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Chemical Industry Touts Anti-LEED Language in Appropriations Bill

Industry leaders say LEED development doesn’t meet the definition of consensus, but USGBC disagrees.
Paula Melton
July 16, 2013

The American High-Performance Buildings Coalition (AHPBC) is touting the passage of language in a federal appropriations bill that it believes will exclude the LEED Rating System from federal government use. AHPBC was formed by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and other trade organizations to support green building standards developed through the ANSI or ISO consensus process (see The New Anti-LEED?).

The 2014 U.S. House Appropriations bill, recently completed in committee, includes language that would limit spending on federal building projects to those adhering to “voluntary consensus standards, as that term is defined in Office of Management and Budget [OMB] Circular A-119.”

No problem, says USGBC

“If this is the definition of consensus that the American Chemistry Council is willing to support, then we can take this language to the Senate for the Shaheen-Portman bill,” says Lane Burt, director of policy strategy at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

Shaheen-Portman is a popular energy bill that has been attracting controversial amendments, including one amendment forthcoming from Senator Mary Landrieu (D–Louisiana) that would restrict use of LEED based on its purported lack of consensus in development. “The language is not language that we oppose. We have been determined to be in compliance” with OMB Circular A-119, he told LEEDuser. “I’m a little surprised.” (For background, see Chemical Industry Attacks LEED: We Check the Facts.)

The OMB circular defines consensus standard as “general agreement, but not necessarily unanimity” that “includes a process for attempting to resolve objections by interested parties, as long as all comments have been fairly considered, each objector is advised of the disposition of his or her objection(s) and the reasons why, and the consensus body members are given an opportunity to change their votes after reviewing the comments.

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Not so fast, says AHPBC

“USGBC’s current process is not a full consensus process,” counters AHPBC’s Scott Openshaw. “It’s partial, or incomplete. It does not follow internationally recognized procedures for consensus standard development.”

Stating that “ANSI would be a good start,” Openshaw accused USGBC of not giving all comments fair consideration. “Numerous stakeholders took the time to provide thoughtful, supported technical comments, and the record fails to demonstrate they were given suitable technical consideration by informed experts,” he told us. “Consensus development demands not just that stakeholder comments be received, or even responded to. There must be an effort to resolve the comment, and this effort must be made by a properly balanced and technically expert group of the stakeholders themselves. USGBC does not do this.”

USGBC responds

“I would just point to the redline drafts and all the changes that have happened in those credits,” says Burt, referring to the various drafts of LEED version 4 and that appeared through its public comment periods, which culminated recently in a member vote to approve the new LEED v4 rating system. “We have been the beneficiaries of a lot of stakeholder engagement on those credits, and the credits are far better for it. The product we arrived at is something that a lot of people can get behind.”

As a specific example relevant to the chemical industry, Burt pointed to the shift from a chemical “red list” in the original drafts of LEED v4 to a “green list” in the final draft that was approved. “It’s been very much an iterative process, and that’s why we feel very confident in the product as it’s come to be,” he added.

Despite these objections, it’s unclear what the ramifications of the consensus language may be if it is retained when the bill comes to the House floor later this summer, or how it would mesh with Senate legislation. What is increasingly clear, however, is that AHPBC is throwing its weight against LEED, and with the competing Green Globes rating system recently getting more serious about its ANSI accreditation, it would appear to be positioned to receive the support of AHPBC and its allies: the ACC and its members.

What do you think of the machinations? What is the role of consensus in green rating systems, and who should define that?


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July 23, 2013 - 4:58 pm

"Developed by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council, LEED has been criticized for shutting out many stakeholders, being unbalanced in its committee representation and lacking transparency," the op-ed claims. http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/capitalbusiness/commentary-more-v...

July 18, 2013 - 10:36 am

Why? Why is everyone so obsessed with claiming their rating system is more consensus than the other's. I'd much rather see the two rating systems compete with the results.

