Industry Group Challenges LEED Green Building Certification

Just as agencies across the US federal government including the Department of Defense are getting into green building big time, industries with lots at stake are pushing their own green building standard to compete with the US Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED certification.

27 trade groups representing industries that supply the vast construction industry – including chemicals and plastics industries – have formed the American High-Performance Buildings Coalition.

"As energy efficiency and building performance become increasingly important priorities for the public and private sectors, green building standards and rating systems should be based on the best available data, gathered from a range of stakeholder with relevant expertise. This coalition brings together industry leaders with an incredible range relevant expertise in manufacturing, material science and building performance, who will work to bring needed perspectives to this important work. The coalition will advocate for performance- and consensus-based standards for green building, which are the best way to achieve exceptional energy-efficiency," says Steve Russell, vice president of plastics for the American Chemistry Council.

The group specifically seeks to make Green Globes, a"business-friendly and affordable alternative to LEED," the recognized federal standard, superceding and taking over for LEED.

The forestry industry uses the same approach, promoting its  industry-friendly, industry-led Sustainable Forestry Initiative. It competes directly with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, the world’s most accepted standard.

Like FSC certification for forests, LEED certification for buildings has been developed over many years using a stakeholder, consensus approach and is the mostly widely accepted standard worldwide, with more 137,000 LEED registered and certified projects as of March 2012.

50,000 of those projects are commercial, adding up to over 2 billion square feet worldwide with another 7 billion square feet in the pipeline. LEED certifies 2 million square feet of commercial building space every day across 130 countries.

Since its start in 2000, when LEED certification was solely for new buildings, the program has grown to cover just about every kind of building: schools, homes, neighborhoods, commercial retrofits and interiors, as well as specific applications, such as hospitals. 

23,000 homes across the U.S. are certified under the LEED for Homes program, with nearly 86,000 in the pipeline.

"The journey to this milestone has energized our economy – funneling $554 billion annually into the U.S. economy alone – and supporting 7.9 million jobs across the U.S," says Rick Fedrizzi, USGBC president and CEO.

Lucrative Markets

The industry coalition is positioning itself for lucrative markets from the federal government – the US General Services Administration and Department of Defense – and the 400 cities and 39 states that currently require builders meet LEED standards. 

GSA has required basic LEED certification for all federal buildings since 2003 and since 2010, it’s required LEED-Gold certification. The agency, which governs all federal buildings, is currently reviewing the certification standards it uses as it is required to do every five years.    

The Department of Defense is making a major push into greening its buildings with programs like the Army "net-zero" program. President Obama’s Executive Order 13514, "Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance," calls for new buildings to be net zero energy by 2030, and seeks a 30% reduction in water use and a 50% reduction in waste that goes to landfills.

The coalition’s interests are solidly pro-industry and many of its members have taken issue with LEED in the past including the US Chamber of Commerce, the American Chemistry Council, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Vinyl Institute and the American Supply Association.

The chemicals and plastics industries take particular issue with the upcoming LEED v4 revision, which originally proposed giving building owners extra points for avoiding the use of certain toxic chemicals such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC). USGBC has since altered that provision to reward the use of preferred materials but it stops short of the penalty approach first proposed.

"Vinyl products have a proven role in making homes and buildings energy efficient and conserving resources. In order for the green building movement to evolve, it is critical for standards and rating systems to encourage the use of products with the strongest lifecycle profiles, since these products will contribute most to building performance," said Richard Doyle, president & CEO of the Vinyl Institute.

The new industry coalition makes no secret of its desire to derail LEED.

“The danger in endorsing LEED as the single acceptable green building rating system for the federal government is it can lead to the USGBC’s further monopolization in these types of programs," says Mark Collatz, director of Government Relations with the Adhesive and Sealant Council, one of the member groups.

Businesses Support LEED 

Today, over 1,200 leading businesses and organizations representing a wide array of industries across all 50 states  sent a letter to GSA asking them to continue using LEED.

Signatories include leading architects, engineers, builders, contractors, designers, planners and product manufacturers, such as Skanska, Tishman Speyer, and Kohler Co.

They ask GSA to continue using LEED to advance innovation in construction and save taxpayer dollars. LEED has been successful for the GSA, they say: the recent sustainability and energy "scorecard" by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) gives GSA the highest rating, demonstrating its success in reducing costs, improving efficiency and eliminating waste.

The study shows that federal government investments in energy efficiency over the last four years are expected to save as much as $18 billion in lifecycle energy costs.

Signatories urge GSA to focus on the "usability, market acceptance and effectiveness of [green building] rating tools rather than distractions focused on a single issue."

"Support for the continued use of LEED by GSA is both broad and deep. Our more than 13,000 member companies are fully engaged in the development and use of LEED. Businesses and organizations are certifying 2 million square feet of real estate to LEED each day. Clearly there is incredible agreement on the value of LEED and green building in general," says Roger Platt, Senior Vice President of Global Policy and Law, U.S. Green Building Council.


Here is the website for the industry group, American High-Performance Buildings Coalition:

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