes a law that requires LEED types of standard in the entire building industry.

I hope it happens before our extinction.

Oct 31, 09 2:05 am  · 
Distant Unicorn

LEED is tilted though towards technocratic and overt engineering. I mean it is a brilliant system to use if yo uwant to make money-- and by you, I mean an engineering firm or some other specialty practice.

But when it comes to kilowatts and dollars, LEED doesn't make sense.

Like Holz pointed out, it can be easy and cheap to make low energy use homes. Now... if that energy demand is calculated with HD TVs and laptops in every room of the house, that would be another thing.

Much like Britain (which has a surprisingly low energy consumption per household), the US is catching up to Britain in terms of energy consumption. I believe Britain has already passed the 50% mark-- the 50% mark being that half of a household's electrical demand comes solely from consumer electronics and not actually anything to do with the house itself.

So, in reality, energy consumption is really no longer formulaic... charts and graphs do not move in simple linear lines.

You can make a house consume as little electricity as possible... but it doesn't take into account how people inside the house will use electricity.

This is where LEED ultimately fails as a system. I think if it were to come down to it (as in a grave situation) and you asked people whether they would have cars or electronics... I'm assuming most people would choose electronics over vehicles.

Depending on how readily we adapt renewable energy, this will be a choice that people will have to make within the next two or three decades. And we should stress how important (I won't say car free) car-alternative environments ought to be.
Currently, LEED gives a rather poor bonus for highly urban or car independent environment.

Other than solar (pv) and wind, we have hydro, biomass, waste incineration, methane reclamation, nuclear (dare I say it), thermal solar and a few other renewable energy alternatives. LEED doesn't care where you buy your energy from though.

As long as you're buying something that makes it and attaches to your house!

Oct 31, 09 3:47 am  · 
Distant Unicorn

Extinction? Not likely!

What will more than likely happen is that government and police forces will break down to a point that will let the assholes, sociopaths and bullies rise up to their predetermined sociological niche and start asserting dominance and power.

I mean, Rome was pretty carbon neutral since they never extracted carbon from underneath the water table.

Oct 31, 09 3:49 am  · 

You are looking at it all wrong
No one is saying LEED is a perfect system

But unless you can say that every single one of your clients always build sustainably and you can convince them all every time to do so, then saying "LEED doesnt make sense" doesnt make sense

So are every one of your projects sustainable already?

If so, that is great for you
But other architects have clients who will be building their buildings without any real care for sustainability. The best speech in the world from an architect wont convince them that it is better for them

Now if you have LEED to use, they can get an actual "marketing" benefit
That is something they can get on board with

But anyone who thinks LEED hasnt done anything positive obviously doesnt know anything about it, because that is just completely false

Rather than just blowing LEED off and saying it isnt perfect so why bother, why doesnt anyone just try to make it better?

The program is still very new, so these ridiculous demands that it be perfect now make no sense

This seems to just be a stereo-typical architect glass is all the way empty view on things, and lets all just point out every negative flaw in anything and ignore any good it has done

Oct 31, 09 3:21 pm  · 

it's not the glass half empty, marm.

LEED is a PR ploy.

-it's expensive (which jives w/ the 3 LEED projects we have going right now)
-you can cherry pick to get a higher classification
-it's overly bureaucratic
-lack of extended monitoring (it's not even mandatory)
-LEED points are influenced by industry leaders
-a $200 bike rack gets the same number of points as a heat recovery unit

the goal of green building is to significantly reduce the energy used by buildings.

per the USGBC, this is one of the least utilized 'points'

i'm not saying it's worthless - i think the intentions were correct, but until this issue of maximizing energy efficiency is resolved, it's mostly a PR stunt and 'feel-good' checklist for architects.

and adding all the PVs, geothermal, recycled content whatever doesn't do a lick of good, if the building isn't oriented correctly, well insulated, air tight, etc.

by not actually providing the energy savings promised in the early phases of LEED, it has become fodder for removal of LEED mandates for public buildings.

