The PJ Tatler

Green Building Program Delayed, but Organizers Refuse to Tweak Controversial Elements

The U.S. Green Building Council made a surprise announcement last week it would delay the adoption of proposed amendments to its green building rating system amid growing concerns from industry, shareholders and Congressional lawmakers.

But Capitol Hill was quick to see the move for what it was: a shallow public relations stunt designed to buy the group time to soften opposition.

While the USGBC’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification program is voluntary for builders, the General Services Administration has adopted the program as the federal government’s de facto rating system, mandating that all new federal properties be built to the system’s specifications. In addition to GSA, an additional 13 federal agencies, 34 state governments and 442 municipalities enforce the program.

As the group began considering changes to the program–which GSA officials were expected to likewise adopt–it faced unprecedented scrutiny for a series of the plan’s controversial elements, including a proscription on the use of polyvinyl chloride plastic (PVC) and more than three-fourths of US-sourced timber in construction.

A bipartisan group of 56 lawmakers last month sent a blistering letter to GSA bigs to abandon its presumed adoption of LEED 2012.

“We are deeply concerned that the LEED rating system is becoming a tool to punish chemical companies and plastic makers and spread misinformation about materials that have been at the forefront of improving environmental performance–and even occupant safety–and in buildings,” the group wrote. “GSA’s adoption of LEED 02012, in fact, would amount to federal government sanctioning an unscientific, arbitrary, and discriminatory program of materials selection.”

Rather than reassess these provisions, USGBC officials made clear they have no intentions to “water down” the restrictions in the postponement period, during which time LEED 2012 will be rebranded as LEED v4.

That decision is already rankling Congressional aides whose bosses have placed increasing pressure on the USGBC and the GSA to abandon the changes.

If USGBC executives had genuinely taken to heart LEED’s chorus of critics, they would be back at the drawing board today.

Instead, this was a transparent play to buy time: USGBC hopes that by changing the program’s name and postponing its adoption by a year, people will forget that it is a fundamentally radical attempt to choke off safe products and responsible industry.

They won’t.