A group of 55 members of Congress recently sent a letter to the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) expressing concerns about GSA’s potential adoption of LEED® 2012.
GSA uses the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating Systems of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) as a tool to ensure that sustainable strategies are incorporated in federal building projects. Currently GSA requires that all new construction and substantial renovation of federally-owned buildings achieve LEED Gold (which requires meeting all prerequisites and earning credits with sufficient points to qualify for a Gold rating).
The LEED Rating Systems are periodically updated. LEED 2012 proposes changes to each of the major rating systems (including the rating systems for new construction, commercial interiors and existing building operations and maintenance), which were last updated in 2009. After a final public comment period in May, LEED 2012 will be submitted to USGBC members for a vote in June, and is scheduled for launch in November 2012 at the USGBC’s annual Greenbuild conference.
As described in the USGBC’s FAQs, the main areas of difference between LEED 2009 and LEED 2012 are:
(a) addressing new market sectors (such as data centers, warehouses and distribution centers, hospitality, existing schools, existing retail and mid-rise homes);
(b) technical content changes that “increase the technical rigor” and “have been informed by market data, stakeholder generated ideas, expert engagement and advances in technology market acceptability of LEED and green building practices”; and
(c) revising the credit weightings so that the point distribution “will more closely tie the rating system requirements to the priorities articulated by the USGBC community.”
The Congressional concerns relate to the second category, focusing specifically on two new “Material and Resources” credits: (1) “Material Disclosure and Optimization” and (2) “Avoidance of Chemicals of Concern.”
The intent of the first credit is to “encourage disclosure about environmental attributes and increase the use of products and materials with environmentally, economically, and socially preferable life-cycle impacts.” To earn points for this credit, one of several options must be met that involve assessing various classes of products and requiring use of a minimum percentage by cost of products that have specified environmental product declarations or life-cycle assessments, or alternatively using products with recycled content and reused materials.
The intent of the second credit is to “reduce the presence of potentially hazardous substances form the material supply chain.” To earn points for this credit, a project must use a minimum percentage by cost of building products and materials that meet the requirements of REACH.
According to the Congressional letter to GSA: “The credits would affect hundreds of substances – many of which are key to helping building materials achieve their desired properties, including energy efficiency. We are deeply concerned that the LEED rating system is becoming a tool to punish chemical companies and plastics makers and spread information about materials that have been at the forefront of improving environmental performance – and even occupant safety – and in buildings. … LEED 2012 not only threatens jobs, it will almost certainly cost taxpayers money.” Vinyl-based building and construction products are identified as a particular area of concern. In conclusion: “If USGBC does not reconsider these harmful provisions in LEED 2012, we respectfully request that GSA stop using the LEED rating system. GSA’s adoption of LEED 2012, in fact, would amount to the federal government sanctioning an unscientific, arbitrary, and discriminatory program of materials selection.”
It remains to be seen whether these credits will be further modified as part of the final comment and voting process. Assuming they are not, it will be interesting to see how GSA handles the Congressional objections. And if members of Congress are not satisfied with GSA’s response, it is certainly possible that there will be some sort of legislative response – perhaps imposing restrictions on use of LEED 2012 through the authorization and appropriation process (as was done in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, which prohibited expenditure of funds authorized by the Act for LEED Gold or Platinum Department of Defense projects). Stay tuned.