Friday, December 11, 2009

LEED Until You Bleed

One of the things you will often hear from the earnest dudes with the identical shiny SCAG badges while at their spacious premier level downtown Los Angeles offices is the term "LEED." Which is, of course, an acronym. What isn't an acronym these days? Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is what it stands for, and it really is pretty much the answer for all planner problems dealing with building generated pollution. Which in most cities accounts for around 70% of all greenhouse gas production.

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, 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.


  1. This proves to me what a lot of posters have been speculating on the Tattler.

    Joe Mosca and John Buchanan are lobbyists.

    Sir Eric is the ONLY honest journalists we can read in this area.

    SCAG is a SHAM.

    Kurt, Don and MaryAnn are lobbyists for the PEOPLE OF SIERRA MADRE, and we better support them anyway we can. It's our city, our homes and our way of life, at stake.

  2. I don't know which is worse, the poor quality of the technology
    or the obvious contempt these people hold for the critical
    abilities of the citizens of California. It's not like the truth about
    these things is hidden.

  3. The next BIG green thing will be a requirement for all words over 4 letters long to be abbreviated down to 4 or less in number.
    Think of all the trees and ink bushes that would be saved for the next generation.

  4. Sounds like a new language is being born. Acrolish. Or maybe Engonym.

  5. Really tired of the hypeDecember 11, 2009 at 9:08 AM

    About the only thing I can really say for LEED is that it ties the point system to obtaining materials locally as well as recycling existing structures and building products. It's still evolving (version 3 is out soon), but unfortunately it's being misused, as one would expect, by developers. Everything is. Even decent concepts like walkable streets get drafted into a SCAG agenda for ramrodding development wherever you see a bus.

  6. First I do not buy into the “global warming crap” but since the state and SCAG do, we as a community can use LEED to our advantage when meeting the forced mandate of SB 375. An unacceptable solution to SB 375 is high density building near transportation corridors. However, a more palatable solution exists. The solution is to require any new construction to meet the minimum LEED standards for certification. Since new construction/remodeling already must meet Chapter 24 energy standards, achieving Silver LEED certification is really a no brainer. This along with the upgrades the city is making on its own property (ie City Hall) will go a long way to meet these requirements. Hopefully AB 32 and SB 375 will be scrapped altogether. By the way I AM NEITHER A DIRT nor A DEVELOPER.

  7. I have had some experience in the financial end of the development community. For the most part developers are good chess players.

    They don't look like it at first glance, but people in the development racket are very clever at seeing the next few moves down the line.

    Any law, regulation, legislative debate, will bring a twinkle to the eyes of any serious developer - that's the challenge they enjoy overcoming.

    The manipulation of all things green is a pillar of the development industry.

  8. 9:14, who is surely not a dirt or a developer, palatable?
    How about water for our palates?
    Where's that supposed to come from for the people living in Sierra Madre's LEED approved new higher density buildings?
    Don't think we can compromise on thirst.

  9. Really tired of the hypeDecember 11, 2009 at 9:51 AM

    Local requirement for all development to be zero-carbon would forestall things. That means the projects must provide all their own power (solar) and water (build a local recycling plant for greywater supply to the community for landscaping) as well as meet LEED Platinum.

  10. 9:27 I totally agree the city is built out. We don't need or want additional houses, condos, or apts. However, old houses and buildings in the town are being and will be replaced. Thanks to the Buchannan, Torres, Joffe Council we are stuck with 1 Crater and Stonehinge disaster. LEED certified houses/building scattered throughout the city trumps high density in the city any day.

  11. If people want to make their homes LEED, fine. Go for it. But using LEED as a justification for big condo complexes or as hype to crowbar SB 375 in? No way. And that is SCAG's agenda.

  12. It's depressing that so much of this stuff just doesn't stand up to scrutiny. To think these are the people we as taxpayers hire to solve problems like this...

  13. Hey did anybody hear Don Watts talk about a moratorium on new water hook-ups?
    That would be an excellent safeguard.

    You can watch him suggest it by reading his lips on our council playbacks.

  14. We need to fire the company that does our Channel 3 stuff. There has got to be somebody who can do a better job than they do. They are consistently awful.

  15. Cable News Junkie,claiming that man-made global warming is a hoax is just the flip side of demandng that people believe it's true.Extreme points of view don't get us anywhere except into fights.Like so many things,the truth is probably a combination.At any rate, trying to get the kudzu species to stop killing everything else on the planet isn't such a bad outcome.We just don't want to be forced into it by BigBro.

  16. Haven't you heard? If you don't support SB 375 then you must be a global warming refusenik.

    Yeah, that's it.

  17. Where's The Transparancy?December 11, 2009 at 1:10 PM

    Regarding the playbacks of the council meetings, I recorded last Tuesday's meeting and there was no audio problem. Once again, the meeting was re-played last night with no sound. John Buchanan's lips were moving but nothing came out of them. (Talk about lip service!) Tattler readers, continue to post your complaints. Speak up at the podium. Embarrass them! DO NOT STOP harrassing TPTB until we get those meetings back on the air!

  18. 10:32
    I heard Don Watts say that, and it sure makes good sense.
    Don, same as MaryAnn and Kurt only focus on the crucial issues, being lobbyists for the people as they are.
    When they suggest something, it's always for our good.

  19. The water hook-up moratorium is a great idea. Bolinas tried it, and we can see how it's working out for them. In fact, Michael Colontuono dismissed Bolinas as a model for us, when the subject came up in the One Carter hearings. Of course, he was obligated to dismiss it, because if he had listened to the residents of this town, he would have been advocating for a moratorium. For Crater and Stonehenge, it's a day late and a mountain short.
    Still would be a good idea for the rest of town.

