The church of LEED, passive house and the dangers of going green.

Author:Dardozzi, Jeff
Position::The Green Tragedy: LEED's Lost Decade - Book review

The Green Tragedy: LEED's Lost Decade, by Pat Murphy, Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions (publisher), 2009, $12.95. ISBN 978-0910420334

Pat Murphy's new book, The Green Tragedy: LEED's Lost Decade, is a dry but worthwhile effort to debunk the US Green Building Council's (USGBC) claims regarding its flagship LEED program. (1) Anyone interested in solid accounting of the shortcomings of the LEED rating system and the buildings it certifies will find his book compelling.

Murphy's arguments center on the fact that LEED certified buildings have failed by virtue of their core metrics and therefore mislead the public in claims to sustainability. The LEED program, he suggests, does not sufficiently emphasize those areas of "building performance" most relevant to Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, preferring to pursue broader and, in his opinion, more subjective qualities that have little bearing on climate change (CC). While his critique of LEED is valid, Murphy alternatively advocates for the hyper-rationality of the Passive House as a response to the ecological crisis, failing to understand that the crisis is social in origin.

Both USGBC and passive house offer no real evidence that their approaches will produce meaningful ecological outcomes as both programs rely on the scientifically untenable, and largely unquestioned, assumptions of bourgeois ideology. (2)


USGBC has dominated the discourse in the US on sustainable building practices for the last decade not because it has good ideas based on a sound understanding of the issues but because it is an industry trade organization with a well funded mandate. USGBC's current budget is $46,000,000. The truth and the absurdity of its premises, as Murphy points out, can be found in the pending certification of one single family home, 24 stories tall with a 168 car garage and three heli-pads, for an Indian billionaire.

The logic of LEED is that it can be applied to any building regardless of social context and the consequences of the activity taking place within the structure. A nuclear weapons factory, a biological warfare lab or a concentration camp could carry a platinum rating. Guantanamo could be redeemed by virtue of bike racks, orange jumpsuits made from recycled fiber, cattle prods energized by photovoltaics and water-boarding conducted with reclaimed gray water.

As Murphy accurately points out, LEED is a teleological construct, a straw man argument which industry has made in an effort to create a "new" market for its members' products and services. Its much vaunted third party verification is little more than a revenue generating scheme and a PR stunt. There is no body of evidence that validates USGBC claims that its LEED program will contribute to the development of a sustainable society as its core assumptions are little more than articles of faith.

The problem begins with the definition of sustainability most used by LEED professionals:

Sustainability is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. (3) The definition, originating with the 1987 UN Bruntland Commission, is...

To continue reading