- Buildings using my rating system use 23% less energy than the average new construction building. Your rating system only uses 5% less energy.
- Occupants in buildings using my rating system used 4.3 sick days a year per FTE. In your rating system the average was 5.2 sick days per FTE.

I could draft a better rating system than LEED or Green Globes. And it definitely would not be consensus based. Way too many chefs in the kitchen for my taste. And in my opinion, the majority is usually wrong. Let's judge and value the rating systems on measurable data of building performance. Everything else is just debate club.

December 3, 2013 - 1:51 pm

Bill, that is not their territory. They regulate only the ANSI process. As mentioned in the EBN article I linked to above, they would not get involved in the relationship between the Green Globes tool and the ANSI standard unless someone alleges false claims through an official process. And then, they would likely only make GBI change its written materials.

December 3, 2013 - 1:38 pm

Were they able to confirm if Green Globes NC-2013 is an ANSI document? Or is that left up to the ANSI standards developer to self regulate? GBI.

December 3, 2013 - 12:12 pm

A director at ANSI has confirmed that GBI/ANSI 01-2010 remains an approved standard. According to the email, their decision to sell only through their own website is "separate from the ANS process and ... is not significant in any way."

December 3, 2013 - 9:44 am

Bill, they do not need to shout to the rooftops when they have the ear of policymakers. I am looking into why the standard isn't on the ANSI site!

December 3, 2013 - 9:07 am

I can't find "ANSI/GBI 01-2010" doing a search of the ANSI documents website. It only shows up on the ICC website. Just doing a search on ANSI for the key words of "Green Building" all I can find is ASHRAE 189.1. "Green Globes" comes up with nothing.

How coy GBI is with their wording of the 2013 version of Green Globes I'll say it is not an ANSI document. They'd be shouting to the roof tops if it was. Instead all they say is "Green Globes NC is now based on an ANSI standard". We'll any movie I've ever seen that said it was "based on" some event, diverges quite far from that event.

I also saw GBI posted some public comments. Two rounds out of 4 were posted. I laughed when I saw the last round had 3 pages of comments from 6 people. They seem to address comments in the same manner that USGBC does. They accept any grammatical correction or minor tweaks but any substantial comment is rejected.

December 3, 2013 - 7:53 am

Karen, what list are you looking at?

GBI and USGBC are both ANSI standards developers. Only the ANSI/GBI standard is an ANSI standard, and there is serious question now about its overlap with the Green Globes tool itself. If ANSI has taken ANSI/GBI off its list of standards for some reason, that would be important to know about. Meanwhile, check out this article in EBN if you haven't read it. It's about a former board member who quit GBI over their continued ANSI claims, which he believes are false: http://www.buildinggreen.com/auth/article.cfm/2013/10/31/Green-Globes-Bo...

December 2, 2013 - 4:28 pm

Here it is Dec and we are waist deep in the ACC/Timber efforts to ban LEED in Ohio for public projects. I also thought Green Globes had earned the ANSI Standards Development Organization but they do not appear on the list as of today. Paula or anyone - any updates on if or when that would happen? With the ICC being an SDO and authoring the IgCC I also wonder if any other system could be recognized as ANSI does allow only one standard per "subject" as I understand things.
And per the comments above/below on appeals - the LEED systems are not balloted until a final draft has been proposed that theoretically includes consensus on issues from the comments. Since the consensus body is so huge - far different than an ANSI standard body - the voters can vote up or down - that is the "appeal". No need for another step other than just don't use the standards.

August 12, 2013 - 9:35 am

Lots of good info and questions! We're planning some further coverage on this, so stay tuned.

August 9, 2013 - 11:24 am

I think we have different backgrounds and may be having two different arguements. I know very little about ANSI but have been trying to read up on it. I see at least two ANSI green building standards. Green Globes and ASHRAE 189. I don't see anything preventing USGBC from developing LEED into another ANSI standard. Then the 3 different groups would be encouraged by ANSI to work the standards into a single one.

