Defense Department LEED Funding to Be Eliminated?

It is not looking pretty for federal green building policy.

Earlier in the year, I speculated that Congress might target green building certification as an unnecessary cost.  Well, it happened.  From the ASHRAE Government Affairs Update

House Passes National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2012 – Would Require Cost-Benefit Analysis & Long-Term Payback for DoD Adopting ASHRAE Standard 189.1

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (H.R. 1540) by a vote of 322-96. . . .

The bill would also require a cost-benefit analysis and return on investment for energy efficiency attributes and sustainable design achieved through DoD funds used to receive a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold or Platinum certification.

But here's the real kicker in the legislation: 

The bill would prohibit FY 2012 DoD funds from being used to achieve a LEED Gold or Platinum certification, however these certifications could be obtained if they impose no additional cost to DoD.

As I understand it, LEED certification will always impose an additional cost on the DoD simply because administration fees have to be paid to the US Green Building Council in order to get the certification.  It appears that this legislation, if passed in this form, would bar the DoD from pursuing LEED certification. 

According the ASHRAE update, the Senate will propose its own bill.  It will be interesting to see how the LEED certification funding issue is dealt with in the Senate and in conference committee.

I have often wondered why federal buildings should pursue LEED certification.  I always viewed certification as a marketing tool to demonstrate that a building was green.  But a green building policy wonk recently made an interesting point to me:  by pursuing LEED certification, the federal government receives third-party confirmation that it is getting the green building it contracted for.  

Is this the beginning of the end for federal policy that supports LEED? Should federal buildings pursue LEED certification in the first place? 

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Comments (8) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Christopher G. Hill - July 27, 2011 8:49 AM

Interesting tidbit Chris. I have always wondered why governments and private owners would pay the additional money when they could take the energy efficiency measures whether through LEED or otherwise. LEED does impose an additional cost that could be unnecessary to meet the goal of environmental and energy friendliness.

Karen D. Joslin - July 27, 2011 9:58 AM

Unfortunate that most people and professionals (and commenters) still do not understand the goal and benefits of LEED projects go far beyond energy cost savings. Personnel costs are in the 90% range of any business's operating expenses and energy is only 5-6%. The true value to the bottom line is in inmproving productivity with natural/air/perception changes to the workplace. A 2% improvement to 90% of the burden trumps a 20% improvement of the 6% every day.

Abe Kruger - July 27, 2011 3:19 PM

The total cost to a project seeking LEED certification does not need to increase. Although there is a cost associated with project registration/certification, there are also savings possible from green building practices. The Green Building Law Blog (any relation?) had a great interview with Kevin Kampschroer, GSA's Director of the Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings and Eleni Reed, GSA's Chief Greening Officer. In the post Mr. Kampschroer states that the GSA has done studies on "standard versus green construction, you can do LEED Silver for less than conventional construction because of integrated design." There are also less tangible benefits that are difficult to calculate a pay back on. How do you quantify improved worker productivity, retention, health, and happiness? Green building certification with 3rd party verification is one of the best ways the government can be good stewards with our tax dollars.

The interview is available here:

David T Williams, PE - July 27, 2011 3:36 PM

I think Chris' point about the third party certification is the key point in why Governments and private owners would pursue LEED. While we beef about the detailed microscope GBCI puts the design team through, the LEED process does provide some sort of documentation that high performance features are thought about and implemented.

I would argue that pursuing Gold or Platinum doesn't in fact require more money, but perhaps some dollars (and really not that many when you look at a project total cost) are shifted from construction to design. Yep, you might not get the last 100 to 500 sf of building you thought you might (based on the expensive design costs in LEED of energy modeling and basic commissioning). But if you are honest about it the CARPET costs more than LEED and provides far less value to the building and the taxpayers.

R David Chambers - July 28, 2011 9:40 AM

Chris -
your quoted section says '... LEED Gold or Platinum certification ...', which appears to NOT preclude LEED certification at a Certified or Silver Level - I have not read the bill, but it appears from your snippet that if the funds required to achieve Certified or Silver 'backed into' Gold or Platinum there would be '... no additional cost to DOD.'
am i missing something?

Marx - August 22, 2011 3:29 PM

The governement already has so many requirements which mirror LEED, that LEED is redundance. There is already a manditory energy savings over the baseline. LEED for federal building is redundant and a waist.

Marx - August 22, 2011 3:34 PM

The worst part is that Katherine Hammock who helped create USGBC (LEED) is now the Assistant Secretary of the Army. She starts a company then mandates that every federal building MUST use her company. I think of her has the Karl Rove / Halliburton of the Green movement. Corruption!

Ellen - February 9, 2012 8:06 PM

Chris: You wrote that ...."a green building policy wonk recently made an interesting point to me: by pursuing LEED certification, the federal government receives third-party confirmation that it is getting the green building it contracted for."

I think it's more accurate this way: By pursuing LEED certification the federal government has shown its commitment to building green and an understandable desire to check the boxes and have a third party certify that the boxes were in fact checked. But that will not necessarily guarantee that the building will perform as designed. I would argue that the fed govt could just as easily set its own performance goals, then use the appropriate tools and rating systems and standards to get there. LEED provides an excellent and comprehensive, though not the only, system for green building design. The feds might also wish to use the Passivhaus standard (as modified for US climates) or similarly rigorous energy efficiency standard that also ensures superior IAQ + standards for integrating other attributes it might want for certain buildings, such as enhanced security, durability/resilience etc and of course life-cycle cost effectiveness. Instead of spending $ for a seal of approval the feds should spend it on performance measurement and verification. The savings in operational costs AND first costs that come from integrated design and aggressive energy efficiency (in addition to productivity improvements and reduced healthcare costs that may result from other green measures as someone noted) could fund demonstrations, technical assistance and training to help improve non fed govt buildings.

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