LEED certified buildings are supposed to use resources more efficiently when compared to conventional buildings which are simply built to code. LEED certified buildings often provide healthier work and living environments, which contributes to higher productivity and improved employee health and comfort. The USGBC has compiled a long list of benefits of implementing a LEED strategy which ranges from improving air and water quality to reducing solid waste, benefiting owners, occupiers, and society as a whole.
Often when a LEED rating is pursued, this will increase the cost of initial design and construction. One reason for the higher cost is that sustainable construction principles may not be well understood by the design professionals undertaking the project. This could require time to be spent on research. Some of the finer points of LEED (especially those which demand a higher-than-orthodox standard of service from the construction team) could possibly lead to misunderstandings between the design team, construction team, and client, which could result in delays. Also, there may be a lack of abundant availability of manufactured building components which meet LEED standards. Pursuing LEED certification for a project is an added cost in itself as well. This added cost comes in the form of USGBC correspondence, LEED design-aide consultants, and the hiring of the required Commissioning Authority (CxA) – all of which would not necessarily be included in an environmentally responsible project unless it were also seeking a LEED rating.
However, these higher initial costs can be effectively mitigated by the savings incurred over time due to the lower-than-industry-standard operational costs which are typical of a LEED certified building. Additional economic payback may come in the form of employee productivity gains incurred as a result of working in a healthier environment. Studies have suggested that an initial up-front investment of 2% extra will yield over ten times the initial investment over the life cycle of the building.
Although the deployment of the LEED standard has raised awareness of green building practices, its scoring system is skewed toward the ongoing use of fossil fuels. More than half of the available points in the standard support efficient use of fossil fuels, while only a handful are awarded for the use of sustainable energy sources. Further, the USGBC has stated support for the Architecture 2030, an effort that has set a goal of using no fossil-fuel, greenhouse gas-emitting energy to operate by 2030.
In addition to focusing on efficient use of fossil fuels, LEED focuses on the end product. For example, because leather does not emit VOCs they are deemed healthy for environments, disregarding the use of extremely harmful chemicals in the process of tanning leather. Other products that do not use harmful chemicals and focus on more sustainable production do not earn any additional points for their attention to environmental concerns.
LEED is a measurement tool and not a design tool. It is also not yet climate-specific, although the newest version hopes to address this weakness partially. Because of this, designers may make materials or design choices that garner a LEED point, even though they may not be the most site or climate-appropriate choice available.