"Green" schools show little connection with learning or energy use according to USA Today. This week, the national newspaper renewed its examination of the value of green building, with a specific--and repeatedly negative--focus on the USGBC and itsLEED green-building rating system. The latest article examines LEED certification in relation to learning environments as well as (in the words of reporter Thomas Frank) "the little-discussed uncertainty of 'green schools,' which promise huge energy savings and rising student performance, but do not always deliver." In reviewing school test record, LEED-certification documenst, and research reports, USA Today asserts that "there is little correlation between 'green schools' and student performance or energy use."
USGBC president, CEO and founding chair Rick Fedrizzi quickly issued a response to the article asserting that the story "is unbalanced and purposely attempts to impugn LEED." Fedrizzi writes that USA Today deliberately ignored information provided by USGBC and cherry picked other data to mislead readers.
This latest back-and-forth follows four other debates between the newspaper and USGBC on the value of green building and LEED. Kickstarting the debate was Frank's Oct .24 article questioning whether LEED rewards minor steps with little environmental benefit. Fedrizzi pushed back, noting that while LEED isn't perfect, it is improving. In a second piece, USA Today questioned whether product manufacturers and other businesses such as architecture and consulting firms were manipulating LEED to increase their profits. USGBC vice president of LEED technical development shot back with a blog post fact-checking Frank's assertions.
The LEED certification process and the development of the rating system itself are worth examining, and have come up for discussion frequently this year with as the USGBC continues to refine the next iteration of the system, LEED v4. Of particular interest are the system's credits (with a focus on more stringent requirements proposed for v4) and the development process of LEED, as discussed in the current issue of ECO-STRUCTURE. Transparency surrounding the development and execution of the system, as well as transparency regarding the performance of third-party certified buildings is key to evolving the green-building industry.
Accountability also is key to the success and continued evolution of green building as a whole and while the USGBC should be held accountable, so too should those examining the system and organization, such as journalists. In this regard, USA Today's reporting is falling short.