Impending LEED v4 Spurs Industry Reaction

Rich Walker
August 29, 2012
COLUMN : Industry Watch | Codes & Standards

Anti-vinyl bias is again surfacing in the context of the ongoing evolution of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green building rating system—expressed in draft versions of LEED 2012, now known as LEED v4, the successor to LEED 2009.

The USGBC was slated to vote on LEED 2012 on June 1, 2012, but after 22,000 responses poured in during the public comment periods that began last November, the vote was pushed back a year to June 1, 2013. Coincidental with this delay, LEED 2012 has been renamed LEED v4.

Of particular interest and concern to the fenestration industry are proposed “chemical avoidance” provisions that would offer a LEED credit to projects that disclose the chemicals used in a building—a requirement that can work to simply discourage use of those materials rather than encourage a rational analysis. Credit would also be awarded for not using "chemicals of concern," which are enumerated in a list of 25 substances that includes polyvinyl chloride or PVC.

Perhaps indicative of the largely subjective nature of the driving philosophy, one “green” architect was quoted as saying that products containing these “chemicals of concern” may be “tomorrow's asbestos." But again, maybe not, which is why the industry is coming together to promote sustainable building standards based on consensus and scientific performance data, not the confrontational bias of environmental activism.

The stakes are high. The LEED rating system now adds 1.5 million square feet of certified commercial space per day, making it the largest rating system worldwide. And, while LEED is voluntary, it has been adopted by the U.S. General Services Administration and other federal agencies as the required building standard for new construction. About a third of LEED projects are government-owned, and many local jurisdictions have followed suit. The GSA is currently using the 2009 LEED standards and will take the new versions under consideration when USGBC adopts them.

Pushback in Washington
However, the Washington Post reports that in May and June, 55 bipartisan members of the House and 18 senators signed letters to the GSA stating: “We are deeply concerned that the LEED rating system is becoming a tool to punish chemical companies and plastics makers and spread misinformation about materials that have been at the forefront of improving environmental performance.”

There has also been criticism from the architecture and design community that USGBC is moving too fast in updating LEED at a time when the marketplace is still learning the LEED 2009 provisions.

All told, the number of credit categories in the latest draft has jumped from seven to 10, and the number of prerequisites climbs from nine to 15. The system has been rearranged, and several new credits are introduced, such as ongoing building energy Performance Measurement, Responsible Extraction of Raw Materials and Minimum Recycled Content, in addition to the above-noted Material Ingredient Reporting and Avoidance of Chemicals of Concern. For more details, visit http://www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=2600.

To focus industry input on the continued movement within the USGBC to discourage the use of vinyl in buildings, as well as to address several other issues, 27 associations, including AAMA, the Window & Door Manufacturers Association and the Vinyl Institute, have formed the American High-Performance Buildings Coalition. One goal of the coalition is to discourage the GSA from adopting the LEED v4 standards unless the LEED development process is changed to ensure that ANSI-type consensus procedures are followed. Another tenet is to promote a competitive program, the Green Building Initiative’s Green Globes Rating System, which is just as good as LEED, and more objective.

In order to enhance consensus, USGBC has opened up an unprecedented fifth round of public comments to run from October 2 to December 10, 2012. USGBC will also host public forums at Greenbuild 2012, to be held November 14-16 in San Francisco, Calif. Given the stakes noted earlier, manufacturers are urged to weigh in during this new public comment opportunity to ensure that their materials are being properly represented.

This issue is one more reason why you should support and participate in your industry association where your voice is multiplied a hundredfold and has genuine effect that individuals alone cannot achieve.

Rich Walker is president and CEO of the American Architectural Manufacturers Association, 847/303-5664, rwalker@aamanet.org.