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Is LEED Tough Enough for the Climate-Change Era?

Twenty years ago, the U.S. Green Building Council piloted its LEED certification, which has reshaped architecture and real estate. But how much does it dent buildings’ energy use?
A worker climbs among skylights on the "living roof" at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.
A worker climbs among skylights on the "living roof" at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.Robert Galbraith/Reuters

In the late 1980s, revolution was afoot in the world of architecture. It started when a soft-spoken Kansas City architect named Bob Berkebile tried to convince the American Institute of Architects to do more to save the planet. In the spring of 1989, he petitioned the AIA to establish a committee to study and promote ways that the profession could become more eco-friendly.

“The board of directors turned me down,” said Berkebile, now 81. In the Reagan era, the environmental movement had a Birkenstock-and-granola image that the men in charge at the AIA were apparently not prepared to adopt.