Haworth Turns to Offsets Over RECs to Earn LEED Green Power Credits

Haworth Turns to Offsets Over RECs to Earn LEED Green Power Credits

The office furniture maker Haworth Inc. has earned a LEED-Gold certification for its new global headquarters by taking a seldom-traveled path to achieve green building status: The company chose carbon offsets rather than renewable energy certificates (RECs) to earn green power points under the LEED-New Construction (LEED-NC) standard.

The move may mark the first time the USGBC has accepted carbon offsets for the LEED green power credit, according to The Carbon Neutral Company, which provided the offsets for the project.

With the number of projects either LEED-NC certified or registered approaching 20,000, this development could give the voluntary carbon market a much-needed shot in the arm at a time when it is dealing with an economic downturn and regulatory uncertainty.
Atrium at One Howarth Center
"There's not really good data on how many actually pursue green power credits by utilizing RECs," said Mark La Croix, executive vice president of The Carbon Neutral Company and a former sustainability VP at InterfaceFABRIC. "If it's 10-15 percent, that's a pretty massive market."

The USGBC couldn't confirm whether the Haworth project was the first to use offsets to earn green power credits since it doesn't track the number of projects that have pursued and earned individual credits.

Haworth had looked at possibly generating renewable energy onsite, but its options were limited, said Steven Kooy, the company's global sustainability leader. He noted the location's cloudy weather made it unsuitable for solar energy, which wind turbines were out of the question since it sits next to an airport. The company chose offsets generated by the Yunnan Nameguo and Faguo Hydropower Stations Project in China, a run-of-river hydro project meeting the Voluntary Carbon Standard.

The project also had to get Green-e certification to satisfy the USGBC, adding an additional step to what was otherwise a simple process, Kooy said. The USGBC accepted the offsets as an alternative compliance path for achieving the green power credit.

Mark La Croix, The Carbon Neutral CompanyUsing offsets from renewable energy projects rather than RECs to earn the credit made sense to all parties, due to the robust standards available for offsets, said La Croix (pictured left). "RECs were historically developed for compliance markets to prove a megawatt-hour of energy was delivered into the grid from a renewable energy source," eventually adapting for use in the voluntary carbon market after the U.S. failed to adopt a national level renewable portfolio standard. RECs, which recently drew attention when PepsiCo announced it would curb puchases of RECs in favor of onsite renewable energy projects, differ from offsets because of the potential for double-counting and lack of additionality. This means the underlying RECs projects don't guarantee incremental greenhouse gas reductions as a result of REC sales.

"Given that our offsets meet the additionality requirements," Kooy said, "we are assured our money is spent where it is needed."