Here in Ohio, a new front to the push back against LEED has been opened. A concurrent resolution in the Ohio General Assembly, SCR 25 was introduced to the Senate about two weeks ago. It seeks to ban the use of LEED v4 for state-funded projects, including but not limited to OFCC K-12 projects. These are the same projects that comprise the nation’s top green schools program, with approximately 100 LEED-certified facilities. The resolution is being pushed by special interest groups, the chemical industry in particular. I can only speak for myself, but I find the language of SCR 25 to be particularly misleading. I will cite one example in particular, which I will allow you to judge for yourself:
“RESOLVED, That the only systems, codes, and standards used in state agency and other government buildings be those that have been developed in an open and transparent way with the input of Ohio building materials and products manufacturers and harvesters to ensure that the use of green building rating systems, codes, and other standards from the private sector are consistent with Ohio objectives and policies;”
My interpretation of this paragraph is that the authors believe that LEED v4 was not developed in an “open and transparent way.” I won’t speculate as to how or why the authors drew this conclusion, but in fact there were 6 distinct public comment periods. During these periods, thousands of comments were received from interested parties, all of which are on Excel spreadsheets on the USGBC website. This process culminated into a vote by USGBC membership where the complete LEED v4 system was overwhelmingly ratified, with an affirmative vote of 86%. To my way of thinking, the most recent version of LEED was developed in a way that was both open and transparent. Is it possible that the special interest groups did participate in this process with an aim of influencing the outcome, but failed to get their way?
Since hearing about this resolution at a USGBC Advocacy Committee meeting, I have talked to a multitude of individuals across the spectrum of the AEC industry. One response that I have gotten from a few different people I respect is “Well, LEED does cost more money,” referring specifically to review and certification fees. They’re absolutely right, several thousand dollars in fees are paid for each LEED project. Another response I’ve gotten: “You could incorporate the same elements into a project without doing all the paperwork.” Again, they are right of course, there isn’t any reason a project team couldn’t accomplish all the same goals. If you took those statements at face value, you might draw the conclusion that LEED does not provide added value, and that is where I would absolutely disagree.
I believe the value of LEED is that it is comprehensive and far-reaching. Some of the best buildings we have built, in terms of energy performance, are those that use a geothermal system. If feasible from a technical and budgetary standpoint, any building could put a geothermal system into their project scope, without LEED. However, would each project team ensure their building also has solid acoustical performance in classrooms? Would each project team ensure an Environmental Site Assessment is performed to verify school facilities aren’t built on or near environmental hazards? Would erosion and sedimentation controls would be in place, not just in situations where it is legal requirement, but as a responsible measure to prevent a known pollutant? Would each project reduce potable water usage? Understand that I’m not talking only about design teams having the wherewithal to include these aspects into their design, I’m also talking about the value engineering process. Value engineering is a mechanism of preconstruction planning where the scope of a project is changed to reduce cost. By no means am I implying that value engineering should not take place, but it can sometimes be characterized as the chopping block where “needs” can be separated from “wants”. If not for LEED, who can say whether or not proper acoustics and other considerations make it into the bid documents? When K-12 projects use the LEED rating system, no one has these questions, because those are prerequisites included in every project.
To some, LEED may appear to be extraneous set of unnecessarily difficult requirements added to projects that are already complex. On the contrary, the various aspects of the LEED rating system are divided into a multitude of credits which are entirely voluntary. Each credit seeks to address a distinct aspect of the impacts buildings can and do have on our environment. Stormwater is an excellent example of a byproduct of our built environment that has an enormous impact. LEED has one credit in particular that addresses the infrastructure needed to handle the burden of both stormwater and wastewater. Many of the 300 LEED-registered K-12 projects will or already have voluntarily took steps to lighten the load on Ohio’s systems, the same systems Ohio taxpayers also pay to upgrade and maintain.
Let’s go back to the Ohio green schools program, funded at the state level through the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission. School buildings are reducing their annual utility costs by thousands of dollars, have healthier indoor environments, and greener sites with better stormwater infiltration and open space. LEED is working in Ohio’s schools. The construction and A/E firms in this state have widespread experience in implementing LEED, whereas the alternative systems the special interest groups are used less extensively. To ban LEED would require OFCC to spend time and taxpayer funds to make alterations to a program that works well for everyone except the special interest groups. Please speak out against SCR 25 and let everyone know that LEED works in Ohio.