Green construction—noble and increasingly mainstream—isn't easy. Since the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards were released in 2000, 4,500 proposed buildings have registered; to date, though, only 615 have been LEED-certified.
The problems are several. Critics argue that the USGBC ignores important geographical differences, attaching as much importance to water conservation in Washington as in Arizona. For that matter, every feature on the LEED checklist is awarded the same value—so a builder gets the same credit for installing a bike rack as for harvested-rain cooling, regardless of their true impact. But the biggest issue is cost. Design and construction reviews required for LEED certification can cost many thousands of dollars.
That's why some are looking for ways to circumvent the official process. By the time Cornell University completed the first of five nearly identical dorms in 2004, it had paid $300,000 in consultant and submission fees to get LEED status. Now, it's using that building as a blueprint for the other four—each featuring vegetated roofs, spaces with natural light, and a glycol heat exchanger. They're certifiable, just not certified.
“If one designs with LEED standards, the resulting building will save you money while almost secondarily helping the environment. A savvy businessperson could only make one choice. ” —Lisa L. Reeves
A version of this article appeared in the December 2006/January 2007 issue of Fast Company magazine.