When the U.S. Green Building Council created its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) sustainability measuring stick in 1998, the overwhelming assumption was that obtaining LEED certification would ensure a building’s “greenness” and translate it to energy-cost savings. Did LEED keep its promise?

A New York Times story published Aug. 31 exposed the fallacy of assuming LEED certification meant energy savings. “The plaque should be installed with removable screws,” said Henry Gifford, an energy consultant in New York City. “Once the plaque is glued on, there’s no incentive to do better.”

Architect and Triangle USGBC official Dona Stankus of the N.C. Solar Center explained her misgivings this way: “My biggest concern with the early version of LEED was its lack of a required focus on energy efficiency, especially energy efficiency that goes beyond N.C.’s own building code.”

What went wrong? According to Stankus, it was LEED’s narrow focus and compliance with only the most basic of standards. “For some states, this was a good step forward, but for N.C. it was supposed to be status quo.”

Local architect Doug Brinkley said the blame shouldn’t be focused solely on the LEED process. “All parties involved in the design, construction and operation of the building should bear responsibility for its ability to perform or not to perform.”

The Green Building Council revises its guides about every two years to adapt to new information, Brinkley said, adding, “It does take time to realize if a building will or will not perform as designed. I do not think it just to blame LEED.”

One aspect of LEED 2009 should help improve the understanding of the relationship between credits and building performance. As part of project registration, teams will need to agree to report on energy and water use, not just before the building is occupied, but after.

There will be a number of ways to fulfill this provision, including participation in the existing buildings program, which requires that building managers or owners measure energy efficiency, or to allow the Green Building Council to obtain the information directly from the utility company.