In the middle of Los Angeles’s endless sprawl sits an unusual-looking gas station made of recycled materials and sustainably harvested wood. Its roof is an abstract assembly of polygons topped with solar panels. The owner, petroleum giant BP, calls it Helios House and touts it as America’s first “green” gas station, because it is certified according to the standards of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the most commonly used rating system for sustainable architecture.
Of course, the building is still a gas station: it sells petroleum-based fuel that is burned in automobiles and thereby endangers the environment. The incongruity of a gas station being hailed as green is not strictly the fault of its architecture. Nevertheless, Helios House is emblematic of how hollow LEED certification can be as an indicator of a building’s environmental benignity. Too often LEED can reward building planners for taking some environmentally progressive steps while ignoring deeper problems.