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Pacific Park buildings are aiming at LEED Silver. Advocates say rating system must upgrade on climate change.

According to the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park 2009 Modified General Project Plan from Empire State Development, "All of the Project buildings will be 'green' buildings, meeting, at a minimum, LEED certification, which is the recognized standard for measuring environmental sustainability of new buildings." 

That refers to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, the "most widely used green building rating system in the world," issued by the U.S. Green Building Council.

According to a project fact sheet, all the buildings are "Designed and/or expected to gain LEED Silver." That's the second highest level. As the USGBC states, "Based on the number of points achieved, a project then earns one of four LEED rating levels: Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum." ("The federal government now requires LEED Gold for every new building it constructs," according to CityLab.)

As I wrote, LEED bars smoking in common areas of the 550 Vanderbilt condo building, while rental buildings so far are smoke-free.

Upgrading LEED?

Is LEED getting tired? Consider a couple of essays at Greenbiz.com by Greg Kats, president of Capital E, a clean energy investor and leader in the transition to a low carbon economy and the first recipient of the U.S. Green Building Council Lifetime Achievement Award.

In LEED must be updated to address climate change, published 5/24/18, Kats praised LEED but said it "has not kept up with the accelerating urgency of climate change or the availability of low and no-cost ways to deeply cut carbon — particularly from steep declines in the cost of clean energy options (such as the 60 percent cost reduction of residential solar since 2010) — that make these now the cheapest electricity source in most states."

While "[m]any buildings receiving LEED Silver, Gold and even Platinum ratings deliver an anemic 15 or 20 percent lower energy use and CO2 reduction," Kats thinks they should step up. With allies, he's proposed an upgrade to LEED, given that "[b]uildings represent over 40 percent of energy use and almost half of the emissions changing our climate."

The proposal:
For many or most LEED buildings, a combination of energy efficiency, onsite renewable energy (primarily solar PV [photovoltaic]) and direct long-term purchase of renewable energy can cost-effectively deliver large reductions of CO2 from building energy use. Like renewable energy, energy efficiency technologies such as LED lights, ground-source heat pumps and battery storage have over the last decade experienced deep and sustained cost reductions, making zero net carbon buildings increasingly viable. 
Updating LEED for energy performance

In a 5/25/18 follow-up, Here's how to move LEED forward on climate change, Kats wrote:
Raising minimum CO2 reductions for LEED would have both positive and negative consequences. On the negative side, building owners seeking a green label with little or no effort to get it might drop out from modest minimum CO2 reductions proposed at the Certified and Silver LEED levels.
However, when we added minimum energy performance to LEED, despite concerns that this would reduce growth in LEED, no such slowdown occurred. Our proposal would increase minimum CO2 reductions greatly, only for Gold and Platinum levels, allowing for recognition of moderate CO2 improvements at the Certified and Silver level as well as encouraging real climate change leadership at the Gold and Platinum levels. 
He suggests that other cities are moving toward more stringent standards, with "New York, Toronto and Vancouver... shifting to adopt the Passivhaus design standard." Actually, I'm not sure New York is shifting but it's under consideration, as per the Department of Housing Preservation and Development:
Passive House is a high performance building standard developed by the Passive House Institute (PHI) originally in 1990 and by the Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) in 2007.
Buildings certified to Passive House standards reliably provide reduction in energy needed for heating and cooling of up to 90%, and up to 75% reduction in overall energy use, compared to existing buildings. It focuses on passive measures and building components such as insulation, airtightness and heat recovery to provide tenants with superior quality residences, while increasing long term viability for building owners through lower utility bills.
Residents benefit from great indoor air quality, comfortable and even temperatures, significantly reduced energy bills and acoustically superior homes from reduced noise attenuation from neighbors and street noise.
One such project is under construction. Here's more on the Passive House Institute US.

From CityLab

Almost in synchrony, CityLab 6/5/18 published Is LEED Tough Enough for the Climate-Change Era?, questioning whether the program, piloted in 1998, sufficiently addressed energy use.

Brian Barth writes:
Markets can be an expedient way to enact positive societal transformation. But as the USGBC has grown, so have accusations of “greenwashing.” National newspapers have reported on criticisms that LEED buildings do not save as much energy as predicted and that the LEED points system is gamed by designers targeting “the easiest and cheapest” points, such as for posting educational signage or giving priority parking to fuel-efficient cars.
He doubs the USGBC claim that "LEED-certified buildings use 25 to 30 percent less energy than non-LEED buildings," given questionable calculations (including estimates, rather than performance assessment) and self-selected buildings. Limited disclosure of data has suggested little reduction.

He cites the Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge, far more stringent than LEED, but still fledgling, and concludes ominously:
The truth is, climate change isn’t going to wait on the LBC slowly gaining adherents—or the incremental tightening of LEED standards. Carbon emissions seem to have stabilized, but carbon in the atmosphere is rising. At the current rate of emissions, we may have only a handful of years to limit global warming to a non-catastrophic 1.5 degrees. Retrofitting all urban buildings to be net zero sounds wildly ambitious, but that’s what decarbonization would entail.

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