Today, LEED Exposed, a project of the Environmental Policy Alliance (EPA), released research showing that large privately-owned buildings in Washington D.C. certified under the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, actually use more energy than uncertified buildings.
Despite having the highest number of buildings in the country certified under LEED, Washington D.C. buildings are actually less energy efficient than the national average.
LEED Exposed determined energy consumption by comparing the weather-normalized, source energy use intensity, or EUI (a unit of measurement that represents the energy consumed by a building relative to its size), for both buildings certified by the USGBC as "green" and those that have not gone through the USGBC's expensive permitting process. For LEED-certified buildings, their EUI was 205, compared to 199 for non-certified buildings. Ironically, USGBC's headquarters (which has achieved the highest level of LEED certification) is even worse at 236.
"This latest data release only confirms what we already knew: LEED certification is little more than a fancy plaque displayed by these 'green' buildings," said Anastasia Swearingen, research analyst for the Environmental Policy Alliance. "Previous analyses of energy use by LEED-certified buildings have consistently shown that LEED ratings have no bearing on actual energy efficiency."
These findings are significant as D.C. is one of several major localities to mandate the use of LEED in construction of public buildings and was the first city to require all buildings (public and private) to disclose energy usage. An analysis by The Washington Examiner earlier this year of D.C. government buildings found that many of the District's LEED-certified buildings were the least energy-efficient of all comparable buildings.
The city's Department of Environment (DOE) recognizes the problems with using LEED standards. In a report accompanying the release of data, the DOE says concerns and questions regarding the use of LEED include, "The dependence on a third-party organization, over which the government has no oversight, to set the District's green building standards," and, "The perception that application costs associated with LEED are significant."
"It's troubling that to achieve the laudable goal of promoting greater energy efficiency, the District relies on the use of a third-party rating system that doesn't require actual proof of energy efficiency to earn certification," continued Swearingen. "Even more alarming is the fact that the city is collecting millions of dollars in permit fees to administer this inefficient program."
In fiscal year 2013, D.C. collected over $1.6 million in green building fees, and the District has collected over $5.2 million in fees since 2010. Despite the expense, D.C. lags behind the rest of the country in energy efficient office buildings. The median EUI nationwide for office buildings is 148—DC's is 214, or 44% more than the national median.
Swearingen concluded: "It's time for D.C. to ditch LEED and move towards a certification system that promises real improvements in energy efficiency."