The LEED Rating System is by and large the best thing we’ve got to identify and rate sustainable, energy-efficient buildings. But, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still challenges to overcome.
1 – Cost. We’re in a recession, and two of the LEED Rating System’s biggest proponents (Colleges and Government) are hurting for money. LEED Certification needs to streamline its cost structure to retain the loyalty of budget-conscious universities, municipalities and states. I don’t mention the federal government because they already only build LEED certifiable buildings and don’t bother paying for the plaque.
2 – Its own growth. What is LEED Certification? Is it an exclusive club for only the greenest projects, or does it aim to be a national building code impacting as many properties nationwide as possible? It started out with exclusivity and has built a great aura. However, in some markets, LEED Certification is no longer exclusive enough to be a significant market differentiator. Basically, most of the active construction projects right now are pursuing LEED Certification. If everyone is doing it, is your project still special?
3 – Project review backlogs and confusion. We hear stories of projects finishing construction before they even receive their design submittal documentation back from GBCI – that’s not good. Additionally, the USGBC has reduced the role of CIRs, which previously could serve as additional interpretation beyond the reference guide. Basically, if someone had done it before you knew that you could too and get the point. Now there’s no guarantee, and that creates a lot of uncertainty – also not good.
4 – CalGreen. California is the nation’s leading standard bearer for the environment and green building. With CalGreen, the state is not just trying to exist alongside the LEED Rating System, but it is actively competing and marketing against LEED. At this point, no one knows what impact CalGreen will actually have on the number of LEED projects in California. The USGBC has effectively claimed that CalGreen is really just government-sponsored greenwashing. The state fired back claiming that the USGBC is only trying to protect their brand. Time will tell us who wins that battle.
5 – The economy. Until recently, the economic downturn has actually helped LEED. As buildings became vacant, builders raced to differentiate their projects, and they turned to LEED Certification to accomplish that. Now, however, the economy is in the toilet and even LEED projects aren’t even getting built. With no new construction projects, LEED will likely have a down year. Additionally, with significant cost pressures on the construction industry and government budgets, LEED Certification may become a luxury they simply can’t afford. Simply put, long term operational savings are great, but you can’t save any money if you can’t build a building in the first place because it costs too much.