23 July 2013 – The battle for greener buildings in the US just got a little more high profile and a little nastier.
Newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post are taking note.
And why wouldn’t they?
Some of the biggest corporates in the world are lobbying Congress to stop the US government from using the US Green Building Council’s LEED ratings for its buildings. And several of the biggest supporters of the attack are from within the ranks of USGBC membership.
Hunkered in the lobbying corner are the companies making some of the products and chemicals on which US Green Building Councils is taking a tougher stance in its new LEED v4.
The new version of the tool has just been approved by members, and will be launched at the huge Greenbuild conference in Philadelphia later this year.
Approved, yes, but not unanimously.
According to the antagonists, the decision is merely democratic, and not based on consensus. And they believe that is a problem because it might just set back their business strategy a little.
To pass, the rating system needed 66.7 per cent of the vote. The USGBC said:
“With a final tally of 86 per cent, we met our goal and more! This includes:
- 90 per cent approval from those in the user category
- 77 per cent approval from those in the general interest category
- 89 per cent approval from those in the producer category.”
Leading the battle against the USGBC is the American Chemistry Council, supported by the US Chamber of Commerce, vinyl makers and lumber interests.
According to BuildingGreen.com, the largely chemical and petrochemical contingent, says the new standards are “disregarding the sustained, serious technical objections from important stakeholder groups”, that is, manufacturers of plastic foam insulation, PVC, manufactured wood products, and other building materials.
What must be incredibly irksome to the USGBC is that supporting that battle are its own members who are also members of the Chemistry Council.
Named in Healthy Building News, these include Bayer Corporation, DuPont, Daikin America and Dow Corning.
Surprisingly the list also includes consultancy AECOM. On its website statement on core values AECOM says that its purpose is “to create, enhance and sustain the world’s built, natural and social environments”.
We’ve sent a request for comment to the US AECOM and don’t suggest the same attitude applies in the Australia company, but not every consumer can be guaranteed to make that distinction.
In the most recent development, national construction giant Skanska USA first tried to dissuade the US Chamber of Commerce from its anti USBGBC path. It then terminated its membership, citing the Chamber’s attempts to “halt progress in sustainable building”.
Skanska is a bit of a behemoth itself.
The Swedish-based building giant has a US turnover of US$5 billion and global turnover of nearly US$20 billion.
Skanska USA’s chief executive Mike McNally told The Wall Street Journal the issue of consensus was a poor argument.
“They hide behind words like ‘consensus’, which is nonsense,” he said. “They know better.
“How could you ever have a standard like this and have 100 per cent yesses? If you wind back the clock, we’d still have lead paint — because God forbid we push the lead-paint people out and not get consensus!”
Under this argument we would still have asbestos in buildings, he said.
Skanska has made a strategic choice to concentrate on green buildings in the US and stay out of markets in China, India and Russia.
It recently completed the outperforming Bertschi School Science Classroom, certified under the rigorous Living Building Challenge.
Following are highlights of coverage:
From The Wall Street Journal
Skanska USA, an arm of Swedish construction giant Skanska AB, will pull out of the US Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday in protest over the business lobby’s stance on green-building codes.
The move culminates a year of fighting over the latest iteration of the standards that guide energy-saving green construction, known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, which have fueled a big boom in sustainable building in the US and around the world.
Skanska USA and other companies inside the US Green Building Council, which oversees LEED, have supported new standards that were just approved by council members last week, including limits on some chemical-based materials in green construction. They say the new standards will lead to even greener buildings, and that opponents are simply protecting their own industries.
Big chemical and petrochemical firms, backed by the Chamber of Commerce, fought the new standards and created their own advocacy group to fight for alternatives to the new LEED code. This group says that the new standards were drafted with little scientific expertise and threaten to exclude plenty of advanced building materials from green buildings.
The fight, while seemingly over arcane building standards, is significant because LEED certifications are the gold standard for green building, including federal government buildings.
The fight over energy-efficiency standards has even become a central part of the one energy bill that could pass a bitterly divided Congress. Opponents of the new LEED standard are pushing to change the energy bill to require government construction to abide by other standards for green certification. That could threaten business opportunities for firms like Skanska USA, which have years of expertise in LEED.
After weeks of trying to get the Chamber to change its stance on LEED, Skanska USA decided to leave the business organisation in protest.
“I’m not crazy about leaving the Chamber. But on this one, it’s just so wrong, I can’t see us being part of it anymore,” said Mike McNally, president and CEO of Skanska USA. He said the chamber’s support for the alternative standard, and especially the potential for amending the coming energy bill, could damage a thriving construction industry that has embraced LEED standards.
