This is hardly the first time the chemical and plastics industries have attacked LEED. Indeed, the battles go back to 2000 and 2001, during the USGBC’s earliest days, when the Vinyl Institute tried to join the fledgling organization but was rebuffed by its leadership following months of raucous debates about whether the trade groups representing materials and products considered anathema to the council's interests should be allowed to join. At the time, the Vinyl Institute was turned away, though it was allowed to join some years later.
Other trade groups have attempted to undermine LEED over the years to suit their members’ interests. For example, in the mid-2000s, the timber industry, frustrated with LEED’s rigorous standards around sustainable forestry, imported a weaker Canadian standard, Green Globes, funding its introduction into the U.S. The industry then lobbied heavily to have Green Globes become an alternate, if not preferred standard, to LEED.
The most serious grievances the group is against LEED have been refuted by the Green Building Council and others. (The website BuildingGreen.com does a nice job of that here.) Most of the charges are not new.
For example, industry groups have long criticized LEED for not being a “true” consensus-based standard. This refers to a standard developed according to the guidelines of the American National Standards Institute, which has rules for what it calls “voluntary national consensus standards.” LEED, among others standards, opted not to go the ANSI route, instead using its own stakeholder-engagement process. “It may not be an ANSI standard, but the idea that it's not a rigorous, consensus based process is laughable,” Christine Ervin, USGBC’s founding CEO, told me. She referred to the “hundreds of stakeholders” who were frustrated by the long, often tedious conversations and debates undertaken during LEED’s creation. “It is a very carefully, balanced process.”
Moreover, the chemical and plastics industry have a track record of gumming up the works even in consensus-based standard making. Take ANSI-based EPEAT, for instance, the green electronics that gained notoriety of its own last week. “The chemical industry has acted as a block against chemical restrictions,” says Ervin, who sits on EPEAT’s board. That, she says, has greatly slowed EPEAT's forthcoming standards for printers and TVs.
The chemical industry has characterized LEED in other ways that aren’t exactly accurate. Its claim that it is punishing chemical companies is undermined by LEED’s actual intent, which is not to ban toxic chemicals but to give extra points for manufacturers and builders that avoid them. It’s an entirely voluntary process. A building can contain chemicals of concern and still earn enough points to be certified at one of LEED’s four levels.
It's important to note that the chemical industry is doing itself a disservice here. Many of its biggest members -- Dow, Dupont, BASF -- are actively engaged in green chemistry, designing products and materials that eliminate many of these offensive toxins. For these companies' trade groups to simultaneously defend these problematic chemicals seems a desperate, archaic act.
Next page: Will this time be different?