The work being done by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) and its flagship LEED program has done a great deal to promote green construction and bring concern for high-performance buildings to the mainstream. As a long-time energy-efficiency advocate and supporter of the work of the USGBC, I believe, however, it is important to recognize flaws in the process as epitomized in LEED v4 and work to address them.
Those of us in the high-performance building sector understand that developing new standards and guidelines requires a consensus and deliberative process. Members of the American High Performance Building Coalition, to which PIMA belongs, manufacture products that greatly contribute to the green-building environment.
Unfortunately, these manufacturers are often left out of the conversations concerning updates to LEED, while a only a small percentage of advisors to the LEED process have actual building-products-manufacturing experience. Foam insulation, for example, has been shown to save more than 233 times its embedded energy over the life span of the product. Earlier versions of LEED v4 would have discriminated against all foam insulation and a great number of sustainable roofing products. This oversight was only changed when USGBC could not ignore the tsunami of opposition from those who understood the impact of this well-intended proposal.
These controversies reached a breaking point recently when the Ohio State Senate passed Ohio Senate Concurrent Resolution 25 (SCR 25), which asserts that LEED v4 should no longer be used by Ohio state agencies and government entities. Instead, Ohio is looking at other rating systems, such as Green Globes, that take a more consensus-based approach. The legislation has also been introduced in the Ohio State House of Representatives.
This is not the first time LEED has come under fire by a government body. In October 2013, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) issued a memo stating that federal government agencies can now use either LEED or Green Globes for rating federal buildings. With many government agencies holding vast building portfolios and operating with tax dollars, it is imperative that they look critically at any rating system to ensure they are producing the most value with public funds.
In fact, the EPA is currently seeking comment for its Draft Guidelines for Ecolabels and Performance Standards, which emphasize the use of ANSI/ASTM consensus procedures to develop green product standards. This is important given the industry’s frustrating experience so far with the lack of true consensus in the development of recent green standards, such as LEED v4.
The LEED program has evolved to be the dominant rating system for buildings in the public and private sectors. The commitment to one green rating system, however, has produced some unintended consequences, such as pigeonholing certain products as “not green”. All observers can admit that competition in the codes and standards sector is beneficial; consider the ICC and ASHRAE as an example. Stakeholders will benefit by working together to produce a system that promotes innovation, and through competition, allows the best products to be used in buildings.