Oct 31, 09 3:53 pm  · 
zen maker

LEED will evolve into LEEDplus

Oct 31, 09 7:32 pm  · 

Holtz, i see what you are saying
The system isnt perfect by any means, and given its still so new, it wont be for a while

But do you reject any project that wants to go for any LEED certification because of these problems?

Do all of your projects have all sustainable aspects in the design without ever needing something like LEED to get a client to buy into it? Do they all do it just because its "the right thing to do"?

as the architect, you are responsible for orienting your building correctly, you shouldnt rely on a points system for that

LEED wont fix the world, architects still need to do their part
It is an important stepping stone though

I say its half glass full though because all anyone ever focuses on is the negative aspects of LEED
They always say, oh it started with the right intentions, now its a joke and a PR ploy

How you cant see the value in that beginning PR ploy and the benefit it gives to buildings that would never have been sustainable to begin with is beyond me

Unless all of your supermarkets and warehouses and other non-flashy types of buildings that will be built no matter what have always been sustainable all the way
Which again, if thats the case, that is great
But many more clients need an actual incentive to go green
Being sustainable is not the incentive they can afford
LEED is a big help in that regard

To dismiss it is ridiculous

Nov 1, 09 5:12 pm  · 

LEED is BS in my opinion.
But yeah BS fuels the world and it is good to have it after your name.

It is not mandatory and therefore isn't worth much. Like i've said previously, and joe can take LEED, study for 3 weeks and BECOME a LEED "professional". Who the hell can take this seriously in their right of mind?

I still stand-by the fact that while "sustainable" buildings are important, LEED isn't a legit body to govern such things.

Nov 1, 09 5:23 pm  · 

part of the point is that it is not just an architecture license or certificate or whatever

How would you govern such things then?
How do you make all of your buildings sustainable without a LEED certification?
Do your clients just want to all build sustainably?

Nov 1, 09 6:49 pm  · 

The responses really are a lot different than what i figured they'd be. I expected the majority to jump out in support of LEED. Seems there's a lot of discontent w/ it beyond mine.

With that said, the responses in support of LEED registration were very cogent & helped to remind us why LEED is around in the first place.

I think that my criticism of LEED is based on expanding it such that it gets diluted just because it allows more irrelevant types to gain yet more Post-Nominal letters - >

Nov 1, 09 8:30 pm  · 

I think it getting expanded is something that will help in the long run

More and more manufacturers are having to become more sustainable, otherwise they will lose out on being in anyone's specifications

the goal is to get everything sustainable into our building code a standards so things like LEED aren't needed anymore
It just becomes the way you build

Nov 1, 09 9:08 pm  · 

It's not 100% definite that it will be published, but I'm working a short series for GOOD that is a general response to this article condemning LEED in much the same manner that many people above have here (you may notice my rambling comment as a follow up that spurred this assignment). I find that LEED changes so quickly (i.e. energy requirements have been strengthened twice since 2007) there is a high level of misinformation. I think there is also an overemphasis on energy, and a gross misunderstanding of the original goals for LEED. It's not about certifying only the most bespoke buildings, it's about shifting the market as a whole to a more sustainable place. By necessity that means a more accessible (read: less stringent) standard, and by that metric I think it would be hard to argue LEED has been anything other than a success.

In any case I think this discussion board (conveniently) represents well the general discussion for and against LEED. My article is shaping up to be a three part series:

1. Addresses the energy issue alone... how LEED really considers it, why it's done that way, and how the main problem is poor energy modeling software (ASHRAE 90.1 models were never intended to provide a true representation of energy use, only to compare one HVAC strategy to another), not LEED.

2. Explains how the other issues LEED addresses are worth supporting. In my mind potable water shortages are a far more relevant and immediate issue than carbon and global warming, though without a doubt both deserve attention...

3. Discusses the complaints we should be making about LEED. They're terrible at customer service, and the certification process is ridiculous. The LEED-Homes process is a much better model and would reduce soft costs considerably...

