Green Building Law Update

Army Abandons LEED Certification

Correction:  It is now clear to me that I misinterpreted the testimony of Dr. Dorothy Robyn, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense.  Instead, the Department of Defense is going to simultaneously require compliance with its green building code and with LEED certification.

Read more here:  Defense Department to Adopt Green Code and LEED


We have entered a new era of green building policy.  The Army is abandoning LEED certification.

On February 28, 2012, I reported, via a BuildingGreen article, that the Army had reiterated its commitment to LEED certification despite DoD re-authorization legislation that banned LEED Gold and Platinum certification.

Less than one month later, the Army has announced it is abandoning LEED certification. The Army is launching its own building code modeled off of ASHRAE 189.1 in lieu of pursuing LEED certification.

On March 7, 2012, Dr. Dorothy Robyn, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Installations and Environment) made the following statements to the House Appropriations Committee (PDF) Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies:

In addition to retrofitting existing buildings, we are taking advantage of new construction to incorporate more energy-efficient designs, material and equipment into our inventory. In the past, all new construction projects were required to meet the LEED Silver or an equivalent standard and/or to comply with the five principles of High Performance Sustainable Buildings. This year my office will issue a new construction code for high-performance, sustainable buildings, which will govern all new construction, major renovations and leased space acquisition. This new code, based heavily on ASHRAE 189.1, will accelerate DoD’s move toward efficient, sustainable facilities that cost less to own and operate, leave a smaller environmental footprint and improve employee productivity.

The repercussions of this announcement will be widespread. 

For federal contractors, this is a game changer.  The LEED AP credential will be less valuable.  Past performance highlighting LEED certification will be less valuable, if not totally irrelevant.  Construction firms will have to learn to build to ASHRAE 189.1 instead.  

For federal agencies, this signals the beginning of the end for certifying federal buildings.  It's obvious that the Army is taking the DoD legislative LEED ban seriously. I can all but guarantee that the Navy and Air Force follow the Army's lead in some fashion.

Federal agencies have long been one of the most important supporters of LEED certification. The Navy was the first agency to adopt the certification. After the Army, Navy and Air Force stop pursuing LEED certification, how do you think other federal agencies will respond?

For the US Green Building Council, this could be a devastating blow.  Can the USGBC and LEED survive without the support of the federal government?  Because that is the new reality of green building policy.

Photo Credit:  Defence Images

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Comments (20) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Dan Whittet - March 26, 2012 2:40 PM

This seems like such a random decision just as the USGBC and LEED are hitting an international threshold of market transformation, dropping federal support will weaken the green economy, add confusion to a difficult process, set back years of hard work done by professionals in all aspects of the high performance building profession. Just wrong.

Stuart Kaplow - March 26, 2012 2:48 PM

I think you are dead on correct. This may be the most significant green building happening since LEED itself.

I do believe it is in direct response to the mandate of the Defense Authorization Act for 2012 that the military not expend defense department dollars pursuing LEED Gold or Platinum, that the Department of Defense told Congress it will no longer pursue LEED certification, but rather all new construction, major renovations and leased space acquisitions will beginning later this year be constructed to the 189.1 standard, as customized for Department of Defense use and at thresholds equivalent to LEED Silver.

This is huge. This is an important story. Great post!

Lloyd Alter - March 27, 2012 6:23 AM

when I read your attached document, it never mentions army and just discusses department of defense. I am curious why you say "I can all but guarantee that the Navy and Air Force follow the Army's lead in some fashion." It seems they already have.

Glen Phillips - March 27, 2012 10:59 AM

This is indeed a big announcement, and will undoubtedly have direct and indirect impacts to LEED uptake as this decision ripples across the D+C market. I have worked with multiple DoD projects as a green building advocate, in supporting their LEED efforts and on a separate project in considering Earth Advantage Commercial as an alternate to LEED.

I am personally conflicted on this decision, as while it could open the door to consideration of other credible green building programs, and I have no doubt they will do a good job in adapting 189.1 to their needs without gutting it, their continued use of LEED into the 2012 cycle would have increased market uptake of the new version, and depending on how widespread any fallout is over this, it could meaningfully set back the necessary transition to a sustainable built environment.

Glen Phillips

Joe - March 27, 2012 2:37 PM

Hate to burst your bubble, Chris, but I'm afraid you have severely misinterpreted this testimony. There is no mention of the DoD dropping LEED. Dr. Robyn is instead stating that her team will roll out a new code this year for sustainable buildings using ASHRAE 189.1 (which USGBC helped write) as a benchmark. Good investigative journalism.

Chris Cheatham - March 27, 2012 2:43 PM

@Dan - You raise an interesting point - how long has this been in the works. Today, I realized that a friend in DC had warned me over a year ago that this was coming. The Army has been doing a cost analysis of 189.1 for some time now.

@Stuart - Thanks! I have good sources.

@Lloyd - Good point. I am going to have to take a look into your comment a bit more.

@Joe - Want to bet on who is right? And this isn't investigative journalism - this is blogging. :)

Phillip Zemke - March 27, 2012 2:45 PM

Perhaps the Army is on to something. I believe that the trend in sustainable construction will be away from LEED certification. The ICC changes every three years and the ICC Energy Codes are starting to approach LEED standards. The ICC Green Building codes loom on the horizon with further sustainability and performance requirements. Commissioning and air infiltration testing are commonplace events now. High performance buildings are easily achieved without LEED certification. How can one earn LEED points for energy efficiency when high energy efficiency is already a code requirement?
Government support of the LEED program has been its biggest success, but often, the agencies require LEED design standards without LEED certification to save a dime or two.
LEED has successfully transformed the market place. Perhaps its work is done.

