By Mireya Navarro, New York Times, August 30th, 2009

leaves-oak-alt1Builders covet LEED certification — it stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — as a way to gain tax credits, attract tenants, charge premium rents and project an image of environmental responsibility. But the gap between design and construction, which LEED certifies, and how some buildings actually perform led the program last week to announce that it would begin collecting information about energy use from all the buildings it certifies.

Buildings would provide the information voluntarily, said officials with the United States Green Building Council , the nonprofit organization that administers the LEED program, and the data would be kept confidential. But starting this year, the program also is requiring all newly constructed buildings to provide energy and water bills for the first five years of operation as a condition for certification. The label could be rescinded if the data is not produced, the officials said.

The council’s own research suggests that a quarter of the new buildings that have been certified do not save as much energy as their designs predicted and that most do not track energy consumption once in use. And the program has been under attack from architects, engineers and energy experts who argue that because building performance is not tracked, the certification may be falling short in reducing emissions tied to global warming.

We know that a building’s carbon footprint lies 12% in construction and 39% in operations. This metric alone points to the fact that we need to start tracking building life-cycle energy and resource use instead of focusing so heavily on design and construction. If LEED is to be the trusted “brand” for sustainability, LEED certified buildings should be held up to a standard of actual performance, not just design intent.