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Alec Appelbaum’s Misunderstandings of LEED are LEEDing us Astray PDF Print E-mail
Press Release

Madison, WI, May 20, 2010 – Today, Leonardo Academy President Michal Arny refuted Alec Appelbaum’s New York Times May 20 OpEd piece, “Don’t LEED Us Astray”, stating for the record that the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) green building rating systems do address maintaining the ongoing green performance of buildings. Michael Arny said: “The family of LEED green building rating systems does address the maintenance of ongoing green performance of buildings and Alec Appelbaum is doing a disservice to the built environment, the people that occupy buildings and environment by perpetuating the myth that LEED does not address maintaining the ongoing green performance of buildings. The LEED-EB O&M rating system specifically addresses the ongoing green performance of buildings and it was created to provide ongoing recertification for both buildings first certified under LEED for New Construction as well for buildings first certified under LEED for Existing buildings O&M.”

Alec Appelbaum’s piece  fails to understand that the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED® rating system comes in a variety of versions to fit different building situations.  His OpEd piece addresses the 1 Bryant Park Tower that the Durst Organization, Bank of America and Fox + Cook recently completed, earning a LEED for Core and Shell Platinum rating.  The greening of new buildings is covered by the LEED for New Construction (LEED-NC) rating system and its developer variant LEED for Core and Shell (LEED-CS), and the ongoing green performance of existing buildings is covered by the LEED for Existing Buildings: Operation and Maintenance™(LEED-EB O&M) rating system. LEED-EB O&M provides the path for greening existing buildings and for maintaining ongoing green performance both for buildings first certified under LEED-NC and for buildings previously certified under LEED-EB O&M. LEED-EB O&M requires recertification every one to five years. So the bottom line is the family of LEED rating systems does address maintaining the ongoing green performance of buildings with LEED-EB O&M. LEED-EB in its various versions is not new, it has been available since 2002. LEED-EB is the most important LEED rating system for the environment, building owners and building occupants because it is the only one that delivers ongoing green performance over the life of the building.

Leonardo Academy ( a charitable non-profit organization) is providing a free webinar on June 17, 2010 to increase awareness of how to use LEED-EB O&M to maintain the green performance of LEED-NC certified buildings: “123 LEED-NC: How to be a Hero and Deliver Great Post Occupancy Performance”. I invite all of your readers and Mr. Appelbaum to attend this webinar and to participate in the post-webinar discussion where we will review his OpEd piece. Sign up for this free training on our web site:

Now to address the inaccuracies in the OpEd piece one by one:

