Is A Little Competition A Good Thing ?

Tree of Green Hearts blowing away
The “green hearts” are in a tizzy about recent developments in green certification systems, as the General Services Administration announced that it will give the federal agencies it oversees a choice of green building certification systems. Because there was already some conflict and tension between the plastics, chemicals and timber industries with the proposed new standards for LEED v4, the news is being met with suspicion of behind the scenes manipulation and lobbying to ease the standards these industries were being called upon to meet.

The “new guy” on the block is the Green Building Initiative’s “Green Globes 2010” system. Still remaining a significant force is the US Green Building Council’s 2009 standards for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
LEED vs Green Globes

I am an environmental skeptic by nature. And it is not lost on me that this decision by the GSA is being met by the more hard-core environmentalists as a ruse. Where there is smoke, there is usually fire and there are a crowd of environmentalists yelling “FIRE !!” on this one. Still, I also try to bring a balanced perspective to any controversial issue, generally finding that there is wisdom in choosing a middle way – not on the fringes of extremism, either direction.

At issue is whether the latest authorization also yields the perception that “the Green Globes rating system aligns slightly better than LEED with federal requirements for new construction, while LEED remains the most compatible green building rating system for existing buildings.” for those are the exact words used in the report.

Treehugger.com in their article about this, shares the following comparison of 3 green certification standards prepared by the Dept of Energy –

Dept of Energy Comparison Chart

Dept of Energy Comparison Chart

Showing there is fuel for that fire is the official governance of the Green Building Initiative organization – “GBI is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. GBI has 53 Members and Supporters and 9 Industry Affiliates. In addition, GBI has over 10,000 ‘Friends of GBI’, formerly known as Associate Members who receive the quarterly newsletter and other information from GBI. There is a Board of Directors, Executive Director, executive staff, and Industry Advisory Board. Decisions of the Industry Advisory Board are non-binding.” I suppose that last bit is supposed to reassure those of us who have reason to be skeptical about what is driving the new competitive kid on the green block.

It probably is not a coincidence that there is a strong foundational perspective in GBI that derives from Hubbell Communications motto – “We understand how public policy and perceptions are created and we use the power of communications to shape both.” (gee, the President of Hubbell Communications – Wade Hubbell, is also the founder of GBI.) Hubbell proudly displays one of their successes on their website, a car manufacturer’s association who had a “legislative problem in Oregon.”-“In just a few days, we had a fresh coalition identity, a campaign website, and a strong social media presence.” Hmmm, there does seem to be a bit of smoke and mirrors going on with GBI and the Green Globes (green washing ?, anyone ?).

After Ward Hubbell left his position as a PR exec at Louisiana Pacific, he received startup capital from the lumber industry for the purpose of establishing a green standard that did not give points to FSC certified lumber (are you smelling it now too ?). In 2006, The Forest and Paper Association told the Wall Street Journal that “Green Globes is much more wood-friendly than LEED”. (Ahhhh, can you see that smoke rising from its source now ?) There is not even an attempt to distance Hubbell Communications from the Green Building Initiatives – they operate out of the same building. How convenient and eco-friendly !!! Fewer carbon emissions.

Smoke Rising from a Forest

Then there is the board of directors of the GBI. It includes a couple of representatives of Dow Chemical, the Vinyl Institute, the Resilient Floor Covering Institute, Solvay, a chemical company, a communications director for Weyerhaeuser, among others. According to Treehugger.com – “Two of the most contentious issues facing the green building industry are lumber certification and the safety of products made from PVC and vinyl. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative has done a tremendous job of attacking LEED, and convincing politicians that FSC is somehow foreign and unamerican; The Chemical industry has politicians writing letters to the GSA complaining that LEED will kill jobs. Now the GSA has a report in their hands that claims ‘the Green Globes rating system aligns slightly better than LEED with federal requirements for new construction’.”

The Vinyl Institute logo
I already knew the background story from Plastics News (a plastics industry trade publication that I receive for our business which recycles a variety of plastics). I knew that the plastics industry as a whole was very unhappy that vinyl was coming under fire. Our business is also deeply concerned about the risks to the environment and human health posed by the production of polyvinyl chloride. The best thing that we can think of, to do personally, is lock it up (after its initial production and use, to recycle it, rather than allow it to go into a landfill). It is our hope that someday, there will be little to none of this in our environment and that better alternatives will have been found.

In the Nov 18, 2013 issue of Plastics News they give the story of the GSA decision, to allow the Green Globes certification system to be used by federal agencies as an alternative choice to the previous dominance by LEED, front page top billing. In an attempt to appear balanced and impartial, they quote The Sierra Club’s, Jason Grant (a member of their Forest Certification and Green Building Team), allowing him to express his suspicions in print, regarding the influence of certain industries on Green Globes standards. “Green Globes certainly goes easy on those industries.” He is further quoted as saying “Apparently the chemical and plastics industry is willing to invest a lot to prevent the truth from coming out.”

The Society of the Plastics Industry is concerned that LEED v4 will encourage its applicants not to use certain materials such as PVC or the fluoropolymers used in wiring and cable. Of additional concern to producers and manufacturers throughout that spectrum are points given to building products that have environmental product declarations (EPDs) and for the firm’s willingness to disclose their ingredients and the sources of raw materials. Wouldn’t you want to know those things ? That the chemicals that you are being exposed to, are not going to cause cancer in you, down the road. One could suspect the prevalence of cancer in our modern society has some of its roots, in the exponential growth of a wide range of new chemical combinations allowed into our lives. But then, you might think I’m being unfair . . . and biased in my blog.

To their credit the USGBC is taking it in stride. Lane Burt, their policy director counters the fears of industry by affirming – “We don’t have language in LEED v4 that says – “Don’t use this stuff.” And acknowledges that has been a significant misunderstanding. Yes, there was a draft, that considered giving points for the avoidance of certain materials, but the council decided to shift towards a more positive perspective, a “green-list approach”.

An environmentalist would be hard pressed to fault the spirit of the proposed LEED v4 standards – credits for life-cycle analysis of materials, product transparency and picking those products that haven’t been extracted in a way that’s environmentally destructive. The Sierra Club’s, Jason Grant, was quoted in Plastics News as saying of v4 – “In general, what it rewards is higher levels of transparency than existed in the past about what chemicals are found in significant quantities in building products.” He feels that knowledge of “… chemicals that might be carcinogenic or mutagenic or endocrine disruptors” is some important information, that people have a right to know; and that profit motives should not be subverting that disclosure.

SOURCES, additional reading – information for this blog came from

Plastics News – “Feds given green light to LEED competitor” by Catherine Kavanaugh

Treehugger.com – “LEED Bashing: Government Study Finds ‘Equivalence’ Between LEED and Green Globes” by Lloyd Alter

LINKS

Hubbell Communications – http://www.hubbellcommunications.com/

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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