LEED 2012 Greenbuild Session Seeks High Ground
I couldn't get there because I was presenting in a parallel session, but my colleague Paula Melton provided this nice report from Greenbuild:
You might not expect a lot of drama from an early Friday morning conference session about the still-forming guts of LEED 2012. But between a passionate discussion about certified woodWood from a source that has been determined, through a certification process, to meet stated ecological and other criteria. There are numerous forest certification programs in general use based on several standards, but only the Forest Stewardship Council's standards, which include requirements that the wood be tracked through its chain-of-custody, can be used to qualify wood for a point in the LEED Rating System. and the finale to a week-long riff on The Tempest, this session had more than its share.
Tristan Roberts has already offered a really good rundown of what's new in the draft of LEED 2012, including an update on the second draft, so I won't repeat that here. But the discussion during this session really helped illuminate the reasoning behind the revisions, especially the most controversial ones. Those include expanding the commissioning requirement for the building envelope, designating biobasedGenerally, classification of products and materials derived from plant and animal sources as opposed to minerals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a program to promote the use of emerging biobased products that defines them more narrowly, to exclude products that already have established markets, such as food, animal feed, and lumber. materials as environmentally preferable, and developing a reasonable "red list" for the proposed chemical avoidance credit.
Emotions perhaps run highest regarding the proposed new credit for providing environmental product declarations (more on this below).
For those keeping track at home, the second public comment period for LEED 2012 has now ended (audience feedback from this Greenbuild session will be included), and USGBC plans to open a third comment period in January or February. The first comment period elicited about 6,000 comments, the second one about 8,000.
'Net-zero environmental impact'
The most impressive thing about this session was getting insight into the long-term goals of LEED. Brendan Owens, vice president of LEED development at USGBC, stated the primary goal explicitly: net-zero environmental impact that can be documented.
There was notably no target year proposed for achieving this ambitious goal, but it's good to know that the changes we're seeing are not just reactive, random, or (as some have feared) responsive to industry demands. They are strategically chosen steps in a clear direction--or that's the intention, at least.
Knowing where LEED is headed in the long run does help explain some of the more inflammatory revisions in draft two, particularly around manufacturer-declared life-cycle assessment1. Life-cycle assessment is an analysis of the environmental aspects and potential impacts associated with a product, process, or service. 2. The practice of quantifying and characterizing all the resource and pollution flows associated with a process or product, for the purpose of documenting its environmental impact. It is defined by the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) as "a compilation and evaluation of the inputs, outputs and the potential environmental impacts of a product system throughout its life-cycle." and non-certified wood products.
What if we had an FSCIndependent, third-party verification that forest products are produced and sold based on a set of criteria for forest management and chain-of-custody controls developed by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international nonprofit organization. FSC criteria for certifying forests around the world address forest management, legal issues, indigenous rights, labor rights, multiple benefits, and environmental impacts. for steel?
Net-zero environmental impact might seem like pie in the sky, but listening to Brendan, I really got the sense that they had a plan for baking and eating the thing. Starting with materials transparency is a pretty major part of that plan--because you can't assess and document and decrease the impact of your materials if you don't know where they come from or where they're going to end up when you're done with them.
Discussions of the second public draft seem to have gotten bogged down in certified wood, a very emotional topic for years now, but at the session people were asked to take a step back and imagine a world in which we know as much about extraction of resources for steel, copper, glass, and other materials as we do about wood. That's what USGBC is attempting to move the needle on with credits that reward life-cycle assessment and environmental product declarations.
Transparency is not an end in itself
These transparency credits are controversial because they are awarded regardless of the material's environmental performance. (Materials receiving credit for being environmentally preferable are a little different, as they must also achieve credit for low indoor emissions.)
The overarching goal with materials transparency is actually to build a database of materials' environmental impacts; everyone at USGBC sees it as a transitional phase that will eventually result in stricter requirements. You can't set these stricter requirements if manufacturers don't measure or report the environmental impact of their products in the first place.
Fear and anger
Still, I can understand why people are reacting with fear, confusion, and anger to the new materials credits. While it's easy from the process side to see the 2012 draft as tacking one direction in order to head in a different direction, folks on the design and construction side will be living and breathing the 2012 version of LEED for at least a couple of years, and they don't want the perceived high standards to falter even temporarily.
LEED has significant power in its slice of the building sector, and if the credits incentivize the wrong thing, the market won't respond as desired. Two or three years of that could be at best really confusing for practitioners and their clients, and at worst counterproductive and deeply damaging. In the long run, I don't think anyone thinks it's a good idea to reward product transparency in itself.
On the other hand, maybe all this drama over a relatively small sliver of the LEED rating systems is much ado about nothing. A couple credits in a five-fathom sea of possibilities? How much is really at stake?
The great globe itself
Perhaps this is why Scot Horst, senior vice president for LEED at USGBC, overlaid the LEED master sessions series with the narrative arc of The Tempest, even going so far as to end the LEED 2012 session with one of Prospero's many famous soliloquies from that play:
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Wow. I think Scot might be trying to put things in perspective here....
What do you think of the changes to LEED 2012? Do you expect a comic or tragic ending? Do these bigger-picture explanations help you understand them better or accept them more readily?
If you don't like the direction that the current draft is tacking, how would you do things differently? Is there a better way to incentivize materials transparency and get us closer to the happy ending with less conflict in the meantime?