  1. Alec Appelbaum: “Put simply, a buildings LEED rating is more like a snapshot taken at its opening, not a promise of performance.” Response: This is true of the LEED-NC rating system but not true of the LEED-EB O&M rating system. LEED-EB O&M requires building owners and managers to measure and document building performance on an ongoing basis for the rest of the life of the building.
  2. Alec Appelbaum: “To be fair, the council never meant for its system to be a seal of green approval. Rather it was to be a set of guidelines for architects, engineers, builders and others who want to make a building less wasteful.”  Response: The USGBC does intend for LEED to be a green stamp of approval for buildings with the LEED-NC certification documenting achievements in the green design and construction of buildings and the LEED-EB O&M certification documenting achievements in the green ongoing operation of buildings. LEED-EB O&M requires measuring, monitoring and documenting ongoing green building performance and recertification of each building at least every one to five years.
  3. Alec Appelbaum: “Such market-driven motives wouldn’t matter – if LEED in fact measured energy performance. But it can’t: some certified buildings end up using much more energy than evaluators predict, because the buildings are more popular than expected or busy at different times than the developers forecast, or because tenants ignore or misuse green features.” Response: This is incorrect and seems to be based on an understanding of LEED that stops with LEED-NC. It is true that LEED-NC doesn’t measure energy use; instead it relies on computer modeling to estimate building energy use and this energy modeling is the biggest source of errors in estimating the energy use of buildings being designed. However, LEED-EB O&M can and does measure energy use. LEED-EB O&M requires metering of energy use for the building and awards points based on each building’s energy use relative to peer buildings using the EPA-DOE Energy Star portfolio manger program. Using bicycle race terminology for time trials, LEED-EB O&M is the LEED’s “race of truth” for energy performance: it doesn’t ask for estimates, it requires metered energy use data.
  4. Alec Appelbaum: “Bike racks merely encourage cycling to work.” Response: LEED-NC does give points for building and site features for encouraging the use of more environmentally friendly commuting by building occupants.  However, in LEED-EB O&M the commuting credit is strictly performance based requiring documentation of actual use by building occupants of commuting modes that have lower environmental impacts. Again the “race of truth” terminology applies.
  5. Alec Appelbaum: “The Green Building Council reformed the system last year to reflect actual energy use by having building owners report annual performance data. But that’s not enough detail to measure energy consumption accurately and there is no clear way to repeal certification if tenants or owners miss energy saving targets.” Response: The USGBC did add the requirements that LEED-NC certified building owners commit to providing annual energy data to the USGBC. This was a positive step, but a little silly because the USGBC already has a comprehensive program for maintaining green building performance: LEED-EB O&M. It would have been more effective and clearer for the USGBC to require that all LEED-NC certified buildings recertify under LEED-EB within one to five years after LEED-NC certification as I have been advising the USGBC to do since 2002 when the LEED-EB pilot version was launched. But not to worry, the USGBC will get there in the next few years and I believe the market will take care of this issue before then anyway. All that is needed is a somewhat more sophisticated understanding of LEED by the public.  (A) LEED-NC certification measures the greenness of building design and construction period. (B) LEED-EB O&M measures the greenness of ongoing building operations. (C) The market will start to insist that buildings maintain ongoing LEED-EB O&M certification. Just like the lack of new restaurant reviews in a restaurant waiting room is taken to mean a poorly managed restaurant, a five year old LEED-NC certification plaque in a building lobby without a LEED-EB recertification plaque next to it will be assumed to mean that the building owner has not bothered to maintain building green performance.  As the public, building owners, building occupants and building tenants start to understand this; they will all become major drivers for building owners taking action to get the ongoing recertification of their building under LEED-EB started.

The bottom line is that LEED-EB O&M is the LEED rating system for delivering ongoing green building performance and all owners of LEED-NC certified buildings, tenants and building occupants who want green buildings or green space should insist on their building having ongoing certification under LEED-EB O&M. For tenants, a free guide to green leasing is available on our web site.

The next time you hear someone worry out loud about the post occupancy performance of a LEED-NC certified building, ask them if LEED-EB O&M has been implemented for the building. In my experience this stops this line of discussion in its tracks because a problem has met its solution.

Michael Arny is the President of Leonardo Academy, a charitable nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing sustainability. Michael Arny is known as the “father of LEED-EB” because he was the chair of the USGBC LEED-EB committee from 2001-2005 and guided the committee’s development of LEED-EB. Leonardo Academy managed the LEED-EB pilot for the USGBC and performed all their LEED-EB certification reviews from 2002 to the Fall of 2007. Leonardo Academy continues to provide support to the USGBC, sustainability training and provide sustainability consulting services including the implementation of LEED in new and existing buildings.

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Leonardo Academy is a charitable nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing sustainability by leveraging innovative tools and information to motivate the competitive market. By utilizing an interdisciplinary approach to sustainability strategies, education and implementation, we strive to make sustainability practical for everyone. We develop integrative sustainability solutions designed to enhance the environmental stewardship, social responsibility and economic prosperity of organizations, corporations and individuals. We see a world filled with sustainable opportunities that can transform the way we live today and ensure the prosperity of future generations.

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Leonardo Academy works on a broad range of sustainability issues and provides comprehensive sustainability services to help companies, organizations, families and individuals implement sustainability. Our services include: organizational sustainability assessments and implementation; emissions footprints, reduction strategies and offsets, LEED® for sustainable buildings assessments, implementation and certification application preparation; sustainable land management; sustainability training; and sustainability standard development. For more information about Leonardo Academy visit


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Michael Arny, President
Leonardo Academy, Inc.
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