I see a lot of ways that Green Globes could get their ANSI standard revoked. http://publicaa.ansi.org/sites/apdl/Documents/Standards%20Activities/Ame...

All of these seem to be lacking in the Green Globes development process. Public notification, openness, balance, public review, and appeals. Someone (aka USGBC) who feels they have been wronged should be able to spend the time jumping thru the ANSI appeals process hoops that would eventually pick apart Green Globes. I just read how the Glass lobbying industry appealed ASHRAE 90.1 that tried to limit the percenage of glass in new building facades. By using the ANSI process they argued they were not adequately represented and the technical basis of the decision was not properly documented. Use the system the way lobbyist do.

All of that being said about how Green Globes fails to live up to ANSI standards I see a couple things that LEED will need to change to become compliant. There is no appeals mechanism during the public comments. I also do not see effort made to resolve any objections to the standard. I've commented on here for years how my suggestions to improve LEED are regularly dismissed or how responses are copy/pasted and not relevant to the suggestion.

So LEED needs to work on two areas to get ANSI and Green Globes needs to work on 5 or 6 areas to keep their ANSI rating.

Out of curiousity, if USGBC became an ANSI standard developer in 2007, why didn't they get ANSI already? Why did Green Globes beat them to the punchline?

July 31, 2013 - 3:58 pm

USGBC became an ANSI standard developer in 2007 in order to fend off attacks about not have a "true consensus process." But ANSI's job is to streamline standards, not create multiple standards that have the same goal. There is already an ANSI green building standard, as far as ANSI is concerned, and USGBC can't develop a second one. I would not agree that USGBC is "obsessed" with its process. The reason it's a constant topic is that lobbyists are driving the conversation, and they are basing their attacks on federal government rules about consensus. That wasn't USGBC's idea, or LEEDuser's. Presumably it is a federal safeguard against nepotism and (ironically) industry lobbying, and in that context it makes complete sense.

July 31, 2013 - 3:27 pm

Per the CEO of USGBC, Rick Fedrizzi,
"Our role and our mission is to help transform the market to better buildings through the collective voice of the building industry. The USGBC consensus process brings everyone - including parties with diametrically opposed and competitive interests to the table that represents the market. And if you think about it Bill [Walsh]...I think we are lucky to finally have a forum for this kind of discussion.

"The role of the USGBC never has been to dictate the proverbial "answer", that is not our job. Instead we give the industry the tools, the process, and the forum within which they can arrive at the answer for themselves."

The consensus process is the fundamental function of USGBC per its CEO. It creates a forum, a process.

And it looks like they have applied for ANSI Accreditation to fight the claim made by AHPBC.

And by "everyone" I meant these two groups, the news/blogs, the design professionals, and the politicians.

July 23, 2013 - 4:55 pm

To be a bit less flip about this, "everyone" is not obsessed with claiming consensus. The people with the alleged ANSI standard are obsessed with using that as a lever.

July 22, 2013 - 10:51 am

Exactly, we should be demanding results.

July 19, 2013 - 10:47 am

They can't compete with results unless they 1) have the results and 2) are willing to share them.

July 17, 2013 - 1:41 pm

As a member who spent a great deal of time reading drafts and commenting on most versions of LEED v4 - my experience verifies the Openshaw claim that most comments were not truly addressed by changes made to the v4 rating system. It was very frustrating.

July 22, 2013 - 11:31 am

I read a book a few years ago called "The Goal" that I like and was thought provoking. The goal of business is to make money. Anything that leads to this goal is good for the business and anything that doesn't is a distraction. It does not matter the quality of board members, training hours of staff, how rigorous the development pocess is for new products, or how efficient they can produce something. If they can't make money the business is a failure. It has not reached its goal dispite all the good things going for that company.