In a statement, the Chamber of Commerce said: “With thousands of members, disagreements about specific issues are inevitable.”
It also said it doesn’t view its membership in the American High-Performance Buildings Coalition, which has fought the new LEED standards, “as inconsistent with our support of building efficiency, or even of LEED standards in the future.”
The American High-Performance Buildings Coalition was created a year ago to advocate for building standards “based on consensus and scientific performance data.”
Read the whole story
From Healthy Building News
Last week, Skanska, one of the world’s largest construction companies, resigned from the US Chamber of Commerce to protest the Chamber’s backing of a chemical industry-led initiative to effectively ban the future use of LEED for government buildings.
Skanska’s public opposition to the self-serving campaign by the chemical and plastics industry raises an obvious question: where do other USGBC member companies stand?
A 2012 review by HBN researchers found that scores of USGBC member companies are represented by the 27 trade associations that are attacking LEED in Congress.[ 1] Some companies are members of more than one. Eighteen USGBC member companies are also members of the American Chemistry Council, which is leading the attack (see list below).
What you can do
In his Washington Post commentary McNally summed things up this way: “Our clients will not accept unknown and untested chemicals in their buildings or their potential health impact. They demand better, and, together as an industry, we can deliver.” Let’s prove him right. The cheers on social media are deserved, but the seriousness of the issue demands more than 140 ephemeral characters and a hashtag. The next time a product rep visits your company, or sponsors your local USGBC event, or is given a brand-burnishing platform before an audience of LEED APs, ask them:
- Does your company support full disclosure of chemicals of concern to customers?
- Does your company support the lobbying efforts of trade associations against LEED and the USGBC, or has it issued a statement rejecting this effort?
Urban Green’s Russell Unger got it right: “Some of you — our members and readers — work for firms that are members of the Chamber of Commerce. And the rest of you regularly hear from manufacturers touting their green credentials with the hope you will buy or spec their products for LEED projects. Now’s a good time to put those green claims to a real test: ask them as environmental leaders whether they are going to follow Skanska’s suit.”
USGBC members of the American Chemistry Council which is leading the attack on the USGBC.
- Akzo Nobel
- Albermarle Corporation
- Aristech Acrylics LLC
- Ashland, Inc.
- BASF Corporation
- Bayer Corporation
- Daikin America, Inc.
- Dow Corning
- DSM Enterprises
- Eastman Chemical Company
- Holland & Knight LLP
- Milliken & Company
- PPG Industries
- Sika Corporation
Read the whole story
An article by Skanska US by chief executive officer Mike McNally, published by The Washington Post.
Construction firms have a responsibility to customers and shareholders, but long-term success requires a longer view. At Skanska, the intersection of that responsibility and profitability is in green buildings, and that’s why we are members of the U.S. Green Building Council and proponents of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, the most recognized and widely used green building system in the world. To me, it is inconceivable that a few single-minded businesses are creating a false debate in Washington about LEED and attempting to slow down the green building boom.
A limited number of chemical companies — principally in the booming plastics business — have been hiding behind the American High Performance Buildings Coalition and trying, unsuccessfully, to gut progressive green chemistry provisions of a proposed update to the green standards called LEED v4. The latest version is currently being considered by the building council’s nearly 13,000 members through its transparent public comment and balloting process.
Opponents are now trying to hold a popular energy bill hostage by proposing language that would effectively ban the use of LEED by the federal government unless the update is changed to remove the offending chemistry provisions. Let’s be clear: What the chemical industry and its cronies want is not a new standard that will improve energy efficiency and green building programs. What they want is a standard they can manipulate and weaken. They are putting their bottom lines first and social responsibility second.
The growth in the green sector of the building industry is undeniable, from 2 percent of the market in 2005 to 44 percent today. The green building industry supports or creates 7.9 million jobs across all 50 states and contributes $554 billion to the U.S. economy annually. LEED has also been proven to save the federal government money, something both sides should be able to rally behind. Why muddy this success with additional government bureaucracy simply because some would rather protect their profitable status quo?
The building industry’s years of success are a testament to the value of voluntary, market-based programs like LEED. Everyone benefits when an entire industry improves, from the healthier paints and adhesives on the shelf at Home Depot today that didn’t exist before LEED, to the continuously improving energy efficiency rating on air conditioners in our homes.
The truth is that as long as there are companies unwilling to adapt, there will never be a true consensus standard. Some materials will always be more environmentally responsible than others, and that will affect some companies’ profits. But another separate standard for government work would put a severe halt on the progress of green building in this country, and add cost in the process.
