So, This Is Where It LEEDs Us!

Vince Bailey

September 2009

Okay, last month’s installment left me locked in a battle of wits with a professional LEED® consultant, and I was beginning to suspect that her arsenal was sadly inadequate. I’d just finished spinning my little tales of green absurdity (remember the shredded pants?) and the ball was now in her court.

"Your evidence is purely anecdotal,” she sneered dismissively. I surmised from a number of my associates’ facial expressions that her stilted academic language was starting to alienate her decidedly working-class audience; I plotted to enlist their support. "Purely anecdotal—ya think? Well, maybe I should restate my case in more general terms. I have four basic objections to the whole USGBC/LEED intrusion into our industry. They are: outrageous cost; little-to-no value; an unwieldy, if not oppressive, process; and the fact that the stated USGBC mission is a myth, if not an outright lie.”

"The costs are negligible,” she retorted. "Have any of you added any LEED-related costs to your bid proposals?” she called out merrily to the group. The room was silent. Of course they hadn’t; that would have cost them the job.

"But nevertheless,” I continued, "the hidden costs are numerous, and in some aspects, exorbitant.” I then blurted out a list of grievances that instantly came to mind:

• The cost that compliant material suppliers incur to maintain entire departments that cater to LEED demands—a cost that we subs are compelled to pass on or absorb because we are prohibited on LEED projects from selecting a less compliant but more economical alternative.

• The time-related costs that add to overhead. Time spent shuffling absurd LEED submittals back and forth. Time spent correcting "non-compliant” work. Time spent on redundant meetings, like the one we were currently attending.

• The cost of LEED certification classes and exams and the cost of LEED consultants, who net anywhere from $125 to $200 an hour!

"Well I’m sure you exaggerate, Mr. Bailey,” she responded. "But all of those costs are easily outweighed by the benefit of reduction in operating costs of LEED buildings. Our statistics show that LEED buildings consume 25 to 30 percent less energy.”

"Well, you know what Mark Twain said about damn liars and statistics,” I returned. "And those statistics that the USGBC put out fall squarely in that realm.”

"What do you mean?” she cooed with mock innocence.

"The USGBC study played a shell-game with mean and median averages. If you compare mean-to-mean, their own statistics show that LEED certified buildings actually use more energy than similar non-certified buildings constructed in similar time periods in similar geographic locations.” I paused to aim, then took the shot: "The role that LEED plays in its own primary purpose, energy efficiency, is a farce.”

I could read a look of panic on the LEED lady’s face at the prospect of losing control of her "compliance conference.” I could have softened up a bit, but I was on a roll, and the group was beginning to nod in agreement. I continued, ruthlessly.

"And as for the process, well, I’m pretty damn certain that all my colleagues here will attest to their joyful anticipation of cranking out all of those useless LEED submittal forms.” A groan of consensus rose and fell about the room.

"Everyone here is aware of the vital purpose of those submittals. They track and help us to enforce … er, ensure … the energy efficiency of the supply chain—from extraction to delivery,” she bleated.

"Don’t you think the cost of fuel already does that, and more effectively so?” I contended. "I mean, cutting the costs of transport allows a supplier to price his product more competitively. Why does he need ‘big brother’ coercing what he already does voluntarily? The free market is self-regulating.”

"And number four?” she hissed.

"I beg your pardon?”

"Your fourth objection made mention of our mission being a lie.”

"Oh, right. Well, in addition to your hypocrisy regarding energy efficiency, the USGBC has been exposed as a coalition of manufacturers whose chief aim is to control the construction markets, while posing as a non-profit 501(c)3 in pursuit of the betterment of mankind. Your CEO is a mechanical magnate who muscled his competitors out of the market for years using LEED guidelines as a block,” I answered.

"Well, Mr. Bailey, you seem to have all the answers.”

I was nodding with an honest sort of arrogance when she clapped her hands twice. Three burly men in brown shirts, Gestapo-style boots and green arm bands entered the conference room from a side door and "escorted” me from the room. Once outside, they stuffed me into the trunk of a Prius. Yes, the increasingly oppressive enforcement tactics of the USGBC had come to this: I was to be recycled. How ironic. I wondered if I would come back as a sheet of wallboard or a metal stud.

Miraculously, I awoke from my nightmare scenario in a cold sweat. I was reprieved. I got dressed and drove my gas-guzzling SUV down to the office and turned on my computer. That’s when I received the dreaded e-mail … .

Vince Bailey is an estimator/operations manager for San Juan Insulation and Drywall, Durango, Colo.