Coining a new phrase is rarely an intentional endeavor, but I am going to take a run at it.

Green Stain: When practices which are assumed to be sustainable, are forced upon the public through regulation or populism, without proper scientific support of their effectiveness and without regard to their cost or negative implication.

The question isn’t whether or not to make an effort to design sustainably, it is “what is sustainability,” and what are the costs and benefits of any given sustainable idea. Everyone wants to do the right thing, and the masses are busting at the seams to do so. Not so many are busting at the seams to put forth the effort to research and discover what the right thing is, and so as soon as someone with a loud enough voice, (such as the USGBC) loosely delineates what the right thing might be, everyone scurries to get on the bandwagon, mostly without pausing to ask “are we sure that this is the right thing?” Not that the USGBC is sinister, I think they have just lost some control and lost sight of what people perceived to be their mission, and what they can contribute to society. Once regulated, the benefits of LEED diminish rapidly, and may even have reverse consequences.

There is no doubt that there is a need for more energy efficiency in building, as well as for better buildings in general that serve the needs of the users, owners and broader public, but stating the obvious should never be reason for martyrdom, yet anyone today who makes a stand in favor of anything obviously good, and yet vague enough to be non-committal, seems to be raised to that level, and promoters of LEED have been.

At the ACHE Congress in Chicago this past month there were several presentations given on sustainably designed hospital projects, most were LEED certified buildings. As a health care architect and LEED certified professional, I found these presentations to be very informative, although not as the average reader might expect. In order to protect the innocent, the guilty, and my own liability, I will not mention any specific projects, firms or individuals, but with only six LEED certified full service acute care hospitals in the country, there aren’t many possibilities.

The most telling tidbit of fact that I gleaned came from the only presentation that reported results of any post occupancy analysis on the effectiveness of the energy efficiency of a LEED certified building. The report was astounding! The building not only failed to perform as the LEED required energy modeling predicted, but it actually performed worse than any of the other non-LEED certified buildings in the healthcare system. This is very significant, because promoters of LEED point to the energy savings as the source of life-cycle cost savings that will ultimately pay for the other cost negative points required under LEED. If no cost benefit can be gained from decreased energy costs, then any prediction of the cost impact of a LEED certified building are fallacious.

This conclusion leads me to ask, what IS the cost of LEED, and what IS the benefit? Further, who is profiting from LEED and who is benefiting? Follow the money and you will find the answer to that question.