The Ohio State Senate has been prompting media chatter by its support of Senate Concurrent Resolution 25, which would ban the use of the United States Green Building Council’s LEED v4 building rating system on state funded projects.
I have commented before on both the strengths and short comings of LEED, but the vast majority of architects that I know agree that LEED’s benefits outweigh its drawbacks. I tend to find that those who criticize LEED the most are those that are either looking for a silver bullet solution or are weighing the system’s effectiveness on only a portion of its criteria. A prime example of this was the New Republic article that was isolating out energy performance as a means for judging the rating system’s value.
But in Ohio’s case, the critics are different. The push for banning LEED has come from commercial special interest groups, in this case led by the chemical industry that is miffed about the fact that the newest version of LEED is raising its standards on the disclosure of product components. The potential casualties of this new interest in what actually goes into the construction of the spaces we use are chemical products like vinyl, according to organizations like the D.C.-based Vinyl Institute which represents makers of Polyvinyl chloride, or PVC.
Tristan Roberts over at LEED User has a great article on why LEED v4 isn’t actually banning products like PVC with its optional credit MRc4 Option 2. Instead, Roberts explains, the PVC community is more concerned with the potential fallout of negative connotations for PVC when compared to other options with different lifecycle analysis or ingredients. For myself, I would think that if LEED was highlighting quality differences between product choices by illuminating their net environmental costs, then it’s probably doing exactly what it’s designed to do. I suppose one can’t blame a D.C. lobbying firm for doing their job to fight against a system that could dent the profits of its clients.
What is more troublesome is why Ohio State Senators are buying into it. The force of this argument is not coming from teachers saying that a LEED Certified school is inhibiting their ability to educate children. It is not coming from parents saying that children living or learning in LEED Certified buildings are seeing adverse health effects. The argument is not that LEED buildings are decidedly harmful or delinquent in what they provide. Instead, the problem at hand is a special interest group is argument that one product type could lose money because of transparency efforts to highlight product ingredients and their lifecycle costs.
Proponents of the legislation have also pointed out that not using LEED could reduce building costs. Well obviously an opportunity to save money makes it a good idea. As long as legislators are looking to tweak the code in order to hold back some cash, maybe they can remove insulation from the walls or lower the standards for fresh air make up? If the goal is reducing cost rather than improving quality then LEED Certification could just be the beginning of a long list of potential changes.
Systems like LEED (or BREEAM, or Passivhaus) are working. Not only are they working to add some more environmentally responsible building stock, but they are succeeding in helping introduce systems and solutions that allow us to raise the standard of building for everything else outside of their purview. For me, this is the real goal. The very fact that we are moving into the fourth version of the system is an acknowledgement by its creators that, in order to be effective and worthwhile, the system must be an evolving series of goals that responds to the technologies and capabilities of the industry as they develop.
It is disconcerting to see legislative bodies lobbying against raising the standard of our built environment. It is impossible for the status quo to be the equivalent of making progress. Our elected officials should be pushing back against special interests, not driving against a cleaner, healthier, more efficient standard that affects all of us.