US Government LEEDs by Example

The Federal government has fully committed to green buildings, so why would Georgia ban LEED?

Since the inception of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) in 1993, buildings all over the world are becoming greener and more sustainable. The federal government has consistently been implementing LEED certification standards as a result of the U.S. General Services Administration's (GSA) endorsement of LEED as its preferred green building rating system.

But that doesn't mean LEED is without its detractors. “There have been voices from different directions arguing against what may seem as favoritism on the side of the government in embracing LEED,” says Vic Lance, founder and president of Lance Surety Bond Associates. “Some have even claimed that LEED is too stringent in its constant efforts to review and perfect its rating system, and can be burdensome.”

Enter the great state of Georgia, which is trying to pass legislation that bans LEED certification on state buildings. The “wood wars” battle over the LEED certification system comes as the state’s timber industry claims the system discriminates against the use of local wood products that aren’t registered through the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

LEED credit for FSC Certified Wood is gone from LEED v4; the new MRc3 credit, “building product disclosure and optimization – sourcing of raw materials,” is a new source of controversy. To receive the credit, a project must use “at least 25%, by cost, of the total value of permanently installed building products.” For wood products, the credit requires products “certified by the Forest Stewardship Council or USGBC-approved equivalent." According to the Georgia Forestry Association, only about 32,000 acres of the timber industry’s 20 million acres in Georgia currently meet that standard, since much of the industry there uses competing guidelines.

Due to the conflict, the GSA has recently reviewed LEED's v4 rating system and how it aligns with green building requirements. This review is part of the Energy Independence and Security Act's requirements and is done every five years.

“Overall, there seems to be good alignment between federal requirements and LEED v4, though the report also identified gaps which LEED will have to keep working on,” Lance says. “Whatever the GSA's review of the latest LEED system, one thing is sure - green building (and LEED) is on the rise, and not just for the federal government.”

Globally, every day, 1.7 million sq. ft. of space is certified using LEED. And just in the US, the green nonresidential building market is expected to represent a $120 billion to 145 billion opportunity for contractors in 2015. The single-family housing market is also expected to offer an opportunity between $80 billion to $101 billion this year. If this trend continues, the 19% of companies in the single-family housing market that are currently dedicated to green building (doing at least 90% of their projects green) are expected to double by 2018.

With such strong growth, contractors who are shifting toward green building will have the possibility to acquire more contracts in the coming years, both from the federal government as well as from private construction projects.

Let’s just hope the State of Georgia and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) can come to a compromise on LEED with future a rework of the v4 material credit before other states decide to follow suit and potentially bring the momentum of green building to a halt.