LEED’s Grip On Federal Buildings Loosening?

Casual observers should be forgiven if they thought that the LEED building certification seen mentioned so often with new construction and renovations was a government program. With federal agencies (along with many state and local governments ) frequently turning to the standard, the program run by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council had more or less assumed regulatory status.

That could be changing now, and the building world is in bit of a tizzy over it.

green buildings

The EPA Kansas City Science & Technology Center (image via Wikipedia)

The U.S. General Services Administration – the independent agency of the government charged with managing federal properties and vehicles, among other things – late last week recommended LEED 2009 and the Green Building Initiative’s Green Globes 2010 as acceptable third-party certification systems. The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requires GSA to perform a review of such certification systems every five years.

“GSA has opened this review to an extensive public process, and we’ve made this recommendation using input from the public, industry stakeholders, and sustainability experts,” Kevin Kampschroer, director of GSA’s Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings, said in a statement. “We’ve found two tools that allow us to measure how federal buildings of all kinds can best save energy, improve overall performance, and cut down utility costs.”

That sounds simple enough, but some observers see the decision as suspect, with the government bowing to pressure by various industries to loosen green buildings standards. Lloyd Alter over at Treehugger labeled the decision nothing less than greenwashing, writing that the Green Globes standard is “cheaper, it lets builders use all that plastic, and it doesn’t give points for FSC certified lumber. In state after state, the politicians paid for by the plastics industry will insist on it.”

Indeed, one of the big groups that’s been pushing to deprive LEED of its exclusivity is the American High-Performance Buildings Coalition, formed in 2012 to “challenge” LEED, according to Environmental Leader. Take a look here at the AHPBC’s membership – heck, you’ve got folks like the American Coal Ash Association, whose stated, dare-we-say contradictory goal is “to encourage the beneficial use of coal combustion products in ways that are protective of the environment, technically appropriate, commercially competitive, and supportive of a more sustainable society.”

That’s a little scary, but, as Environmental Leader also pointed out, “the Canadian federal government has adopted the system for all its real estate,” suggesting that judging the standard by its backers might not tell the full story.

For its part, GSA said [PDF] its recommendations “were developed after a thorough evaluation of building certification systems by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, commissioned by GSA in 2011; as well as the deliberations of an Interagency Ad-hoc Discussion Group co-chaired by GSA, the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense; public comments received; and input from GSA’s Green Building Advisory Committee.”

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

    • Jeff Kelly

      LEED has been incredibly careless on energy consumption. I am a design professional and have seen LEED Gold and LEED Platinum buildings sheathed in glass that waste incredible amounts of energy but they have sustainable bamboo floors. Only now are we finding out the huge differences in actual energy use vs modeled energy use in LEED buildings. USGBC has been ignorant to these concerns and they deserve some competition at least.