I had planned for my first blog post to be an introduction to LEED—an overview of the U.S. Green Building Council’s comprehensive and widely-used rating system and its significance to the green building movement.  However, there is a recent significant issue relating to an appeal of a LEED certification rating that is at the forefront of green building news currently.  You will see it referred to as the Northland Pines High School Appeal.

You can find a detailed recitation of the facts surrounding the Appeal as well as the key Appeal documents at www.greenbiz.com

Here is just a brief summary of the Appeal, as set out in the original documents:

  • Northland Pines High School in Eagle, Wisconsin was the first public high school to be awarded Gold LEED certification in May 2007 under the New Construction (NC) 2.1 standards.
  • In December 2008, members of the Northland Pines High School Building Committee and concerned tax payers, along with two engineers, filed an appeal of the Gold certification given to Northland Pines.
  • The Appeal challenged the award of Gold certification on the basis that the design and construction of the school did not meet LEED prerequisites EA1 (Fundamental Building Systems Commissioning), EA2 (Minimum Energy Performance) and EQ1 (Minimum Indoor Air Quality Performance).
  • More specifically, the challengers claim that certain mandatory standards were not complied with ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 62.1-1999 (Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality) and ANSI/ASHRAE/IESNA Standard 90.1-1999 (Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low Rise Residential Buildings), together with numerous violations of the Wisconsin Code.
  • The challengers also claim that the violations of the ANSI/ASHRAE/IESNA Standards could not have been cured without a complete redesign of the HVAC system, which was never done.
  • In April 2010, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) issued a formal written response to the Appeal affirming the Gold certification to Northland Pines High School, stating that “after extensive review, USGBC and its consultants have no reason to believe that the project failed to meet all of the LEED prerequisites and credits that it has attempted.  Thus, USGBC will not act to revoke certification or disallow any prerequisites or credits.”
  • On June 5, 2010, the challengers issued an Appellant’s Executive Summary Response in which they criticized USGBC for, among other things, relying on documentation and information that was obtained from the designers only after the Gold certification was awarded and for using post-submission design and/or construction changes as a basis for compliance—suggesting that the original submission for certification was inadequate to prove compliance with the prerequisites.

This Appeal raises numerous issues about the LEED certification process that green lawyers have predicted for some time.  At a minimum, this Appeal shows that the LEED certification requirements and process are open to subjective interpretation and potentially arbitrary enforcement.  In this case, engineers on both sides make technical arguments to support their conclusions that the prerequisite standards have either been violated or complied with.

Does the USGBC’s affirmation of the Gold certification in this case set a “dangerous precedent” as the challengers suggest in their Executive Summary Response?  Does the USGBC have an incentive to affirm certifications rather than to revoke them, or does the real threat of revocation for noncompliance add credibility to the LEED rating system?  These are just a few of the issues raised by this appeal that will be analyzed and discussed in the green news and this blog in the coming months.

We’ll continue to look at issues that can emerge from the Northland Pines High School LEED Appeal in future posts, and we’ll get back to the basics of LEED and other rating systems as well.