When Going Green Is Just A Ruse

Bob Jones
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Wednesday - April 21, 2010
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Green is the new White Hat - the good guys. In architecture and home building, it’s now called LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, something invented by the U.S. Green Building Council.

I guess the idea was good - better use of recycled building materials, better energy efficiency.

But critics say it’s turning into pure bull.

And I’ve seen it in my own neighborhood, where Green/LEED certification permits storied structures that impinge on neighboring houses, kill off established vegetation and trade on that green name for monstrous for-sale pricing.

Green now means you’ve made the tables out of old wine vats and the toilets are flushed with urine-colored rainwater. Building writer Allison Arieff in the New York Times suggested to the home-building industry: Get your head out of your a—and stop producing architectural junk food that’s quickly turning our neighborhoods into indiscernible swaths of cookie-cutter sameness.


LEED for Homes is a voluntary rating system that promotes the design and construction of high-performance green homes, including affordable housing, mass-production homes, custom designs, stand-alone single-family homes, duplexes and town-houses, suburban and urban apartments, and condominiums and lofts in historic buildings.

But I agree with this criticism from a consortium of American architects:

“We feel that buildings may be using LEED and other green buzzwords to help sell properties without any real significant benefit in terms of resource and energy efficiency. They often are said to have the ability to save water, use less electricity and improve occupant comfort and well-being through improved indoor air quality. But how can anyone guarantee such savings or improvements will occur?”

Another complaint is that the LEED application-and-certification costs money that could be used to make the building in question even more sustainable - often $5,000-$7,000.

The legal community suspects that liability issues may arise from builders calling their projects green. If a buyer sees no lowering of gas and electric bills, would he have grounds to sue the builder or, in the case of my neighborhood, the money person behind the builder?

A house can be certified green because it uses solar panels. But what if the occupant decides to install so many lights and appliances that the house uses more electricity than any other on the block? It remains LEED certified, that’s what.

No points are deducted if the builder chops down trees to make his house bigger, albeit more “LEED-er.”

There’s also no regional differentiation in what’s good for green points. In Hawaii, for instance, what’s more important, saving water or saving on electricity?

Or should it be not building a massive second story that looms over your neighbors?

One builder in my neighborhood chopped down a magnificent plumeria tree in the process of redoing an old house he’d bought. If he does solar panels, is he now green?

How about rooting out vegetation to put in a swimming pool? Or tearing out a hedge to build a wall? Or using low-voltage lights to illuminate your whole yard at night while light-polluting your neighbor’s environment?

You see where I am going with this. LEED is like saying a car is green because it gets good gas mileage, even though the maker has expended massive resources to install comforts and gadgets galore - maybe more of a drag on the environment than the gallon of gas that is saved.

Some smart and all-seeing people need to speak up before this marketing trend gets out of hand and becomes the norm.

Let’s indeed be green.

Let’s not be snowed by the builders who make up the Green Building Council.

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