Archive for LEED

NJ Chapter of US Green Building Council Discusses LEED Certification

Recently, a joint meeting was held in Atlantic City for the New Jersey Senate & Assembly committee. Several distraught residents, organizations and environmental experts were present and shared stories about their experience with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Wayne DeFeo met with EnviroPolitics after the meeting and shared his thoughts on LEED Certified buildings.

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Healthy Building Syndrome

In the July – August edition of Greenbuild, the focus was on whether or not green buildings, specifically, LEED certified buildings are in fact healthier than non-LEED buildings. Intuitively, one would think that this must be the case.

The problem with most claims is that they have to be supported by data. As noted in one article, Fox News ran a headline that stated “Green Buildings, Hazardous to your Health?” Unfortunately, what Fox did was look at weatherization and sealing up of buildings as the limitation on what green means.

Of course, this is a gross misstatement with regard to what a green building actually means. Green buildings are not just energy efficient. Green buildings look at the entire spectrum of the building and all aspects of the building’s operation.

Green Building Fresh AirIndeed, in most of the LEED ratings systems, Indoor Environmental Quality is a major component of the building scoring system. People are encouraged to healthy and environmentally safe finishes and to think about the building as a breathing entity.

As a breathing entity, fresh air is critical. That is what makes the Fox News story nonsense. A super efficient building can still have a significant amount of fresh air pumped through it without losing energy. In other words, the building systems are looked at as they relate to one another.

The key here is that data on whether or not people do better with healthy indoor air is a bit harder to quantify. It is easy to say a building has sick building syndrome…more people out, more sick days, respiratory complaints.

But, when a building is healthy, it can be harder to say that people work or learn better, are healthier, etc. There are some studies that support the positive, and as I stated initially, intuition, or common sense would support this.

Unfortunately, the naysayers and luddites that support building as usual will take little facts and create big stories that have little bearing on reality.

My vote is for a healthier building.

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Green Washing; Or Don’t Always Believe the Label

When we go to the store, many of us are looking for that label that says we are doing something good by purchasing something that is sustainable. From shirts to food to lumber, there are green labels available for hire.

Some of these labels are what is referred to as “third party certifications.” This means that some outside group, such as Underwriters Laboratory, has verified the claims made about the product. In the green industry there are many labels that can be secured for green products.

One area of debate that has been heating up was reported in the New York Times on May 31st. It seems that the Federal Trade Commission, in trying to police what “green” means, has been taking on a more aggressive approach.

Forest products, commonly known as lumber, have several green certifications. Two of the most competitive are the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

Sustainable LumberI have dealt with the FSC designation for several years in my green building work. The Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), the certifying organization for LEED Certified Buildings, has required the use of FSC lumber for many years.

This has not pleased the SFI, but let’s take a short look at why.

There is a strong contention that SFI does not use an independent, third party verification system while the FSC does. Indeed, as noted, the SFI is primarily funded by the lumber industry. This alone should raise some issues about the veracity of any label given to SFI lumber.

FSC does not rely on such funding. Accordingly, it has generally been viewed as a more verifiable and accurate rating system.

What is the right choice? From my perspective, any labeling or certification system should be a third party, independent system that does not rely on the company making the product for its funding. As is the case with LEED certification, a third party group, in this case the GBCI determines whether or not a building can be certified.

On this debate, I default to the FSC.

Remember to always be sceptical of any green claims.

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A Potential Ban on LEED

I have written before on how LEED has grown up because it has been attacked and criticized. In my mind, that means that the program is a success because it has scared some who want to maintain the status quo in building to that of the past or, inefficient design and construction.

Now we see a new attack strategy. As reported by USGBC, “special interest lobbying is pushing for an amendment to the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill that would ban the use of LEED by the federal government, and its introduction is expected on Wednesday, 5/8! That means we have just a few days to do as much outreach as we can, to amplify our voices so that these Senators know that this amendment matters to their constituents and people are watching them.”

Can you believe this? Apparently the thought of building sustainable buildings (the entire premise of the LEED rating systems) has certain interests so frightened that they are trying to use federal legislation to ban its practice.

This is taking place in spite of the fact that the General Services Administration has recently stated that:

“… The Green Building Advisory Committee established by the General Services Administration (GSA), officially recommended to GSA that the LEED green building certification system be used for all GSA buildings as the best measure of building efficiency. The committee also conveyed that LEED should be the primary way to show how agency buildings use energy and water and that LEED standards are the most conducive to meet the Energy Independence and Security Act.

The Green Building Advisory Committee has evaluated more than 160 tools and systems since it began in 2011, and in February, GSA released a request for information (RFI) that publicly lauded the value of green building rating systems like LEED and asked for additional input into important issues that could help GSA accelerate and improve its green building work.”
(As reported in USGBC press release dated May 3, 2013)

Sustainable EarthSo let me see if I can make sense of this effort. We have a building rating system that encourages the design and construction of energy efficient buildings that enhance human health and minimize the depletion of natural resources or the use of unhealthy building materials. This system has been used in federal buildings as required by the Generals Services Administration and has proven to be effective at reducing energy use in buildings, thus saving the taxpayer money over the long term while reducing our dependence on foreign or domestic energy supplies. The system has recently been vetted again by a study group as required by the GSA and found to be the best system to consider for future buildings.

And what does Congress consider? A bill banning its use.

I don’t usually make a call for action but USGBC’s action outline is worth sharing here…modified for the non USGBC member.

Email your Senator a letter from your business. The key Senators are on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Sign or start a petition if you’re in a state of one of these key senators. The states that don’t already have a petition are: Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming. (The states that already have a petition are Arizona, Delaware, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, and Tennessee).

Tell others to act! And ask them to act by Wednesday, 5/8!!

On a final note of the absurd, the state of Kansas recently introduced a bill that would ban any form of sustainability in any building in that state. Hmm.. Now that’s thinking for you.

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