Last week, USA Today published an article titled Green Schools: Long on promise, short on delivery. Earlier this year USA Today also published a two part piece on LEED in general which I actually thought was fairly objective in its analysis of the potential drawbacks of the LEED Rating System as it exists today. It wasn’t high praise for the rating system by any means, but it provided what seemed to be well researched perspectives on possible short-comings of the system. I’ve really been struggling with how to address and respond to this most recent piece that takes aim at LEED for Schools in particular, though. While I don’t disagree with some of the criticisms it has of LEED for Schools, such as failure address actual building performance instead of projected or “expected” performance, I am left feeling that this particular article is poorly researched, contradictory to itself and does nothing to identify ways to make any improvements.
When I was planning this blog post I considered breaking down the entire article and pointing out obvious problems like the fact that many of the more “energy-efficient” schools in the Houston School District likely have little or no ventilation and may or may not have air conditioning. Of course they use less energy than a new school that has a healthful, thermally comfortable environment! Or I could point out that the article bashes LEED in one paragraph for not focusing more on energy and then turns around and bashes it for not focusing more on indoor environment in the next. Which do you want? If both, then obviously neither can be the sole focus. However, others have started to take this approach for me in the article comments section in USA Today.
So, I decided to use this post to bring up one simple thought instead. The article seems to infer that Green Schools are not worth the “extra” money being spent on them, but does it make sense that we should spend slightly less money on a school that bad ventilation, poor temperature control, no daylight and toxic materials? That doesn’t seem like a reasonable point of view to me at all. LEED and LEED for Schools aren’t perfect. I will be the very first person to admit that if you give me the chance. However, they are so much better than nothing. They provide a solution to start moving the market incrementally toward an ultimate goal. Additionally, a third party verification that a building is green almost always ensures better results and performance, even if the verification system itself is flawed, than a mere declaration by a design team or building owner. This article seems to advocate throwing our hands in despair and giving up since the system isn’t perfect. That may be the easy path, but certainly not the one that will get us to better, healthier, more economically responsible learning environments.