The Importance of Aligning Intent With Outcome

In today's News-Tribune of Tacoma, Washington (admittedly not on my usual roundup of morning papers) there was anop-ed piece by a conservative columnist calling for Washington (state) to roll back "green" requirements for schools because they are not creating the energy savings promised when enacted. 

The 2005 law calls for schools to be designed, constructed and certified to LEED Silver standard.  At the time, the Governor Gregoire's press release stated:

According to the State Board of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction’s office, use of sustainable building designs result in:

  • 20% annual savings in energy costs

  • 20% reduction in water costs

  • 38% in waste water production

  • 22% reduction in construction waste

  • A potential reduction in student absenteeism

  • A potential 5% decrease in teacher turnover rates

  • A potential 5% to 26% improvements in standardized test scores

In an ideal world, meeting LEED Silver standards would result in the predicted energy, water and other efficiencies.  But that is not always the case.  Many factors contribute to efficiency, including construction, operations and maintenance. Further, measurement and verification of energy usage is more art than science--which schools are being compared? by what methodology? Finally, what are the overall environmental implications of the building--were fewer new resources used, for example?

 Many municpalities and companies are using LEED as a shorthand for high performance building to circumvent the difficulties of determining individual targets for resource efficiency and creating long term verification plans. This is shortsighted.  By creating laws which use LEED as a substitute for rigorous environmental standards, well-intentioned municpalities and companies open themselves up to the criticism of the News-Tribune critic--that we shouldn't implement (or we should rescind) green building laws because they don't create environmental efficiency. 

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Christopher G. Hill - March 3, 2009 10:55 AM

While I agree that we should not throw out green with the LEED bathwater, and that keeping LEED as the be all end all for such building can lead to over broad attack, I also agree that we must align incentives with action. In other words, make people want to build green. Incentivize and persuade instead of punish and coerce. People respond better to honey than to vinegar (to mangle a cliche).

Ryan - March 4, 2009 4:08 PM

I just read an article that got me thinking about this ( )(love the blog by the way. I worry about green building codes and their future, given the willingness to bend to the current economic atmosphere.

Kaid @ NRDC - March 12, 2009 11:43 AM

I couldn't agree more with this post. I support LEED and have shed metaphoric blood over some of the LEED standards. But LEED is not a governmental standard and should not become one. Government standards should be set by leaders who are responsible to their constituents, not by a self-perpetuating body of experts. In a more perfect world, governments would use LEED as a kind of model green code to borrow from and adapt into their own incentives or regulatory structures, and create their own evaluation and enforcement mechanisms.

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