I bring this up because I would like to be more of a proper writer on this one (unlike my blog) and would appreciate if a few of you would be willing to comment publicly (real names, occupation, etc.) for or against LEED, with preference given to those who have actually worked on LEED projects (any system) from start to finish. If you're willing to do this, let me know at joelmck at hotmail dot com, providing some form of contact info (phone or email is fine) and your archinect member name so I can see your generally thoughts upfront. I promise I'm not phishing and won't be asking you to help transfer funds out of Africa...

Also, there's going to be whole load of footnotes and references to direct info in this article. I want to make sure research backs up my work... I've been collecting data on a variety of topics for awhile, but i you have anything that really supports/detracts from any of the arguments above I'd love to have some links!



Nov 2, 09 10:46 am  · 

Joel, I have a few thoughts on this topic and have wrote them down a few years back. I'll drop you a note.

Nov 2, 09 11:54 am  · 

Three job listings I've seen in the last few days (one of which I responded to) require LEED accreditation.

THAT is why I decided to study and take the test... NOT because I believe that LEED is a godsend, or even helpful (though it may be).

It's one more way to get hired.

Nov 2, 09 12:12 pm  · 

Got the following email from USGBC today. Maybe those of us who have worked on LEED projects and have experienced its shortcomings could join the advisory group to help improve the current system.

"LEED Location and Planning Technical Advisory Group Seek New Members

The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Location and Planning Technical Advisory Groups (LP TAG) invites all qualified USGBC Members to apply for new committee openings to participate in ongoing work. The deadline for submitting for a position is Friday, November 18, 2009 at 5 pm PT.

The TAGs are charged with providing a consistent source of sound technical advice to LEED committees with respect to credit requirements and supporting tools in LEED. The Technical Advisory Groups perform a crucial role in ensuring that the development and continuous improvement to LEED is grounded on technical and scientific considerations of the highest quality while protecting the technical integrity of LEED.

At the end of the call, each TAG will create an appointment slate for approval by the LEED Steering Committee and Executive Committee of the Board or Directors. Once the appointments are finalized each new member will be notified by USGBC staff along with the date to begin their role on the TAG.


Candidates must be employed by a USGBC member company. To learn more about becoming a USGBC member, please visit USGBC’s About Membership webpage.

Candidates should be prepared to take part in one hour conference call meetings held bi-weekly (sometimes weekly depending on workload), with additional time to review documents, participate in a TAG working group, and other related activities amounting to 2 hours a week on average. Candidates must be USGBC members and should be familiar with LEED. Taking part in a TAG provides an opportunity to make valuable contributions to the growth of the green building movement.

While not every member is expected to attend every conference call, USGBC requires attendance of at least 2/3 of regular committee calls. In addition, in-person meetings of the committee (usually two days in duration) may be held periodically as needed, no more than twice a year. Travel expenses incurred by committee members attending these meetings, within limits specified beforehand, will be reimbursed by USGBC. Committee members will be required to sign a form indicating that they agree to comply with the USGBC Conflict of Interest Policy, which can be found at


Candidates will be assessed on the following: practical experience with the application of LEED; familiarity with the LEED development process; understanding of the changes in LEED 2009; and a working knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of LEED. Candidates should also be able to demonstrate organizational and interpersonal skills with a proven ability to collaborate with a creative multidisciplinary team of national experts, build consensus, and reach desired outcomes to agreed schedules. LEED AP status is desired.


Along with the general skills listed above, the LP TAG is seeking specific expertise in the following fields, due to vacancies in these areas. Note that multiple areas of expertise are desirable for all candidates but not required.

· Infrastructure for low-emitting and fuel-efficient vehicles

· Parking design

· Land use zoning and parking

· Agricultural land conservation

· Imperiled species protection

· Wetlands and water body conservation

· Steep sloop protection

· Visitability and universal design

· Local food production

To apply, please complete an Expression of Interest Form. If you experience difficulties with the online form or have questions related to this announcement, please contact the USGBC at [email protected]."

