Maybe We Should Rethink LEED Laws

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For much of 2011, my focus has been the Destiny USA project. This should not come as a surprise to readers who waded through my thirteen posts on the topic. I had planned to not write about the Destiny USA project again. But then I came across a press release while I was at Greenbuild:

Destiny USA in Syracuse Aims to be America’s Largest LEED® Gold Certified Commercial Retail Project; More than 100 Tenant Retail Spaces to Also be Certified

As you may recall, the Destiny USA project received over $200 million in tax-free financing through the federal government’s Green Bonds program. In exchange for the financing, the developer of the project promised, among other things, to get LEED certification and rely on massive amounts of renewable energy. The IRS is now investigating the project because it appears the renewable energy systems were never installed.

I think it’s safe to say the Green Bonds program was a failure. But there is another policy issue that bothered me that I have not previously touched on.

Did the US Green Building Council act appropriately in assisting the Destiny USA project?

As I was reading the Destiny USA press release, one passage caught my eye:

“This project is important to me and to USGBC,” said Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO & Founding Chair, U.S. Green Building Council. “Not only is it in my backyard but it will also be a showcase in the community for what can be done with green building and LEED. The visitors who walk through the Destiny USA doors every day will learn about the importance of green building and be able to see today’s latest green building strategies in action.”

For those looking for an argument that LEED should never be used in regulations or law, I present to you Exhibit A:

  • The Destiny USA project has to get LEED certification as a condition of a federal law.
  • The USGBC is a non-profit entity responsible for the LEED rating system.
  • The USGBC CEO states the project is important to him and his company because it is located in his hometown of Syracuse, New York.

If a federal official displayed this type of favoritism for a project, he would be removed. Litigation would certainly ensue challenging the procurement process.

If LEED is going to be used in law, whether it be through incentives or mandates, then the USGBC and its CEO should not get to play favorites with projects.

Of course, this is not what is happening. And this type of conflict of interest and favoritism could undermine the credibility of the LEED rating system and of the green building movement.

Article by Chris Cheatham, appearing courtesy Green Building Law Update.

Green Building Law Update is published to inform the construction and design industries about green building risks and legal developments. Launched in 2008, the website has served as a forum to discuss green building litigation, regulations, policy and trends.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

  • http://www.axiomsustainable.com Michael Kawecki

    Aren’t you overlooking one major item, in that USGBC is not responsible for the certification process? GBCI oversees LEED certification as a seperate 501c3 non-profit. So there is no conflict of interest…