The skyscraper at the heart of the debate over America’s green building standard

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The skyscraper at the heart of the debate over America’s green building standard
The skyscraper at the heart of the debate over America’s green building standard
The Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park in New York is the first commercial skyscraper in the US to achieve a platinum Leed certification. / Photo: Richard Berenholtz

The skyscraper at the heart of the debate over America’s green building standard

The skyscraper at One Bryant Park in Manhattan looks like a vision of the future – or at least, what the movies tell us the future will look like. A towering 945 feet of glass, concrete and steel, arranged in crystalline planes, it evokes utopian visions of space-aged cities, hyper-efficient and cutting-edge.

But the building is cutting-edge beyond the surface too, reflecting the latest trends in sustainable construction: its urinals are waterless, its concrete is partially composed of blast furnace slag and its water system recycles rainwater. Completed in 2009, the billion-dollar building was the first skyscraper to be awarded a coveted platinum rating for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or Leed.

Somehow, though, it has become ground zero in a battle over Leed, with critics claiming that it highlights the certification’s shortcomings and defenders pointing out its numerous improvements over traditional building construction.

The battle has far-reaching impacts. Leed, a certification offered by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), is the rare sustainability initiative that has become a household term, at least in the real estate industry. The Leed brand has been embraced by designers looking to establish themselves as innovative, real estate brokers looking to boost rents and companies looking to proclaim their sustainability bona fides. […]

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