Mea culpa: A few things I wish I'd never said

August 11, 2010

In the past, I've come down pretty hard on Building Teams for failing to revisit their completed projects to see if the great edifices they have built were really performing as planned. Now it's my turn to take a look back.

I'm proud of many of the things we have supported over the six-plus years of my tenure at BD+C. For example, we pushed hard, starting with our first White Paper in 2003, for the U.S. Green Building Council to admit trade associations, which the USGBC eventually agreed to do, albeit reluctantly.

We also gave voice to those seeking to include other wood standards in addition to Forest Stewardship Council certification within LEED, a matter that is still being debated. In sum, about half the recommendations we have called for in our White Papers have either been implemented or are under consideration.

Then there are a number of decisions I regret. For example, in 2005, we devoted an entire White Paper—some 35,000 words—to "Life Cycle Assessment and Sustainability" ( It was probably the right thing to do at the time—building product manufacturers and the USGBC were struggling with how LCA would fit into future versions of LEED—but I wonder if it didn't contribute to a false sense of optimism that LCA would ever be truly feasible within LEED.

We also publicized various green technologies without third-party proof of their efficacy. One example: low-flow and dual-flush toilets. In print and online, we reported, based on projections from the respective Building Teams, that the installation of such systems in green buildings would save thousands and thousands of gallons of water usage per year.

But neither we, nor the respective Building Teams, nor, to the best of my knowledge, the plumbing manufacturers themselves, have gone back to monitor water usage in these projects. I have no doubt that these devices, if used properly, do save water, but are building occupants using them as prescribed? And how do actual water savings stack up against the projections? We should have asked those questions back then.

Same thing for building-mounted wind turbines. They seem to make a lot of sense. Once again, we essentially took their advocates' assertions of performance for granted and thereby implicitly supported their use as a green strategy.

As Alex Wilson has documented, however, "It turns out that, despite some benefits, building-integrated wind doesn't make much sense as a renewable-energy strategy" (Environmental Building News, May 2009, at: Wilson's basic finding is that there's not enough reliable wind for building-mounted devices to be effective. Wind power may be sexy, but it just doesn't work on buildings.

I cannot promise that we will not make other errors of judgment in the future, but we'll do our best to avoid them—and to keep your trust.


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