New LEED Silver university dormitories
Over the past few years, the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system by the USGBC (US Green Building Council) has become the most recognized public symbol of green building in the US.
Since its inception in 1993, the USGBC has contributed monumentally to public awareness of green building issues, and the LEED rating system is a good-faith attempt to certify the level of sustainability in a building, but LEED - as is - has some fatal flaws. Did you know that a building can be awarded a LEED Silver Certification while using more energy than the average building or without addressing any of the local climatic conditions? A building in Alaska would not be disqualified for being a carbon copy of a building in Florida - as long as the credits add up.
Problem is, LEED is a checklist, and a clever designer can find enough check marks to gain a certification without really making a fundamental change in the way buildings are designed. (A contractor representative of a local LEED Silver project recently came by my sustainability class and presented the building. The visit got them a point on the checklist necessary to make Silver. Great! But does it make the building any greener? Turns out, the building in question looks conspicuously just like the last conventional energy-hog-of-a-building designed by that architect.)
LEED is a rating system, and no substitute for a thorough understanding of the "principles" of Sustainability. LEED should reflect sustainability, not the other way around.
Here's a good article from New York Times about LEED rating shortfalls.