LEED controversy, the sequel

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When you write for a big newspaper, you get fact-checked by your readers if something slips through the lines of defense that editors represent. That sometimes happens on a blog, too, but since I haven't yet reached the hundreds-of-thousands-of-readers-per-day stratum, I also try to send my posts to the people most described or affected, so they can point out my errors, should there be any.

I sent last week's report on NESEA's public forum to Henry Gifford and Brendan Owens, who each, very nicely, pointed out facets of the report they thought could be better.

Owens said that when I quoted him as saying that LEED is only an assessment of potential, he was referring to LEED for new construction.

"I made a concerted effort during the panel to try to be specific about which LEED rating system I was talking about – in this case it was LEED-NC (design and construction of new buildings and major renovations). As that quote reads, it seems like there’s no LEED rating system that assesses actual performance. Since we have LEED-EB O&M, I’d appreciate if you could help me be more specific," he said in an e-mail. I'm glad to do it.

Gifford, meanwhile, lamented my closing the piece with a quote from an audience member saying the forum hadn't talked enough about solutions. He said he offered two clear solutions, both in his article and during the forum, and I didn't mention either. The quote reflected sentiment I heard more than once, so I think it was a valid representation of reaction, but still, Gifford did offer alternatives to the USGBC's process of awarding certifications based on models rather than on performance.

Gifford's first suggestion is to award preliminary green certification strictly by the size of HVAC equipment installed, since boiler/chiller/ventilation size will have such great influence over a building's energy performance over time, and since there is a strong tendency to spec more capacity than is necessary or useful, "just in case."

His other suggestion is that there be no such thing as permanent certification, but that the replacement for the preliminary certificate shouldn't come until after the building's second year — allowing for shakeouts and adjustments — when energy performance can be easily assessed.

"We shouldn't describe another building as green unless it has actual utility bills to prove it," he said during the forum, uttering what was probably the largest applause line of the event.

I asked Owens in a phone call this week how he responds to Gifford's suggestions, and he expressed concern that "it would disenfranchise those people interested in green building.

"There's a train going now behind us and we don't want to miss it."


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