The recent announcement by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) that it has postponed the ballot vote on the next version of the LEED certification program (LEED v4) until June 1, 2013, pleased industry trade groups that are critical of the new guidelines and the process by which the new standards have been devised. For example, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) declared, “postponing the balloting is a good first step.” But they should not be too happy, as the USGBC says it has no intention of giving in to demands that the organization radically alter the LEED development process or existing and proposed credits to appease its critics.
USGBC says that the extra time will be used to help its more than 14,000 members get accustomed to the new standards and to give USGBC feedback about how it can help members achieve them. “Our constituents really wanted more of a chance to touch and feel the new LEED,” says Roger Platt, USGBC’s senior vice president of global policy and law. “There is an opportunity to start designing projects to meet these new guidelines, and we find out what guidance they need, what industries will grow up around these credits, what new expertise that will be in play. It’s that sort of infrastructure that we’re hoping to advance, so that people are not worried they’ll be left alone as they try to negotiate these newer credits.”
Some building industry organizations have called for a much larger overhaul. Many of them, such as the ACC, call for a consensus process that would give them more influence. Several outsiders, such as the Vinyl Institute, have specifically demanded that the USGBC adopt the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards development process. “We want USGBC to act like an actual ANSI certifying council,” says Allen Blakey, vice president of industry and government affairs for the Vinyl Institute. “We want USGBC to open up and give an opportunity for people to go to all the meetings where they are considering credits.”
USGBC counters that it is not a government agency that is equally beholden to every industry actor. Moreover, compliance with its standards is voluntary and is meant to set a higher goal than the merely acceptable. If members of the building industry can get the standard down to something that is easily attainable, that would defeat the whole point. “Tons of groups do not do ANSI, tons related to the building world have nothing to do with ANSI,” Platt says. “One of the things that groups don’t like is they want us to be like government and say anyone should be able to formally weigh in; we limit that to our members. Our whole process is aimed at market leadership. It’s not like some codes where the whole process is to determine what is the minimum standard that should be allowed. That’s what ANSI is, typically. People want to come and lobby like we’re the government, have a government-like process. Typically people love the process when they like the result and hate the process when they feel it’s not what they want.”
And industry groups definitely have complaints about the outcome. Wood manufacturers, for example, continue to remain unhappy that new wood products must be certified by Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) “or better.”
“Based off the fourth draft that they issued May 15th, we still do not support the proposed revisions,” says Jason Metnick, spokesman for the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. The USGBC "never clarified why the FSC system is the only one they recognize and the process by which they are going to determine what ... [alternative] is equivalent. We’re hoping they’ll recognize all credible forest certification standards or define what the key criteria are that make up a credible standard.”
Others have objections to the existence of some standards —such as listing PVC as a chemical to avoid —at all. “We don’t think USGBC, through the LEED program should be classifying chemicals and de-selecting products,” says Jay Thomas of Sika Sarnafil. “We’ve got the EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency], FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration], and other agencies already regulating products. We don’t think USGBC should insert itself into that process.” Needless to say, USGBC takes the position that it is in the business of classifying a higher standard than the minimum safety requirements of federal regulators.
Likewise, some argue that LEED shouldn’t offer points towards certification for complying with the European Union’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances (REACH) standards. “If you’re a small- to medium-sized U.S.-based company you wouldn’t have undertaken the expense and effort to get your chemicals and materials registered in Europe so you’d be at a disadvantage in this credit,” Blakey says.
The USGBC responds that, as with PVC, no one is required to do any of this. LEED points are awarded for a wide array of building choices, and anyone who finds a particular option too onerous can skip that and accrue points through other means. “There are so many LEED credits that you obtain by being energy efficient, and you get all those credits without regard to what chemicals you use,” Platt notes.
If you take USGBC at its word, the major changes that its industry critics seek are not going to come out of the extra comment period. And so the trade groups will be temporarily calmed, but not ultimately mollified. And that, according to Platt, is just fine. In fact, it’s a sign that the USGBC and its opponents are both doing their job. “Trade associations have long been organizations that have as their purpose to defend against encroachments,” he says. “LEED tries to define leadership, that’s not what industry does. Industry groups have been opponents of LEED almost since it began. That’s OK: There’s a natural tension between their mission and ours.”