  20. Point Reyes Light - September 29, 2005

    Bolinas water meter sells for $310,000

    By Peter Jamison

    Bolinas residents are pleased that the right to hook into the town’s severely restricted water supply was awarded last week to a longstanding member of the community, rather than a speculator or wealthy weekender.

    Some feared that the exorbitantly priced water meter – the high bid for which was originally expected to be on the order of a half-a-million dollars – would be unaffordable for locals.

    In the end, the meter was still costly: the high bid, of the four received, was $310,000. But the bidder, Steve Hodge, is a nine-year resident of Bolinas who says he hopes to raise a family in the house the water hookup will allow him to build.

    "The fact that it went to a local guy is making everybody satisfied where previously there was controversy," said Bolinas resident Don Smith. "It feels a lot better than having some out-of-town speculator buy it."

  21. The One Crater Desert. Adds a whole new level of meaning to the term "high and dry."

  22. That certainly could add a whole new level of experience to the LEED lifestyle.

    "Live an environmentally advanced no water lifestyle, available now at One Crater Estates."

  23. The people who will build at One Carter have so much money they can make their own desalinization plant up there, and use Bart's Emergency Only Pipeline, extending it to the ocean to bring them salt water.
    Emergency only, except in need for development.

  24. So they build LEED houses at the Hillside Shame Estates. Who's going to make sure that happens? Remember the fraud of the Stockly/Joffe/Buchanan/Torres council with their sooooo many conditions of development. Who enforced/is enforcing those.
    Each house built at Carter & Stonehouse is going to be a battle, one by one, with the builders trying to get away with doing whatever they want.
    Do you think anyone who works at city hall cares much?

  25. Journal of Light Contruction

    "Is the USGBC and its LEED program a total scam?

  26. Someone sent me an e-mail with a list of all the reasons we might want to protect Mother Earth, not the lease of which was it is the only known planet with chocolate. But more seriously . . .Did DDT cause decades of harm to living things that we did reverse with public policy and public good will? Did lead in paint cause brain damage in inner city chldren who nibbled on the window sills in their coldwater flats? Lead is now eliminated from most paints and the soils and the food you eat grown in those soils unless you don't read labels and end up with food stuffs from China. Did school-aged children get protection from childlabor laws after a disasterous factory fire? Minimum-age child labor laws--school attendance requirements. Did Thilidomide cause birth defects in children in Europe but not in the US due to FDA protection? You can all add to the list of why we cannot go on and on profiteering from known harm because it just may cause too much to fix the problems. It costs far too much not to fit them.

  27. Who is going to enforce LEED in our town?
    City hall staff?

  28. I think LEED will be Realtor enforced. That little gold thingy will probably increase the value of any home sold here by at least 10%. Word is they're being sold out of the back of a white minivan at the Farmer's Market for around $390. I suspect the usual contingent of green types will demand that any home having one be exempt from paying taxes.

  29. Really going green, solar panels, electric cars, or being able to go off the grid, can only be done easily by those with "disposable" income. It's a rich person's option. When it is mass marketed, at mass market prices, it'll work.

  30. What would be the point of mass marketing cheap? We're talking about big money here. The finest families in town just oozing concern and virtue.

    Who cares about a bunch of poor jerks?

  31. Thank you 3:08 The things you identify were corrected. The horrific catastrophy fast approaching is people lots of people, 5 billion more in just a few years. Not so easily corrected. We were handed a planet with forrests, oceans, mountains, rivers and breathable air. All with abundant wildlife and resources. We are assualting these natural gifts pretending it won't matter when they are gone...and they will soon be gone. The ostrich is the perfect metaphore for our time. It sticks its head in the ground when trouble is on the horrizon.

  32. Is this Joe, John, and SCAG or what?
    But new research by Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong at the University of Toronto levels an even graver charge: that virtuous shopping can actually lead to immoral behavior. In their study (described in a paper now in press at Psychological Science), subjects who made simulated eco-friendly purchases ended up less likely to exhibit altruism in a laboratory game and more likely to cheat and steal.
    In an experiment, participants were randomly assigned to select items they wanted to buy in one of two online stores. One store sold predominantly green products, the other mostly conventional items. Then, in a supposedly unrelated game, all of the participants were allocated $6, to share as they saw fit with an anonymous (and unbeknownst to them, imaginary) recipient. Subjects who had chosen items from the green store coughed up less money, on average, than their counterparts. In a second experiment, participants were again assigned to shop in either a green or conventional store. Then they performed a computer task that involved earning small sums of cash. The setup offered the opportunity to cheat and steal with impunity. The eco-shoppers were more likely to do both. see the rest of the article at

  33. Now that sounds like a Tattler article! Eric? You see this one?

  34. 4:49

    I think it's called relativism.

  35. All city employes should be residents of Sierra Madre, We have lots of talent here, we don't need highly paid city managers and others who use Sierra Madre as a rung up the ladder to a fat cat political career.

  36. City of Pasadena has lots of local employees who are related to each other, it was diagrammed in the paper in an article a year or so ago, even. Starts to turn into a real "inside loop" that begins to affect public policy and interpretation of regulations, even if it's not intentional.

  37. I understand about the relation thing with Pasadena's employees. But why do they have to marry each other?

  38. Who else lives withing walking distance in a City that gets people out of their cars?

  39. Pasadena gets people out of its cars? Dude, I was there last night and it was a traffic nightmare. All those new condos they've built there have turned the place into a traffic nightmare.