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Critics of LEED rules gain new allies

This time it’s chemical manufacturers who feel left out

LEED v4, the proposed update to the nation’s most prevalent green building program, has been under intense pressure to change its current wood certification rating system, which only recognizes one set of standards, those of the Forest Stewardship Council. But the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), which oversees the LEED program and its current revision process, is now under fire for another part of the LEED update that has nothing to do with wood. This time it’s chemicals, and the USGBC has stirred up another hornet’s nest of manufacturers, lobbyists and federal legislators who are determined to defend their industry against what they consider an unfair and baseless exclusion of their products.

The 100-point system of LEED v4 (formerly known as LEED 2012) includes two credits for “materials and resources” in its draft version: One would award a point for “material ingredient reporting” and the other for “avoidance of chemicals of concern.” The two credits are intertwined, because few LEED projects would want to publish a list that contains “chemicals to avoid.” Exactly what is on this list is subject to interpretation, but its very existence has touched off a lobbying campaign by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), a trade group whose members include 3M; Dow; DuPont; AzkoNobel (parent company of Glidden Paints); and BASF Corp., maker of insulation, roofing and exterior cladding.

Keith Christman, managing director of plastic markets for the Washington D.C.-based group, said there are approximately 1,600 building materials that would not pass through what he calls “the green screen.” They include spray foam insulation; many types of caulking; products containing crystalline silica (an ingredient in cement) or sand; wood dust; PVC and vinyl, which eliminates vinyl siding and windows, including the Energy Star versions.

“[The chemicals] seem entirely arbitrary to us,” Christman said. “It’s not based on any scientific research.”

The lack of testing of the “chemicals to avoid,” or an analysis of alternative building materials, their energy efficiency and their cost seemed a particular irritant to the 18 U.S. senators who signed a letter to the General Services Administration (GSA). If the chemical provisions pass in LEED v4, the senators want the GSA to stop requiring LEED certification for newly built or renovated federal buildings.

“These proposed chemical restrictions could arbitrarily affect many energy-efficient construction products, such as insulation, roofing, wiring and energy-efficient windows, putting a further strain on already tight federal budgets,” the senators wrote.

In response to the letter, the USGBC’s senior VP global policy and law, Roger Platt, reversed the equation. He pointed out that all LEED credits are optional and voluntary. A project can attain the magic LEED number — 100 points — any way it chooses. “There is not a ‘red list’ of banned chemicals,” Platt wrote.

In an interview with Home Channel News, USGBC policy director Lane Burt disputed the idea that energy-efficient building materials are being banned in the latest draft of LEED. He stressed that the requirements of the two chemical-related points have already gone through a number of changes as the LEED revision has unfolded. LEED v4 will enter its fifth public comment period on Oct. 2, 2012. It ends Dec. 10, 2012.

“LEED will continue to pursue the sweet spot of industry and human health advocate concerns in every version of the LEED rating system,” Burt said.

The USGBC also has its supporters, such as the American Sustainable Business Council. “The ACC’s attack on the LEED program is a disservice to those chemical companies that recognize the growth and profit potential of developing innovative materials to satisfy the steadily increasing market demand for energy-efficient buildings employing less hazardous chemicals,” said Richard Liroff, Investor Environmental Health Network.

Meanwhile, a new group that calls itself the American High-Performance Buildings Coalition announced its formation on July 17; its mission sounds very similar to LEED’s: “We support the development of green building standards through consensus-based processes.” But there was one phrase tacked on the end. These standards will be “derived from data and performance-driven criteria.”

“We realized there were concerns in other parts of the building construction community,” said Marie Francis, spokeswoman for the ACC, who helped organize the group. “We want there to be ample opportunity for shareholders to comment and contribute to the [proposed LEED] design.”

Besides the ACC, members of the coalition include the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association, the Southern Forest Products Association, the Treated Wood Council, the Adhesive and Sealant Council, the American Coatings Association, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, the American Supply Association, the Center for Environmental Innovation in Roofing, the Chemical Fabrics and Film Association, the EPDM Roofing Association, the Expanded Polystyrene Industry Alliance, the Extruded Polystyrene Foam Association, the Flexible Vinyl Alliance, the Industrial Minerals Association, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Hispanic Landscape Alliance, the Plastic Pipe & Fittings Association, the Polyisocyanurate Manufacturers Association, the Resilient Floor Covering Institute, the Society of Plastic Industry, the Society of Chemical Manufacturers & Affiliates, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Vinyl Institute, the Vinyl Siding Institute, and the Windows & Door Manufacturers Association.