Cities should halt 'LEED creep'

August 11, 2010

A growing number of municipalities are engaging in the practice of “LEED creep.” It starts with governments requiring LEED certification for public buildings—perfectly OK, since they're being built with taxpayer dollars—but before long, private projects are also put under LEED mandate.

Albuquerque, N.M., sets LEED Silver for private-sector projects using over 50kW of electricity. Boston mandates LEED certification for all development projects over 50,000 sf. In Los Angeles, all building projects with funding from the city have to be LEED certified.

Other cities with “LEED creep” requirements for private-sector projects: Calabasas, Calif. (LEED Silver for buildings of 5,000 or more sf); Frisco, Texas (LEED checklist for nonresidential projects of 10,000 sf or more); Normal, Ill. (LEED certification for certain projects in the central business district); and Pasadena, Calif. (LEED certification for commercial buildings of 25,000 sf or more and residential construction at least four stories in height).

Wait! There are more: Pleasanton, Calif. (LEED guidelines for projects over 20,000 sf); and Portland, Ore. (LEED Silver for all developments over 10,000 sf that receive public funding, including the value of fee or tax waivers, of $200,000 or more or 10% of total project cost).

When I pointed out this trend at a presentation at Greenbuild last month, I was told I couldn't be right. But all these statutes are posted right there on the U.S. Green Building Council Web site.

Two weeks after Greenbuild, Montgomery County, Md., enacted legislation requiring county-funded nonresidential buildings to achieve LEED Silver and private nonresidential or multifamily project to be LEED certified.

The latest perpetrator of LEED creep is the city council of the District of Columbia, which this month passed an ordinance (on the Mayor's desk for signing at this writing) requiring private-sector projects of 50,000 sf or more to obtain LEED Silver.

Mayors and city councils—for that matter, government entities at all levels—should stick to providing incentives for green buildings—particularly those, such as density bonuses or speedy permitting, that do not add significantly to the burden of other taxpayers. Local government should not be saddling developers and owners with restrictions that could add several dollars per square foot to their costs and make their projects unfeasible.

Most of these restrictions fail to accomplish what local government should be doing: encouraging more green building through private enterprise. If Albuquerque wants to conserve energy, for example, it shouldn't rely on LEED to hold down energy usage in buildings, especially since you can attain LEED Silver and not do a very good job of energy conservation.

Imposing LEED on private projects only serves to turn off developers, building owners, and the real estate industry to the true goal of encouraging more green buildings.

For more on “LEED creep,” see the BD+C White Paper, “Green Buildings and the Bottom Line” available online at


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