It’s Complicated: New York City Green Buildings Balk At, Earn LEED Certification

With Henry Gifford’s lawsuit against USGBC as an early 2011 backdrop to the local green building scene, New York City buildings of various sizes and uses are simultaneously earning and not pursuing formal LEED certification.

Diana Center - Barnard

Earlier this month in an article that was widely disseminated, the Chicago Tribune noted that, according to USGBC, New York City was tied with Washington, D.C. for third-place among U.S. cities with 146 LEED-certified buildings, trailing Chicago (firmly in the lead with 223). Since then, another major project which we’ve written about here at gbNYC has earned LEED certification, vaulting Gotham past D.C. and into second place behind the Windy City.

Designed by Weiss/Manfredi, the 98,000-square-foot Diana Center at Barnard College earned LEED Gold under the Core and Shell rating system last week. As you may recall, the building (which as you can see, and as we noted previously, is a rather striking shade of orange) serves as Barnard’s new campus center, won the 2011 American Institute of Architects (AIA) Honor Award for Architecture, and the AIA Best in New York State Award.

While some buildings, like the Diana Center, have successfully moved forward with plans for LEED certification and added to New York City’s growing total number of certifications, others, like the New York Times Building, have affirmatively made the choice not to pursue a formal rating from USGBC for a variety of reasons.

According to an article also published earlier this month in the Tribune, Frank Gehry’s acclaimed new 76-story rental building, New York by Gehry at 8 Spruce Street, falls under that latter category. “It won’t be LEED-certified,” a spokeswoman for the project told the Tribune in a phone interview. “It is, in many respects, a green building. [But] [w]e [are] not going to go through the formal process.”

One question currently hanging over the buzz about municipal leadership in green building practices is whether Henry Gifford’s suit against the USGBC will eventually play a role in impacting LEED registrations moving forward. Our, answer, for now? Probably not; the pursuit of LEED certification is driven as much by tenant demand in certain sectors than it is by the promises – realized or not – of higher performing buildings. Plenty of owners were making the choice not to pursue LEED certification – like the New York Times did – before Gifford’s suit.

Curiously, though, Forest City Ratner – the developer behind Gehry’s tower, touted the potential LEED certification and green features of the controversial Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn as that project battled its way through land use approvals and court proceedings before finally breaking ground late last year. Note that those very types of representations have landed the developer of the Destiny USA project in Syracuse in the middle of some very serious allegations about misrepresentation; that story is one we’ll be following both here at gbNYC and over at our sister publication, the Green Real Estate Law Journal, in the weeks ahead.

About Stephen Del Percio

Stephen Del Percio has written for gbNYC+ since 2006 and currently serves as in-house counsel for one of the world's largest engineering, construction, and technical services companies. He earned a B.Eng. from Columbia, his J.D. at William & Mary, and lives in New York City with his wife and daughter. You can follow Stephen on Twitter, email him at, or join gbNYC on Facebook to continue the conversation.

about gbNYC

gbNYC is a multi-disciplinary consulting and real estate services firm. In addition to representing office tenants and commercial buyers in leasing and acquisitions, we also provide innovative consulting solutions from a unique, green building perspective. We advise on green building financial incentives, comment on proposed green building marketing strategies, author white papers, treatises, and market analyses, organize seminars on the LEED process and professional accreditation, and provide advice and analysis on green building risk management and the overall state of green real estate, leasing, and construction, in New York City and beyond.

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3 Responses to It’s Complicated: New York City Green Buildings Balk At, Earn LEED Certification

  1. Marshall Leslie Tuesday, February 22, 2011 at 10:24 pm #

    In Canada, two-thirds of LEED registered projects have not proceeded towards certification, and for several reasons. Like the US, non-residential construction dipped in Canada and some projects were cancelled, delayed, or had their budgets cut. In some markets, a municipality has created its own high performance guide. For example, the Toronto Green Standard (TGS) is LEED like, and preferred by both developers and municipal officials. Also, Canadian building codes have a higher performance level. And finally, rating systems were introduced to Canada in 1989, and owners and design professionals have been dealing with LEED like precursors since that time. Markets and needs are diverse. We should not expect to see similar patterns in New York, Chicago, Toronto, or any other city.

    • Stephen Del Percio Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, Marshall. Agreed, as you and I have discussed before and something I should have noted in this article.

  2. Stephen Rizzo Saturday, June 11, 2011 at 11:35 pm #

    LEED and Energy Star are a terrific kick-start for a building’s sustainability plan. These types of ratings help engage all a building’s stakeholders and often provide the spark to cause real change for the better in a building’s operations. While no system is flawless, LEED has evolved to become the litmus test for our industry; and it continues to improve. In fact, LEED incorporates most ‘best practices’ from Energy Star to ASHRAE codes, so the builder does not have to reinvent the wheel on every building. In the end, any criticism has proven good for LEED as it has forced it to address short falls and evolve into the leading and most recognized standard across the globe –

    As LEED and other standards mature, focus is becoming more and more on measured and proven performance increases; in the past three years the number of technologies has increased exponentially. From retrofitting existing boilers, to new window film technology to LED lighting, our built environment is more efficient. At Code Green, we look forward to LEED’s increasing shift and focus on measuring performance data and providing extra incentives to the thousands of building owners who run their building efficiently every day throughout the year.

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