When LEED Gold Gets a C
At 7 Bryant Park in New York City, a plaque from 2016 proudly displays a rating of LEED 2009 Gold. To its left is the building’s current “energy grade,” whose display is required by a recently enacted NYC law. For actual energy use, the building gets a C—an Energy Star score of 60, which means it’s only slightly above average. What gives?
It’s not just about energy
“LEED Gold Certification does not preclude a lousy building energy efficiency rating. Go figure,” tweeted John Hill, the architecture critic who took the photo.
Bill Millard, writing in The Architect’s Newspaper, tries to soften the blow.* “Wisecracks about greenwashing … may be premature, perhaps even reductionist,” he says. “LEED also assesses a broad range of environmentally relevant variables along with energy use.”
He has a point. According to GBIG, the project scored only 13 Energy & Atmosphere points out of 37, with a projected 12% improvement on baseline building performance. Given that information, 60 seems about right. Meanwhile, 7 Bryant Park achieved 20 out of 28 Sustainable Sites points, and 9 of 12 Indoor Environmental Quality points.
75 or bust
Still, shouldn’t a LEED Gold for Building Design and Construction (BD+C) project be performing at least as well as would be required to participate in the Operations and Maintenance (O+M) rating system? O+M under v4 (controversially, it’s true) mandates an Energy Star score of 75 just to get in the door. That means the building has to perform better than three-quarters of buildings of the same type throughout the U.S.
If you asked anyone at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) whether BD+C stands alone, they would definitively say no. It was never meant to be the end of any project’s green building story, and that’s why O+M exists. And USGBC’s for-profit spinoff, Arc Skoru, even offers its software platform for free so users can start tracking their data and, the company hopes, eventually engage with LEED. (Note that for projects that aren’t hitting 75 and would like to get better, there’s the non-USGBC program BIT Building to encourage continuous improvement.) USGBC has been pleading with building owners for years to follow up their BD+C ratings with O+M. Building owners haven’t listened.
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Beside the point
In truth, the argument about BD+C not yielding stellar energy performance is beside the point.
My takeaway from this worth-a-thousand-words photograph is that the NYC energy grade system is working exactly the way it’s supposed to—by embarrassing people into doing better. Let’s hope more cities start similar programs of their own—and that next year, 7 Bryant Park ups its game and can post a grade of B.
*If you read the whole thing, you’ll see that Millard’s article quotes the late Lance Hosey. See BuildingGreen’s obituary here.