Stop me if you've heard me say this before: Buildings are the single largest user of electricity in the nation. According to the US Green Buildings Council, buildings account for 72% of electricity use in the United States. So if you're going to try to conserve energy in our society, buildings would be a great place to start.
That's why there are a number of ratings systems for "green" buildings. USGBC's "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design" (LEED) program is the most respected — which is why it's disconcerting that a new GSA report states that many LEED-certified buildings are, in fact, not even qualified to carry the Energy Star label. How can this be? Because to get LEED certified, buildings can earn points any number of ways. Like the federal building in Youngstown, Ohio, that (according to GSA) is an energy hog — but received enough points for stuff like having native landscaping and carpets made of low-emitting material to get certified.
This is a challenge that USGBC acknowledges, according to a recent NYTimes article on the subject. The problem is the gap between design and construction (which USGBC certifies) and actual building performance. USGBC will start collecting energy use from the buildings that it certifies, and newly constructed buildings that want to be certified will have to start providing energy and water bills as well for the first five years of operation.
USGBC should also start incorporating more energy-efficient electrical products into its LEED rating system. If energy consumption and carbon emissions are that organization's primary targets, then nothing can really compare to installing such advanced electrical equipment as energy efficient lighting systems, motor controls, temperature controls, and air-conditioning and heating systems. By using such products, even irresponsible human behavior (like leaving lights on all night) won't prevent a building from cutting its electricity consumption dramatically over time.