Washington State Brags about Its Failed 'Green' Building Standards that Other States Are Abandoning

December 28, 2012

Pointing to a recent television news story, the House Democrats yesterday touted the Washington state law requiring that school buildings meet "green" building standards, claiming "taxpayers pay less for electricity every month." There are several problems with this claim, however, and stubborn support for this failed law despite the evidence has resulted in less money for schools, an actual increase in energy use and more environmental damage.

First, the KING TV story isn't about, and thus doesn't address "green" building standards. The energy education specialist interviewed in the story says savings are due to behavioral changes, such as "making sure the printers are off the monitors are off, the computers are off, the personal refrigerators..." Turning off lights and equipment do not require state laws and are unrelated to the construction of the building.

Second, all research, including the research of the legislature's own auditing agency the Joint Legislative Audit Review Committee (JLARC), demonstrates that "green" buildings actually use more energy than the non-green schools in the same district. JLARC's study found that of the nine schools they examined, five were less energy efficient than the average school, some decades old, in the same district.

USA Today recently featured a story about the failure of buildings using the most common green building standard known as LEED -- specifically mentioning a Washington state school.

These results match our research and the experience of schools across the country using green building standards. Here are just three examples:

  • The Tacoma School District facilities director told KING TV that "High performance schools are not cheaper to operate than a 1920s, 1930s building..."
  • The Santa Fe School District found that green schools did not pay for themselves and saved very little energy. The poor results led them to decide not to build any further green-certified schools.
  • A school facilities director in North Carolina recently told me they declined to apply for LEED certification because meeting the standard would have added "$100K in capital costs and $20K+ annually in the utility bill" just to meet the air standards for the school. I have been told similar things in Washington state.

Instead of saving money, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction recently released a report showing the most recent 13 "green" certified schools cost Washington state taxpayers and schools an additional $11.2 million just to meet the requirements.

Rather than providing an example of how state requirements force school districts to save money, the KING TV story is further proof that local districts have the knowledge, skill and incentives to find ways to reduce energy costs.

Given a choice, school districts across the country are deciding that "green" certification wastes money, energy and harms the environment. Far from being a leader, Washington state is lagging far behind in recognizing this simple reality.