The LEED program of the USGBC has been criticized since it's birth. Some that criticism is fair and some of it is unfounded. Well this article in the New Republic goes a long way to knocking the legs out from under the LEED program.
From the Article (the emphasis is mine):
According to data released by New York City last fall, the Bank of America Tower produces more greenhouse gases and uses more energy per square foot than any comparably sized office building in Manhattan. It uses more than twice as much energy per square foot as the 80-year-old Empire State Building. It also performs worse than the Goldman Sachs headquarters, maybe the most similar building in New York—and one with a lower LEED rating. It’s not just an embarrassment; it symbolizes a flaw at the heart of the effort to combat climate change.
Anyone who's ever really done any study of LEED can tell you that the program is flawed. It provides a framework for creating a more sustainable building, but it doesn't do anything about how that building is occupied. The article goes on to explain why the building is performing so much worse than advertised.
The biggest drain on energy in the Bank of America Tower is its trading floors, those giant fields of workstations with five computer monitors to a desk. Assuming no one turns these computers off, in a year one of these desks uses roughly the energy it takes a 25-mile-per-gallon car engine to travel more than 4,500 miles. The servers supporting all those desks also require enormous energy, as do the systems that heat, cool, and light the massive trading floors beyond normal business hours. These spaces take up nearly a third of the Bank of America Tower’s 2.2 million total square feet, yet the building’s developer and architect had no control over how much energy would be required to keep them operational.
So in the end despite the green design of the building and the bells and whistles that went into it, the actual use of the building is nowhere close to "green." So what's the lesson here? I think it's important not to blame the building for the tenant's occupation. The rain water collecting roof, the waterless urinals and all of the other green bells and whistles are a good thing and we shouldn't throw out good design features because of bad metrics.
At the same time, it is completely disingenuous to have a building rating system that presents a building as "green" while taking no account of the occupancy of the building. This allows Bank of America to relish in the press' praise at the ribbon cutting, then immediately consume inordinate amounts of energy when the building is occupied. This allows developers and owners to get all of the praise on the front end and none of the criticism on the back end.
Lastly, this story proved to me the importance of municipal energy auditing. We know about this because NYC commissioned a study of energy use. So we have real data and not fuzzy math. We need more of this kind of data not less.
As a designer, my take on this is simple. We can only control what we control. Designing a lighting system that is efficient and beautiful is the charge of the lighting designer. Designing a building that's as energy responsible as possible is the architect's charge. We cannot be responsible for occupancy. I just wish LEED reflected that.