Ed. 11.12.12: Since the post below went live, many commentators and critics alike have resoundingly called for hard data (rather than projections or models) to substantiate the benefits of LEED. The OFCC estimates and projections below are just that … estimates and projections … but the Central Ohio Chapter of the USGBC is partnering with Battelle to scientifically evaluate the data from the appx. 300 LEED registered or certified Ohio green schools to compare things like first cost, lifecycle costs, absenteeism, and occupant performance. This robust data set could either quantify or impugn the value of LEED. Efforts are ongoing to secure additional funding for this effort (called the “Green Schools Compendium”) so stay tuned.
It’s ironic that USA Today, the newspaper that was ridiculed for picking a dot for its new logo, would miss the point so grievously in the first installment of its series on LEED. OGBL will leave it to commentators like Nadav Malin and Lloyd Alter to address the myriad big-picture flaws & oversights in the article, and we will instead focus on one Ohio-specific reference that is particularly misleading.
Buried in the middle of the article is the provocative claim that “Public LEED buildings typically cost taxpayers extra. In Ohio, LEED certification for new state-funded schools has added $131 million in construction costs since 2007.” Budget hawks would surely be livid about such a nonsensical waste of public dollars … unless they knew that the whole truth is the exact opposite of what the article implies. Although the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission confirms that the expense data is roughly accurate, the OFCC points out that the estimated return on energy savings is just 5 years, projected savings will double the initial expenditure in appx. 10 years, and the buildings will be around for as much as 50+ years. You do the math and decide if this is an egregious waste of public funds or a prudent long-term investment.
Now that LEED has become the national (if not global) standard-bearer for green construction, there’s certainly no harm in reasoned critique of the rating system, which even its staunchest proponents acknowledge is far from perfect. But twisting data from Ohio is dirty pool. Ohio is the #1 state in the country in high-performance green school construction, the OFCC recently celebrated its third LEED Platinum school (North College Hill Middle/High School, pictured above), and the Central Ohio Chapter of the USGBC won national grant funding to study the robust data that will come from these schools and help determine whether or not there is a measurable deviation between LEED and non-LEED schools in energy usage, test scores, and absenteeism.
Remember that green schools are just green buildings, and if they offer lower life-cycle costs, promote greater occupant health, and (oh, yeah) lessen our environmental footprint to boot, then the dialogue shifts from “why build green?” to “why not?” Too bad USA Today missed an opportunity to critically evaluate the legitimate (and numerous) flaws in LEED, and instead chose to sensationalize and mislead, while downplaying or ignoring some of the most relevant benefits of the rating system (here in Ohio and elsewhere).