By CORBIN HIAR
More than 800 U.S. buildings certified as “sustainable” are at extreme risk of flooding — and may have to be abandoned as the planet continues to overheat.
That’s because the U.S. Green Building Council — an influential nonprofit that works to make buildings more climate-friendly — has for years largely overlooked the impact of extreme weather. Its point-based Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification generally offers new building projects just four points out of a possible 110 for taking steps to protect projects from flooding.
LEED certification is a big deal: It’s subsidized or required by more than 350 local and state governments as well as the General Services Administration, which manages the vast federal building stock.
But the LEED system has a significant shortcoming
The Green Building Council has affixed its coveted three-leaved seal to 830 new buildings in the past decade that have as much as a 50 percent chance of flooding every year, according to an analysis by POLITICO’s E&E News and the First Street Foundation, a nonprofit that models likely climate impacts.
Design experts said the findings suggest that tens of millions of tax dollars have been directed toward new projects that may need to be repeatedly repaired or torn down before the end of their expected life span. That raises questions about whether some green buildings are truly sustainable.
“It’s a contradiction to call something sustainable if it’s also prone to hazards like flood,” said Samuel Brody, the director of Texas A&M University’s Institute for a Disaster Resilient Texas.
It’s difficult to know how many new LEED buildings have flooded because the Green Building Council doesn’t track that information and most states don’t require building owners to disclose such details. But E&E News visited two LEED-certified buildings in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that were damaged in a recent deluge and found several others across the country that had been temporarily shuttered due to floodwaters.
The Biden administration and industry groups are working to better integrate resilience into local building codes and the LEED rating system. Yet the Green Building Council said any improvements to LEED won’t happen until 2025 at the earliest.