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KATU Investigators

Tracking a building's carbon footprint harder than you might think

Tracking a building's carbon footprint harder than you might think

PORTLAND, Ore. – You might have heard of green buildings that are "LEED Certified," but a Washington, D.C. newspaper is now calling their energy efficiency into question.

The Washington Examiner found some buildings in New York City with LEED certification got millions of dollars in tax breaks but were often no more energy efficient than other buildings. And in many cases, the new buildings emitted more greenhouse gas per square foot.

"In a lot of ways this has become 'green-washing' where this is a marketing tool," said Washington Examiner investigative reporter, Luke Rosiak.

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is a nonprofit that oversees the LEED program.

Portlanders are known for going green and so energy experts expect green buildings to stay that way.

The city is in in love with LEED. Everywhere you turn – from schools, to retailers, to hospitals – hundreds of buildings boast LEED certification, which distinguishes them as leaders of energy efficiency.

Renaissance Homes is the largest builder of single-family LEED certified homes in Portland.

"We have homeowners that come to buy a home from us specifically because they wanted a LEED certified home," said Kelly Asmus, the director of marketing for Renaissance.

Any building must pass stringent benchmarks to win the coveted certification.

The process is just as strict for the more than 200 LEED projects across Portland.

"For the first five years, LEED-certified projects must send energy data to the U.S. Green Building Council," the council said in a statement.

But after those first five years, there's not one agency ensuring the building remains energy efficient.

"Ongoing measurement and verification isn't particularly a requirement of LEED," said Nicholas Hartrich, who works for the Cascadia Green Building Council, the Portland branch of the U.S. nonprofit.

"That's where LEED can fall short. If you don't have ongoing buy-in from the owner and the building operator – that's critical because you wouldn't move into a brand new home to find that your home doesn't actually heat itself and just live that way and continue to operate that way day in and day out," he said.

The U.S. Green Building Council said in its statement it "does address ongoing building performance" through another LEED rating system, but said all LEED certifications under any rating system is voluntary.

There is also no central database for tracking energy in Portland's buildings. But there are other checks and balances. Some business managers use an online tool created by the EPA to measure and track energy, water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

So in many cases it's up to the owner of the green building to ensure it remains energy efficient.

If you have a story for the On Your Side Investigators, email them at investigators@katu.com.

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