Fraser Forum

When green labels mis-LEED

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There was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, assessing the performance of so-called “green” schools—that is, schools built in compliance with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.

The author, Todd Myers of the Washington Policy Center (in Washington State), examined comparable LEED and non-LEED schools in North Carolina, Colorado, Washington State and elsewhere, and found that the LEED schools did not live up to their billing. That is, they did not produce energy or cost-savings compared to non-LEED schools. Worse still, the LEED buildings actually wind up consuming more energy, and therefore costing more money than the non-LEED schools:

In every state, green schools fall short of promises. Not a single school we’ve found will save more in energy costs than it spent to achieve the “green” rating... Most green schools actually use more energy than the average, traditionally built school in the same district, sometimes using 30% more energy a square foot.

Additional support for the “to-LEED is not to LEED” hypothesis is found in this study from 2009, for the National Research Council Canada, which found that on average, LEED buildings use less energy than non-LEED buildings. However, 28-35 per cent of LEED buildings were found to use more energy than non-LEED buildings. Further, there was no correlation of energy use reduction with any particular LEED standard.

There’s also this study from Oberlin College researcher John H. Scofield that found:

…the average energy consumption by LEED certified buildings is actually higher than the corresponding average for the US commercial building stock.

And also concluded that:

LEED certification is not yielding any significant reduction in GHG emission by commercial buildings.

The moral of the story is that, not infrequently (see also, ethanol fuel) government policies that aim at environmental improvement can deliver very little benefit—or even environmental degradation, instead. A cautionary tale on the road to the Paris climate change treaty negotiations.


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