Sherlock Holmes Searches for Clue's About LEED's Failures

When you have eliminated the impossible -- whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth -- Sherlock Holmes

In this post and in my new book, Reinventing Green Building, we apply forensic analyses to find clues about why LEED has flatlined in the United States, and why, by implication, it's likely to flatline everywhere else, after a brief growth spurt. The figure below shows some likely suspects, which individually and in combination, point to the ultimate culprit: a rating and certification system that really hasn't changed its approach in 15 years, even while it's gotten hideously complex.

There are perhaps 9 possible reasons why LEED certifications have flatlined in the United States, according to Sherlock Holmes.

There are perhaps 9 possible reasons why LEED certifications have flatlined in the United States, according to Sherlock Holmes.

If you've worked with LEED as a consultant, designer, builder or client, you probably have your own combination of reasons for the decline in LEED certification. The larger issue is what the USGBC plans to do to address these issues. In the final chapter of Reinventing Green Building, my new book, I make very specific suggestions about this, but for this post, I'll just note that any software that is so burdened with problems isn't going to grow market share. Just as an example, there are now more than 10,500 credit interpretations - who could master all of them? Who would want to? Isn't that number alone proof that the system has become hideously complex.

In the book, I quote one consultant about his experience with arbitrary and capricious rulings - for a campus project where the entire campus is tobacco-free, LEED's reviewers still required the building to have its own individual nonsmoking signs (a prerequisite) before they would certify it. Talk about arbitrary and capricious rulings! My argument is to eliminate all the prerequisites because they cause far more problems than they solve.

The judgement of the market is swift, brutal and eminently practical. Here's how I read it - there is just not enough demand for green building certification at LEED's current price point and value proposition (there are a few exceptions such as Class A commercial offices, large corporate buildings, etc.). In other words, LEED costs too much for the value it delivers.  In other words, LEED has priced itself out of the broader market, for no good reason. The answer is simple: cut costs 90% to 95% by adopting an entirely different delivery model and radically simplifying the rating system, so that it focuses on the "must have" carbon-emission reductions and eliminates all of the "nice to have" elements that don't address global climate change, resource depletion and water scarcity.

In the next blog post, we'll look at whether LEEDv4, which becomes mandatory in October 2016, will help answer these criticisms. Meanwhile, let me know what you think about Sherlock Holmes's clues!