Green Building Codes, LEED and the Consumer – Part One

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Okay, it’s a new year and with this comes the California 2010 Green Building Standards Code (aka CALGreen), LEED 2012 being released for public comment, and who knows what else. Oh, yeah. USGBC being sued for, well, whatever. 

Aside from the ICC International Green Construction Code, if CALGreen is an example of what we can expect as a trend, in the extreme, with mandatory green building codes, what will be the impact of these new and more stringent green building codes as they find their way across the country? The California 2008 Green Building Standards Code went into effect on August 1, 2009 and was voluntary, unless otherwise adopted by local jurisdictions as mandatory. With the new California 2010 Green Building Standards Code, state compliance is mandatory, having taken effect in January, 2011. 

We saw substantial changes with the migration of LEED v2.2 over to LEED 2009, and the proposed revisions for LEED 2012 appears as if more robust revisions are in the works. Tristan Roberts from BuildingGreen and LEEDuser has published Your Guide to the New Draft of LEED that provides a good analysis of the proposed revisions. Likewise, Joel McKellar at Real Life LEED goes in depth with information he gathered on the LEED 2012 Update from USGBC’s presentation at this year’s Greenbuild convention. From a cursory review of LEED 2012, USGBC seems to be taking a necessary step in addressing many of the inadequacies and inconsistencies in the current rating systems.

It didn’t go unnoticed when USGBC rolled out LEED 2009 and informed us that this upgrade represented a major shift in direction for USGBC. USGBC would prefer to see state and local codes adopt LEED Green Building Rating Systems as a baseline to be modeled into hybrid systems, as determined by the appropriate jurisdiction, while they concentrate on ways to improve the rating systems, and thereby raising the bar. Three documents, found on the California Green Building Blog, illustrate the comparison between CALGreen and LEED. Cover Letter, CALGreen non- residential LEED comparison and CALGreen residential LEED comparison. With more accurate historical data being gathered, new technology being introduced to market, and broader consumer interest, it’s good that USGBC has recognized the fact they need to be more focused on keeping abreast of technological advances. They appear to be embracing a three year upgrade cycle, with quarterly updates as necessary. Many professionals who are LEED Accredited Professionals believe LEED 2009 was rushed out the door before it was ready. Apparently this is also the feeling with CALGreen. Build it GREEN has an interesting article titled CALGreen and Its Impact on Third Party Certfication Programs that reads more like a list of CALGreen issues than a threat to third party certification programs. Regardless, LEED, as all LEED APs understand, is and always has been a tool – not a code.

As long as these green building programs are voluntary, consumers can buy into any degree of sustainability that satisfies their concerns, and budgets. And as it stands now, LEED must be responsible for, and answer to, the performance it promotes. Likewise, once codes begin mandating performance, we will expect to realize results in return for our expenditures. But how will these mandatory codes differ from the voluntary LEED rating systems. Can green building codes establish green building regulations and just walk away? USGBC/LEED is under assault, rightly or wrongly, for a history of under performance. Without going into the complexities involved with providing green buildings and maintaining green building performance, potential solutions are being investigated. One of the solutions being discussed is re-commissioning of all newly certified buildings, perhaps every five years. We understand federal and state regulations are necessary, to a degree. But we also know that federal and state regulators can and do overreach (e.g.; EPA regulates dairy spills as per oil spills). Will local and state governments overreach if they come under assault? Will every new green building be required to undergo re-commissioning at regular intervals? It seems as if everyone is rushing to get there, but they really don’t have a solid understanding of where “there” is.

It took a long time for consumers to embrace green buildings, for a variety of reasons, and USGBC knows very well what one of the reasons is. LEED places a heavy emphasis on the relatively small additional costs associated with basic entry level LEED certification. The extent of their life cycle analysis messaging gives us a pretty good clue they are understandably sensitive to costs, as well they should be. However, discussing the value a green building may have in 50 years probably falls on deaf ears when the owner is more concerned about his financial business model today, or 10 years from today. So, how many consumers, or clients, are going to buy into a program that requires them to monitor and address building performance degradation, or lose certification? Who would commit to such an unknown expense? And what if the original owner sells the building and the new owner changes the use of the building, or the number of occupants, or even the interior colors? By what model must the building be in compliance with under these circumstances? Will we see the formation of code police to ensure owners and occupants are turning off the lights and flushing per code allowances? As LEED APs we can, and should, support USGBC in their efforts to improve the stable of green building rating systems and, hence, building performance. But we can also debate any decision to force continued monitoring and subsequent remedial action.

I’m only now beginning to get into this and, admittedly, understand few details, but just wondering where all of this is headed.

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