W&WP May 2004
Agency Takes a 'LEED' Role on Green Building Standards
Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, the LEED program brings the concept of a healthy environment - indoors.
By Karen M. Koenig
It was 34 years ago that the first Earth Day brought national - and international - attention to the environment. "Green" became a buzzword in the English language as the public gained awareness of the need to sustain and conserve the Earth's resources.
Ever since, outdoor and indoor environments have been subject to ever greater scrutiny. Beginning in the late 1990s, Executive Orders have called for "Greening the Government" in regards to waste prevention, recycling and energy management. Even building construction has not escaped notice.
According to the U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit organization, buildings account for one-third of all water, energy and material consumption, while generating a similar proportion of pollution. The USGBC's goal is to promote the development of "green buildings," which "are designed, constructed and operated to boost environmental, economic, health and productivity performance over that of conventional buildings."
Developed by the USGBC, the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program establishes a common measurement for defining the concept of "Green Building."
According to Nigel Howard, vice president for LEED and international programs, the program provides: third-party certification of qualifying buildings, design guidelines, branding and training. "The scope of LEED is also described in terms of current and future versions, all within the LEED family of products, spanning all sectors and phases in the life cycle of construction."
Among the buildings certified by LEED is office furniture giant Steelcase's 600,000 square-foot manufacturing plant in Grand Rapids, MI. (See Wood & Wood Products, January 2002.)
Although relatively new, LEED has already impacted the woodworking industry in a variety of ways. Office furniture makers, for example, are taking note of the developing LEED CI (Commercial Interiors) program, which addresses resource utilization for interior building systems and furnishings of office and institutional buildings. (See sidebar)
The program, however, has not been without controversy, such as the use and purchase of certified wood.
Currently, LEED recognizes only those products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Furthermore, 50 percent of the building materials must be extracted or manufactured from within 500 miles of the site, "thereby supporting the regional economy and reducing the environmental impacts resulting from transportation."
Wood & Wood Products asked Howard about these as well as other issues affecting the LEED program.
What factors are driving LEED's growing popularity?
We think that there are many factors driving the popularity of LEED. It is a product that has arrived at the right time and a product that demonstrates and reinforces the industry's and society's need for change. There is growing awareness internationally that man's impact on the environment cannot be sustained at current levels, especially as less developed nations strive for improved standards of living.
What are the benefits of a LEED rating to the building owner?
There is growing awareness that Green Buildings make good business sense as well as being the right thing to do - people want to invest in ethically and environmentally responsible companies and these companies are achieving better returns on investment. People prefer to work for these companies, which in turn, helps these companies to attract and retain the best employees. LEED-Certified buildings signal the commitment of these companies to an ethical and environmentally responsible agenda to their clients, to their employees and to their investors.
Finally, LEED provides a practical mechanism that can be used by local, state and federal government policymakers to show environmental leadership politically. Local politicians are always enthusiastic to participate in the dedication ceremonies for LEED certified buildings. Green buildings help to attract votes.
How does the LEED program's rating system work?
Full details of the process for registering and certifying a LEED project are available from the USGBC Web site, www.usgbc.org. The Web site describes the full process which comprises three phases: registration, development of the project and making use of the customer service reference guide(s) (credit interpretations, learning about LEED at a LEED workshop, taking the LEED Accredited Professional exam) and certification of the completed project. Registration of the project gives the LEED client access to resources to facilitate the certification process and USGBC is moving toward development of a fully integrated registration and certification process that can be used interactively with the design/development team. Certification entails submitting the appropriate documentation on completion of the project to demonstrate compliance with LEED at a certain certification level - certified, silver, gold and platinum. The documentation is assessed by USGBC in two rounds - a preliminary round to give a preliminary rating with the project able to refine or clarify its documentation for pending credits before finalizing the rating.
How does the USGBC determine which products qualify for use as building materials? For example, FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification is recognized for sustainability, but not SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative). Why?
The certification level is determined by the numbers of credits achieved within the LEED rating system. Some of the credits within LEED use, by reference, a third-party standard like the FSC standard that you are referring to. The LEED credits are developed initially by LEED product committees and then refined by iteration between the product committees and the Technical Advisory Committees (TACs). There are separate TACs for every group of credits within LEED - Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources and Indoor Environmental Quality. The TACs' role is to ensure that the credits are developed with an appropriate degree of consistency and similar stringency between LEED products.
In developing credits for LEED, the TACs review research evidence such as the Meridian report and determine whether particular third-party standards meet the objectives of LEED as a leadership standard targeted at the leading 25 percent of best practice. In the case of the Forest Certification standards, the TAC was influenced by the conclusion that the SFI standard represented "the rising tide that raises all ships" whereas the FSC standard better represented the aspirations of LEED as a leadership standard.
LEED standards are periodically refined and updated and it is understood that considerable progress has been made with improvement to the SFI standard to provide third- party verification and other improvements. USGBC is establishing a process by which to reassess the standards to be recognized within future revisions to LEED products.
How are products made from composite panels (i.e., particleboard and MDF) rated? Is there a maximum emission/offgassing level that must be met?
LEED does not rate composite panel products, but rather it rates whole buildings. One credit - Materials & Resources Credit 4.4 does aim to reduce the quantity of air contaminants that are potentially irritating and/or harmful to the comfort and well being of installers and occupants. The requirement for compliance with this credit is that the composite wood materials used contain no added urea-formaldehyde resins.
In developing this credit, the Materials and Resources TAC assumed that eliminating the source of potential air contamination from urea formaldehyde resins from composite panel products was worthy of credit within LEED.
There is no emission level specified for this credit. USGBC is researching an improved performance-based approach to characterizing indoor environmental air pollutants for future credit refinements within LEED products.
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