Read the whole story
We’ve just received word from the American High-Performance Buildings Coalition that they are trying to get consensus-related language attached to the federal budget.
“The House FY2014 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill includes the following language: ‘none of the funds made available under this heading may be obligated or expended to implement or use green building rating standards for new construction or prospectus level renovations unless such standards are voluntary consensus standards, as that term is defined in Office of Management and Budget Circular A-119.’”
As we noted in our fact-checking blog post on chemical industry attacks on LEED, the US General Services Administration has determined that LEED meets this definition of a consensus standard:
“The certification system contains the attributes of a voluntary consensus standards body defined in OMB Circular A-119: openness, balance of interest, due process, an appeal process, and consensus.”
Read the whole story
From Healthy Building News
LEED V4 leave some gaps
This analysis and commentary is based on the New Construction version of the credit.
Summary assessment of the Credit:
The credit continues to support a virtuous cycle of disclosure and assessment (called “inventory” or “reporting” in the credit and worth one point) and product improvement (called “optimization” in the credit and worth another point). The language describing the HPD and GreenScreen has been cleaned up and now well supports the use of the HPD for standardized disclosure and is getting pretty good in its support of use of GreenScreen Benchmarking for improvement (optimization) of products. I do still have suggestions for the use of Cradle to Cradle (C2C) language but that is getting close also. As currently framed, these parts of the credit show great promise for supporting a huge transformation of the industry to inherently safer products. Unfortunately other parts of the credit threaten to totally negate this potential.
The (very seriously) Bad: Complexity: With three options that include ten nonparallel paths for compliance, each with several different percentages, benchmarks and languages, this credit is getting more complicated with each comment period and communicates the impression to project teams that this is a very difficult credit to achieve and confuses manufacturers trying to determine how to comply. This is not necessary. The credit must be simplified to insure that teams don’t just walk away in frustration.
Easy out options that undermine the credit: Three of the ten paths in the credit language are particularly dangerous, threatening to undermine the credit intent posing a serious threat to industry adoption of the HPD and more broadly to the goal of providing standardized, comparable disclosure and assessment of product contents and to rigorous improvement of product content.
- 1) Option 1 Path 1 – Manufacturer inventory: This path allows products to contribute to the ?inventory point if the manufacturer posts an unstructured, non-standard incomplete inventory of ingredients without disclosure of hazard. It is weighted the same as the HPD and C2C while avoiding addressing hazards and hence removes all incentive to do an HPD or C2C.
- 2) Option 2 Path 5 – International Alternative Compliance Path: This path allows products to contribute to the optimization point whose manufacturers are only meeting current or coming regulatory minimums in the EU (REACH SVHC lists). Products get the same credit as GreenScreen Benchmark One and C2C paths while avoiding a list of chemicals that is only a small fraction of the GreenScreen or C2C lists and requiring neither disclosure nor any assessment of the hazard, private or public, of ingredients actually used. Standard practice will be rewarded resulting in no disclosure and no improvement in products.
- 3) Option 3 – Product Manufacturer Supply Chain Optimization: This option allows products to contribute if their manufacturers participate in an as yet unspecified program to identify, document, communicate about and optimize health, safety and environment issues along the supply chain. There is no identified program yet, or standards for how the USGBC would assess such a program. It is expected, however, that the chemical industry will attempt to use this to get credit for its so-called “Responsible Care” program. There is no clear connection between the Responsible Care program or the LEED credit language and the delivery of products that are inherently safer that the rest of the credit seeks to encourage. Like the REACH path, I expect this program could be a direct threat to engagement in the HPD if it goes the path of being an industry developed program without robust building industry and environmental health NGO stakeholder engagement.
These three paths seriously threaten to undermine the industry effort underway to standardize disclosure, assessment and optimization.
The Way Forward
This credit needs radical simplification and these three poison pill paths need to be dropped. Simplify the pathways to two Options:
- 1) Health Product Declaration plus GreenScreen
- 2) Cradle to Cradle certification
Give one point for disclosure and assessment (reporting) by either HPD or C2C and one point for demonstrating improved product (optimization) in each Option for products that have been disclosed and assessed.
Ten divergent complex pathways can be boiled down to two Options with a clear standardized single documentation track for each.
On the next page, I provide language for the proposed radical simplification for the credit. That is then followed with a detailed assessment of the current credit language that provides my interpretation of what each part of the credit means, my analysis of its potential impact and my suggestions for changes in individual pathway language.
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