USGBC's LEED v4 Plays High Stakes With Industry Special Interests
With a flurry of controversial discussions surrounding the 4th installment of LEED (formally known as LEED 2012), the USGBC has found themselves on a collision course with powerful construction industry interests. The rating system has long been criticized for being too slow to adapt to pressing environmental needs, but with a much more aggressive agenda in tow this time around, they are finding resistance from entrenched special interests who are doing everything they can to stall the process.
A couple years back a fierce battle erupted between the Forest Stewardship Council and the industry backed Sustainable Forestry Initiative over what LEED should allow as sustainably harvested timber. The FSC won out, but the bruising battle was the first step in special interests working to water LEED down as they saw its growth become a threat to their bottom lines.
The big battle now is over the newly proposed chemical constraints, “Avoidance of Chemicals of Concern”, as a broader honing of IAQ (indoor air quality) and specifically a point for non-vinyl chloride materials. Many vinyls contain phthalates, a powerful and high emission toxin that can cause cancer, among other serious health effects. The American Chemical Council has gone on the offensive to stop the adoption of the credit, going so far as to lobby Congress to eliminate LEED requirement from the GSA new construction and major renovation requirements. The elimination of phalates for green construction is generally accepted as a critical step in the evolution of healthy building, but the LEED credit is actually voluntary, meaning many certified buildings can simply ignore it.
Another battle front has emerged regarding the adoption of Energy Star under the new LEED EB (existing buildings) program. BOMA International, a large building owners group is asking for delay in adoption of the new standard with concerns that requiring their buildings to have a minimum Energy Star score of 75 will make LEED too expensive. The USGBC counters that 90% of building that earned LEED EB already will have passed the new threshold.
The stalling tactics are effective due to the consensus based system the USGBC uses, which makes deeper energy and safe material commitments more difficult. Many in the USGBC say that this process is also the reason for the systems success in industry and government adoption. If implemented as proposed, LEED v4 will be a significant improvement in the quality and performance of buildings and may dissuade critics on the other side, like Joe Lstibureck, who contend that LEED has wasted a decade in certifying poorly performing buildings.
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