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September 24, 2019

Arlington Green Building Certification Program Mostly Green Washing

Development,environment — @ 4:06 pm

Arlington County gives subsidies to builders who obtain LEED certification for a new building that is supposed to cut energy use by 25-30 percent. The main subsidy given is zoning approval to add more floors and height to a new building, and in some cases tax credits. The first building was certified in the Arlington program in 2006.

During 2006-16, about 89 buildings were built in Arlington with a so-called “Green building certification” that include mainly LEED (Green Building Council), Earth Craft, Energy Star, and Water Sense EPA. But in the 13 years that program has operated, County staff have been unable to verify that these certified buildings use less energy than comparable non-certified buildings.

Nationwide, independent researchers cast doubt that LEED or similar rating systems result in any significant energy reduction. One researcher obtained energy use data for 10 major metro areas with large numbers of green certified (mainly LEED) buildings, and found that these building use MORE energy than comparable non-certified buildings, according to research from Oberlin College professor John Schofield. Perversely, he found newer LEED buildings tend to host more energy intensive activities, such as more computers and cellphones.

Thus, although Arlington has about 90 more energy certified buildings, it is not apparent that these buildings actually use less energy, and based on more comprehensive studies of ten major metro areas including Washington DC, such building would be expected to use more energy and not less.

There are proven ways to reduce energy in commercial buildings but these largely involve external factors—addition of solar panels outside the building, geothermal heating and cooling, and sourcing of renewable electricity.

The county government should revise its green building program to require developers to use external technology rather than rely on a certification program that results in no or even higher energy use. The current county program is green washing: allowing a developer to claim public relations credit and a significant subsidy for doing nothing to cut energy use.

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