USGBC’s vision is that “buildings and communities will regenerate and sustain the health and vitality of all life within a generation.” USGBC’s Mission, “to transform the way buildings and communities are designed, built and operated, enabling an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy, and prosperous environment that improves the quality of life”

Has USGBC reached this goal? USGBC has 4 years of data on LEED v2009 projects. The only thing I've seen is a statement that 7.4% of LEED certified buildings have earned a 90+ on Energy Star. That's not worth bragging about. A 90+ score for Energy Star means that the building is in the top 10% of energy efficient performers. By only getting 7.4% of LEED buildings in this range means they are doing less than average.

The billions (with a B) of square footage certified or only registered (which is meaningless because any building can register) does not matter if these buildings are not going towards the goal. You say that LEED is the best thing going for green buildings. I say look at the Energy Star score above and that average construction appears to be the best thing going for green buildings.

LEED's sucess is not the goal. LEED should be a tool towards attaining the goal. If it is not then it has become a distraction.

LEED has been transformational in the way buildings are designed and has changed how products are made. But have these attained the goal? Just any transformation of the industry is not the goal. It should be "enabling an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy, and prosperous environment that improves the quality of life". Without data the transformation cannot be shown to be going towards the goal.

July 18, 2013 - 12:50 pm

Consensus is critical when establishing an agreement that a large number people can live with. Can better green building rating systems than LEED be arrived at without consensus? Perhaps that depends on how one defines better. Would a green building rating system developed without consensus be effective at being transformational? Would it be implementable on a wide- spread scale? These are two of several linked elements that have lead to LEED’s success.

I have been involved with green building and planning for over 30 years and I can say that the LEED Green Building Rating System has been phenomenal for what it has accomplished and for what it promises to do as it continually evolves and raises the bar. To those that say they can develop a better system I say, “Go for it”. If it is better and can truly accomplish more than LEED it can serve to raise the bar and improve green building rating systems.

LEED has clearly been transformational. The nature of building design and construction has changed due to LEED. Over 10.6 billion (yes, billion with a “b”) square feet of commercial building floor space have been certified and registered under the LEED Green Building Rating System. Green building has been one rare growth industry over the last several years of very depressed design and construction activity. The nature of building materials has changed due to LEED. Building products across the board have been changed due to LEED and products with existing positive environmental characteristics have enjoyed greater success due to LEED. And I will point out that green product rating systems such as SMaRT have been developed and continue to evolve that support further green product development and growth –in contrast to the very negative push of the American Chemistry Council and its lightly veiled sister organization AHPBC. I have trouble imagining the hypocrisy in the full name of this chemistry sponsored ‘club’ (club in the sense of a caveman’s club); the American High-Performance Buildings Coalition.

Can the LEED consensus process be improved? Probably! And I suspect it will be improved over time. But I think it is pretty darn good. The development of the LEED criteria is rigorous and so is the vetting process. The group of people developing the LEED criteria and the people on the technical committees are among the best in the industry. The vetting process for LEEDv4 was the most rigorous process that I have seen. The membership which is large and broad has spoken (over several review periods). The danger is that if was much more involved new versions of LEED might never been issued – or take 10 or 15 years – far to issue evolutionary changes instead of 4). I may not agree with everything; every rule, every standard, every criteria in LEED but then again I don’t feel I have to. With the exception of the Prerequisites we all have the option of deciding which of the other credits make sense for the particular project. I do agree LEED is the best thing going to accomplish the goals of the USGBC and its members. That again points to the balance LEED has struck. It must remain rigorous and continually raise the bar on environmental and energy performance – as it has been doing. And it must remain consensus based without caving in to special interest groups like the American Chemistry Council, the AHPBC and some in the timber industry. I am very disappointed that Senator Mary Landrieu (D–Louisiana) has succumbed to this pressure. Her amendment is not representative of the needs of the people of Louisiana or of the United States as it serves to deny the environmental and job producing benefits that green industry bring.