Landmark NY Skyscraper Raises Doubts About LEED

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Monday, August 12th, 2013
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The accuracy of the world’s most widely accepted green building standard has been called into question following reports a building given a high ranking certification under the standard is actually one of the most energy hungry buildings in New York.

The Bank of America Tower opened to much fanfare and acclaim in 2012, with the media billing it as one of the most ecologically sound high-rise office buildings in the world.

Located on the northwest corner of Bryant Park in Manhattan, the 55-story crystal structure featured a plethora of innovative green building attributes, including waterless urinals, daylight regulation of lighting levels and harvesting of rainwater – all of which contributed to making the building the first skyscraper to obtain LEED platinum certification.

It also enjoyed the imprimatur of having one of the leading luminaries of America’s environmental movement, Al Gore, as a tenant.

Gore chose the tower as the location for his company, Generation Investment Management, on the grounds of its sustainability measures.

The enthusiasm has proven premature, however, with data released by New York City indicating that the tower emits more greenhouse gas and consumes more energy per square foot than any other office building in Manhattan of roughly commensurate size.

It underperforms the Goldman Sachs headquarters, which is highly similar yet possesses a lower LEED rating, while also consuming two times more energy per square foot than the Empire State Building – which was completed in the 1930s, decades before environmental awareness rose to the fore of the construction sector.

The skyscraper’s LEED platinum-rating, which it obtained with two points in excess of the required amount, has raised doubts about the accuracy of US Green Building Council’s rating system, which was first introduced in 1998 and is considered the benchmark for building sustainability.

Critics have already charged USGBC with providing rating criteria which cater more to media-friendly ecological measures rather than substantive improvements to efficiency.

“What LEED designers deliver is what most LEED building owners want – namely green publicity, not energy savings” said John Scofield, a professor of physics at Oberlin, in a testimony before Congress last year.

The US Green Building Council has said in its defence that it has no say over the way in which certified buildings are used, since LEED ratings are conferred prior to their occupation.

This issue is especially applicable to the Bank of America Tower, whose trading floors require the installation and operation of a huge amount of computing equipment – including support servers and multiple monitors for each desk, which gobble up vast amounts of power.

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