At the beginning of 2004, there appeared in this column a three-part series titled "LEED: Leading the Way." It took an in-depth look at the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design green building rating/certification program. Quite literally, due in large part to its phenomenal success, it is changing the way America and the world builds. The series examined the origins, application and future prospects for the LEED program. In the year and a half plus since that series appeared in these pages, there has been much happening behind the scenes concerning the LEED program and, in general, the green building movement. This month, we'll begin a two-part "look-see" at what's been going on.

Watch what you say

After being convicted, mainly due to FBI recordings, John Gotti was quoted as saying: "Don't ever say anything you don't want played back to you." That's probably advice USGBC President and CEO Rick Fedrizzi can relate to after stating to an audience of 7,800 attendees at the November 2004 Greenbuild Conference, held at the Oregon Convention Center, in Portland.

"If it's not LEED, it's not green," Fedrizzi, also President of CarrierCorp, said. There's no doubting that the LEED program has proven to be highly successful, providing owners and developers a means by which they can produce and market green buildings. Paradoxically, it raised the bar for these very same people and helped minimize "greenwashing" (inflated claims for a building's green attributes). A means by which claims of environmentally sustainable/responsible design can be held accountable and to a higher standard is an integral aspect of the LEED program.

What disturbed many people, particularly those that have been involved in environmentally sustainable design and construction years before the USGBC and/or their LEED program ever existed, is the perceived exclusivity and, perhaps, elitist interpretation of Fedrizzi's remark. No doubt he is and has a right to be proud of his organization's accomplishments under his stewardship, but not all green buildings worthy of praise score well under the LEED credit/point criteria-it is far from being a perfect system. As the statesman Winston Churchill once said, "Democracy is the worst form of government- save for all the others."

The USGBC's LEED program has a lot in common with democracy. Small projects with tight budgets must choose between enhancing their green aspects and/or seeking LEED certification. Very often, such projects must seek a level of LEED certification lower than, if not for budgetary concerns, would otherwise be possible. This effectively lowers the bar, creating less desirable green buildings that may or may not be LEED certified in the end. An open dialogue between all interested parties, critic and proponent alike, is essential if the LEED program is to overcome its shortcomings. A contemporary of Churchill, Alfred Emmanuel Smith (NYS Governor and 1928 presidential candidate) once said, "The only cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy!" It may appear that what the LEED program needs most is more LEED.

September song

Prior to the November 2004 Greenbuild Convention, several important events took place in September of that year. The examination to become a LEED-accredited professional was overhauled and made to be much more challenging than it was in the past. This triggered a stampede of those seeking LEED-AP status to obtain accreditation under the old test before the new test went into effect.

By November 2004, more than 10,000 new LEED-APs were created in this way making the number of LEED-AP's, by year's end, over 19,000. Two important reports concerning the LEED program were also issued in September. The first came from the Pittsburgh- based Green Building Alliance, called "LEED-NC: The First Five Years." Based on an online survey of more than 116 building professionals (more than half of whom are LEED-APs), the report highlighted the widely vocalized complaint that the LEED review/certification process is too bureaucratic and unsupportive of the project team's efforts. Ironically, the report-while providing a venue for legitimate concerns-revealed many of the respondents as novices when it came to fully understanding many aspects of the LEED program itself. It may appear that those who know the least, criticize the most. As a teacher, I can testify to this reality.

With a headline like "LEED system in jeopardy" for its report on the LEED program, it was bound to get some tails-a-waging. Using his own critical analysis of the LEED program along with interviews of green building professionals, the author focused on the perception that LEED is soft on scientific scrutiny and flawed in its reasoning for distribution of LEED credits/points.

A division of the McGraw-Hill Cos., Platts generated this second report which some consider contradictory. On the one hand, it is all in favor of the LEED program as a whole yet, it is dismissive of non-cost effective measures taken solely for their societal and/or public relations value. The report is pragmatic in that it encourages building designers to forsake taking those design venues that simply accumulate the most LEED points. Rather, it emphasizes pursuit of the most cost effective and cumulatively beneficial approaches to green building design.

Proof positive

Perhaps most revealing of the LEED programs successes and failures are to be found in the results of a recent University of California Berkeley survey. Their Center for the Built Environment conducted an occupant survey for about 180 LEED certified/occupied buildings. Most of the buildings in the survey were federal government facilities, but not all. One participant in the survey, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation headquarters, achieved platinum LEED (v1.0) status. The survey assailed criteria, such as:

• Lighting

• Acoustics

• Air quality

• Thermal comfort

• Workspace satisfaction

• Building satisfaction

Some interesting results came out of the survey. Thermal comfort and air quality did well with high scores while lighting and acoustics scored much lower. Common complaints about lighting included:

• Low-light levels

• Glare on computer screens

• High light contrast conditions

Interestingly, though they gave their buildings an overall satisfactory rating, the occupants gave their workspaces an overall low satisfaction score. If anything, this survey demonstrates graphically that the LEED system is not perfect and must continue to adapt and change as the result of the data generated by reports and surveys while, at the same time, be constructively critical of itself.

In part two, we'll conclude our look at the changes in the LEED program. This includes the addition of two new LEED "products," the international stage for LEED and the expanding worldwide green building movement.