LEED Exposed

Arbitrary Point System

Buildings can earn illogical points for things that don’t actually contribute to the “green-ness” of buildings.

Real targets or just “gimmies?”

Many of the easiest points to earn do nothing to improve the energy efficiency or reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of buildings. Even LEED developer and former NRDC director Rob Watson says, “We threw a few gimmes in there so people could get into the low 20s.”

Since the point system isn’t weighted, builders have an incentive to target the easiest points available. A few of the key points:

  • Adding a bike rack: 1 point
  • Redeveloping a brownfield (former industrial site): 1 point
  • Adding only the minimum number of parking spaces: 2 points
  • Creating a “green power” renewable energy system: 2 points

Commercial shortcuts

It’s no secret that contractors target the easiest and least expensive route to LEED-certification. A USA TODAY review of 7,100 LEED-certified commercial buildings found that building designers targeted the easiest and cheapest points available, including trying to create pleasant and healthful office spaces, using common building materials, providing preferred parking for fuel-efficient cars, bike racks and showers, and posting educational displays about the building.

Residential shortcuts

Residential developers have also found the easy route to LEED certification without adding huge costs to their budgets. A helpful website has identified 22 “shortcuts” to earning 70 points for LEED certification. These tips include:

  • Leaving out a fireplace: 2 points
  • Passing the LEED AP home designation test: 1 point
  • Refraining from poisoning bugs: 2 points
  • Installing a bench for shoe storage: 1 point
  • Airing out the house for 48 hours before occupancy: 1 point


In many states, developers have a clear financial incentive to take the easy road to LEED certification. A number of state and local governments offer exemptions from sales or property taxes for LEED-certified properties. Find out more about the taxpayer cost of LEED certification.


“Critics of LEED—many of them architects who were green before green was cool—see a system that's easy to game and has more to do with generating good PR than saving the planet.”
Daniel Brook, “It’s Way Too Easy Being Green”