Nov 3, 09 2:07 pm  · 

why is the test so damn expensive?!?!

as was stated early on in this thread its practically a requirement when living/working in the NW. I'm looking to work in Seattle and its really looking like a credential that I NEED. when firms have their entire staff certified, as if to win some free cookie prize, and I don't have that 6 letter credential its like you are an alien or something.

Application fee: $100
Exam fee (per exam appointment): $450 for non-members
Credentialing Maintenance renewal fee: $50 every 2 years

So being unemployed its even harder to save up the money required for this. $600 dollars! wow. blink your eyes from a couple years back and its through the roof expensive. I wonder if they have some kind of hardship program or payment plan. anyone know anything about that?

In this market where people are fighting for jobs every little bit counts. I'd like to think I exercise the thoughts behind good designs but I will really be getting certified to help me get a job. just seems awkward, or pushed, or for the wrong reasons I guess. I dont hear people say they want to be leed certified so they can magically start doing better designs, its to look better on paper. sad, but such is life

Nov 20, 09 12:54 am  · 

its similar to having your license

It doesnt mean you are a better architect

But it is can certainly help you get a job by having it

Nov 20, 09 7:58 am  · 

Well, a trip I took to some natural heritage sites last week got me thinking about sustainability and LEED.
The area I visited is known for it's rock formations - fully weathered and rich in silica. They look gorgeous.
However, where I thought that the place would probably not have settlements apart from those directly providing services and infrastructure to those sites, I was surprised to see hectic quarrying and mining along the entire route. Stone was being quarried for construction - it's used in the glass industry because of its high silica content At this rate, I don't think a few generations down the line will even know of the lovely natural heritage they've missed because that natural topography is being irreparably damaged and there won't be anything left.
When we talk of using locally available materials for sustainable construction (LEED awards points for this too) I was just wondering at duality of that idea because at least from what little I've seen, destroying or changing natural precincts to feed sustainable construction doesn't seem sustainable at all. I've been mulling over this in my blog too and plan to take this as a starting point for my research...any thoughts?

Nov 20, 09 9:48 am  · 

yeah that is a good point parsec
and one that will eventually need to be addressed

for example, take the NYC area
lots of people and construction
If they all need to be locally harvested products, then it could be that all the local resources within 500 miles get used up too quickly

i guess you have to weigh what is more sustainable
harvesting local resources or bringing it from a reasonable distance, perhaps over the 500 mile limit

Nov 20, 09 10:02 am  · 

I just saw an article that NASCAR's headquarters just got LEED Gold... that seems odd...

Dec 17, 10 9:48 am  · 

I don't think GA means much of anything by itself. It's now an (irritating) stepping stone to AP certification... that lets the test-givers and USGBC collect an extra fee. Get the GA exam, work on a LEED project or two, then take the AP exam, etc, etc.

Dec 17, 10 10:26 am  · 

I think the key really is performance metrixing. Unless LEED can really prove that it actually lowers carbon output, then it seems to me to be greenwashing. I've seen a number of articles along the lines that LEED buildings don't actually effect sustainability anymore than non-LEED.

The trouble, of course, is that no one wants to pay for performance metrixing.

Also, is it possible that Thom Mayne and Frank Gehry and Gregg Pasquarelli and Nader Tehrani are all correct on this?

Dec 19, 10 2:27 pm  · 

leed is nothing more than an excuse for the lavish and late to live the lifestyles most leed creators are against. it is not changing the game, not even massaging it. it allows for even bigger shitty buildings to be built for their energy cost will be lower. in all fairness it actually IS a ponzi scheme, but it has educated many in the process.

architecture had no direction after the 80's and into the nineties. leed did at least add a direction for some architects to move in. its not such a bad thing, just annoying. when all of this is over, it will still be the ruins from non leed buildings that are most adored. bold statement, don't care.

where did craft go?

Dec 20, 10 12:01 pm  · 

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