Thanks partly to LEED and Energy Star requirements, green building in the US continues to grow.

According to the 2014 US Clean Tech Leadership Index, which ranks states and metro areas on their clean-tech activities in four sectors, the top 10 US metro areas for green building are:

  • Washington, DC
  • San Francisco
  • Denver
  • Portland
  • Seattle
  • San Diego
  • Sacramento
  • Minneapolis
  • Boston
  • Atlanta

The top nine metro areas are unchanged from 2013, while Atlanta improved enough to push Milwaukee, Wisconsin, from the top 10. According to Clean Edge founder and managing director Ron Pernick, Atlanta’s city ordinance requiring all new city construction and major renovations to be Silver-LEED certified accounts for much of the city’s improvement.

According to the US Green Building Council (USGBC), green building involves “the planning, design, construction, and operations of buildings with several central, foremost considerations: energy use, water use, indoor environmental quality, material section and the building’s effects on its site.”

Green building standards are a key factor in the development of the index. In the green building sector, the report cites four indicators for each metro area:

  • Number of projects, using the USGBC’s LEED project database.
  • Square footage per capita, again using the USGBC’s LEED project database.
  • Number of projects, using the US EPA’s Energy Star registry of certified projects.
  • Square footage per capita, again using the US EPA’s Energy Star registry of certified projects.

According to the report, more than half of all projects and more than two thirds of the total square footage of projects are built in the top 50 metro areas. Much of the improvement in green building can be credited to the adoption of green building standards such as Green Star and LEED. The USGBC, which administers LEED, estimates that up to 150,000 LEED-certified housing units have been built worldwide.

Australia’s Green Star program has certified more than 640 projects since 2002 and, according to the Green Building Council of Australia, Green Star-certified buildings have cut electricity use by 66 per cent, greenhouse gas emissions by 62 per cent, and water use by 51 per cent.

 Despite those advances in green building, not everyone is a supporter of bureaucratic, point-based systems. Steve Mouzon is an architect, author, blogger, and LEED-AP. His blog post titled The Anti-LEED—A Fast, Friendly, and Free Green Rating System outlines his idea for an alternative.

Mouzon slams LEED as “a symbol of all that is wrong with green building today. Getting a LEED rating is slow, difficult, and expensive…”

He argues that LEED works well in colder climates where it’s appropriate to build a well-sealed house that holds the heat in, but doesn’t work in the hot, humid region where he does most of his work. Atlanta, for example, with its hot and humid climate, might be better off with an alternative to LEED.

In its place, he advocates the “Anti-LEED,” a system “that is intelligent about where a building is built and who it’s being built for, and that is fast, friendly, and free so that anyone can use it.”

The Anti-LEED, he says, would improve on LEED in four ways. First, it would base its standards on region. As Mouzon says, “a highly sustainable building on Cape Cod is ridiculously unsustainable on the Gulf Coast.”

Next, his system looks at where a building is situated. Is it in or near a city, town, village, or hamlet?

“Being green near Chicago is very different from being green in Cheyenne,” Mouzon said.

Third, is the building located in the city or town, in the suburbs, or in the countryside? According to Mouzon, “sustainability on the farm looks very different from sustainability downtown.”

Fourth, the system looks at who the building serves.

“Green building solutions that work for the wealthy almost certainly won’t work for the poor, and vice versa,” he said.

Rather than counting points as many rating tools require, the Anti-LEED would calculate a rating based on the regional location, the neighbourhood, and the building itself. Those calculations should happen “under the hood,” Mouzon said, so that an average person can rate a building in about an hour.

Though LEED (and similar rating tools such as Green Star) have significantly advanced green building around the world, Mouzon sees them as fundamentally limited.

“LEED works well if you’re a wealthy person building within a Northern city. But that probably includes about one per cent of the world’s population,” he said. “We need a green building rating system for the rest of us.”