A building that is a LEED building, however, won't pollute very much they say, and if you build a bunch of them, they won't collectively pollute much, either. They say that as well. Apparently buildings with people in them are very messy environmentally and emit all kinds of greenhouse stuff, imperiling the planet and sending polar bears head first into a vast and iceless drink.
So why would this be important to SCAG you might ask? Because it serves as the best available answer to one of the big criticisms of the SB 375 led charge to (somewhat paradoxically) build California out of Global Warming. That being, how can you both increase urban housing density and reduce greenhouse gas production? After all, don't buildings produce a ton of the bad stuff? But if you build a bunch of LEED buildings, then they don't do untoward things to the planet, and everything will soon be both hunky and dory. So it's pretty much LEED 24/7 down there in SCAGsville.
If somehow Joe Mosca and John Buchanan should be able to deliver Sierra Madre over to their patrons, who would then turn our downtown into acres and acres of new 4 story condos and mixed use minimarts, you needn't really worry yourself about it. Because, you see, all that new housing will be in LEED buildings tricked out with the latest in triple flush lo-flo toilets and shiny rooftop solar panels. And thus the world will be saved and our local home improvement kingpins will have something to do besides complain.
And, of course, all the big polluters are getting in on this action. Pacific Gas & Electric who, like their fellow electricity-producing brethren Sempra Energy and Southern California Edison, numbers amongst the most prominent polluters in the United States, and certainly wants to be associated with "LEED Design." And here their marketing people go all out to do a wallop of associating:
PG&E ClimateSmart (TM) Program Receives Approval for LEED 'Innovation in Design' Points - Participating in the West Coast Green Conference today, Pacific Gas and Electric Company announced two initiatives which will help communities in its northern and central California service area achieve LEED(R) certification by the U.S. Green Building Council ... "Supporting our customers in their efforts to address climate change is essential as we all work to protect California's most precious resources for future generations," said Tom Bottorf, senior vice president of regulatory relations for PG&E. "We're honored to make renewable energy, energy efficiency education and voluntary carbon offsets available to all the diverse California communities we serve."
Meanwhile PG&E's coal-fired electricity plants out in the deserts are producing enough gunk to send Santa's North Pole wickiup and elf farm through the ice pack and sailing out into newly open seas. But look, you know it's just marketing, right? Of course a big-time polluter would want to sell the citizens that kind of green message. That way there will be less public pressure on them to stop their highly profitable polluting. Why do you think that gentleman from Edison shows up at our City Council meetings to chat about "renewable energy resources" several times a year? Same thing.
But would you believe there might be a problem with the LEED deal? That it could actually have its roots more in marketing than in scientific fact? It appears there is some growing skepticism out there about this shibboleth to green design.
Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, writing for Atlantic Monthly Magazine (a big favorite at the low density Maundry Compound), shares some inconvenient news with us regarding unfavorable studies that have recently been conducted into this matter. One by an actual pioneer of the LEED Design concept's rating system.
The Green Facade: ... but two studies released this fall added a sour note to the clarion call. At the beginning of November, Greener World Media issued a report by Rob Watson. The editor of GreenerBuildings.com, Watson is renowned for developing the USGBC's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system (popularly known as LEED). Watson's report included impressive data on market trends, land impact, and water efficiency for LEED projects. When it came to energy savings, though, the numbers were discouraging. "Some LEED buildings are not performing as expected given their design and technology elements," Watson stated bluntly. "This is an area of controversy and a source of great attention by the U.S. Green Building Council."
Sounds like trouble in paradise to me. If Watson doesn't want that shiny gold emblem pictured above to become something akin to the Good Housekeeping Seal (that is, a throw-in with an ad buy), standards will need to be tightened. The article continues with some more troubling news for LEED advocates:
Another report - released at the end of October by the USGBC's Chicago chapter and its partners - put a finer point on the problem. The study looked at the median efficiency of LEED-certified buildings in Illinois and found that they were performing only 5 percent better than their non-LEED counterparts throughout the region. Fewer than 30 percent of the buildings were eligible for the government's ENERGY STAR label. And the Platinum and Gold LEED buildings were no more efficient than those that had Silver or basic LEED certifications.
You know, I have begun to think that you'd have to be pretty much an ass to believe in anything that employs acronyms. This isn't a fully fleshed-out idea as of yet, but so far I have found it to be useful as a form of skeptic's shorthand.
I will leave you today with a passage from a writer whom Sir Eric has come to envy for the sheer elegance of his snark. James S. Russell writes for his own website, and apparently enjoys sharing his opinions with the likes of us. And his tattoo on the LEED thing is pretty choice.
As China chokes on air pollution and glaciers rapidly recede, green design in mainstream America has taken on a boutique sheen. Eco-homes feature a bit of FSC-certified cabinetry, paints that don't off-gas, and fancy air filters. The sell lays the green message on thick. Sustainability feels like a Zen spa, with the bathwater triple filtered and floor-to-ceiling windows opening to a patch of pesticide-free green roof ... Increasingly the soybean inks on these green marketing brochures include the acronym LEED, for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, the voluntary green-building rating system ...
Wouldn't it be sad if Darrell Steinberg, The Austrian Oak, SCAG, Jon Edney and the vast herd of tag-alongs to that disreputable crew were somehow able to demolish places like downtown Sierra Madre in order to accommodate what is apparently little more than a fatuous building design fad?
Maybe sad isn't the right word for it. Perhaps tragic would be better usage.