Rob Watson - March 27, 2012 4:07 PM

The DOD has been an important supporter of LEED and green certification for nearly 2 decades. My reading of this testimony and my recent conversations with top officials don't indicate any retreat from LEED, though I could be wrong. Many years ago, the Army 'abandoned' LEED for the SPiRiT standard, but ultimately realized a) the value of LEED and b) how hard it is to maintain (developing is the easy part) your own standard. My guess is that these lessons will not have been forgotten.

It seems to me that adopting a 189-based internal code will make the achievement of LEED Silver and beyond easier, since most of the requirements and specs are already written in code language and won't be subject to many different jurisdictional and facility approaches. The 3rd party verification of performance will always be key to the continuing success of LEED.

I wish I shared the other commenters' conviction that the market has been successfully transformed because from where I sit we still have a long, long way to go.

Tom Fisher - March 27, 2012 4:40 PM

This has also been the drift from within FEMP, GSA, and the Interagency Sustainability Working Group (ISWG) since early last year. The drafts of the implementation guidance of EO 13514 and Guiding Principles use 189.1 extensively. This guidance release will make more of a splash than this move.

Remember 189.1 is called ANSI /ASHRAE/ USGBC/IES Standard 189.1 and USGBC was instrumental in forming it. Go back to the basics. LEED is a Leadership tool. The top tier of projects will always pass on lesser standards. This is just a weight re adjustment as the other 75% of the market adjusts to the new reality that green measures are here to stay.

Bill Eklund - March 27, 2012 4:51 PM

While 189.1 does meet LEED standards in energy efficiency it does not address other areas such as material selections, waste management and IEQ. Additionally the whole concept of LEED is to go beyondnstandards and achieve better than the norm. LEED is transformative in driving standards higher. Unfortunately USGBC created this mess by refusing to adopt other sustainable wood initiatives. This pissed off several high ranking congress people and they are the ones who legislated the change by DOD.

Christian - March 27, 2012 6:03 PM

The DoD must reevaluate the costs of doing business and where they can save money at any time. Removing LEED requirements will lower construction costs but, this will also lower quality in projects.

The contractor will benefit from the removal of the LEED accreditation (often confused by certification) as staff having accreditation is often limited. Each RFP is supposed to be issued and awarded based off of the best value concept. If the economic state of DoD remains in a downward spiral; the best value concept will have to be abandoned.

LEED is a great tool and should be integrated as part of the "standard design" of all buildings (minus some of the off the rocker points that don't make the building better). If we're going to use LEED as a marketing tool then we should evaluate why our buildings have been "substandard" based on being built without the standards.

Frank Marshall - March 28, 2012 10:56 AM

The military used to have their own energy code called SPIRIT. I'm not sure when they abandoned that to follow LEED.

joe - March 28, 2012 11:19 AM

Actually Chris, I would like to bet that you are wrong. What's the wager? This will soon be cleared up, I guarantee you. :)

brian - March 28, 2012 3:38 PM

Pretty misleading article. Testimony is from an OSD undersecretary not army. Excerpt is not accurate and altered. Facts are not there to substantiate the supposition In the article.

joe - March 29, 2012 8:54 AM

Chris, I would like to bet. What's the wager? Be on the look out in the coming weeks for an announcement from DoD that will disprove you sensational reporting.

Chris Cheatham - March 29, 2012 9:09 AM

Joe - Are you suggesting that the DoD will implement a green building code and apply for LEED certification? That is redundant. I really hope the DoD does not go that route.

Brian - OSD is part of the Department of Defense. Department of Defense includes the Army. If anything, I understated the impact of the announcement as it appears to apply to the Army, Navy and Air Force. And the excerpt was copied directly from the printed testimony.

Roger Lin - March 29, 2012 3:09 PM

I agree with Phillip that the Army is onto something. I think their biggest concern is energy efficiency and not how far away their materials are shipped from.

From this perspective, LEED should not be the standard they pursue. Energy efficiency is only one of the groups of items in the LEED scorecard. Not only is energy efficiency only part of LEED, the standard can easily be gamed by doing other cheaper, easier (less performance-based) improvements.

So, I think this is a good thing the Army is backing away. This means they might actually be serious about the approach they want to employ to get to their goals. I hope the rest of the Federal government and the commercial building sector follow too. There are way too many buildings with a nice plaque and no performance.

Anne Whitacre - March 30, 2012 9:37 AM

I think "devastating" and "game changer" are a bit dramatic. There are many architectural firms who never do work for the Army, and don't actively seek out military projects. For them, LEED is still the differentiator in the public market sector. I am not a fan of the USGBC, but as many times as I've wished before breakfast that they will simply go away, I don't see that happening in the near (or far) future.
The biggest push toward LEED did not come from the Army (or other military branches) -- it came from GSA, which is more readily visible, and is a client of far more architectural firms. Now when GSA abandons LEED -- that will be a game-changer.

Bill Bahnfleth - March 30, 2012 10:39 AM

A comment above states that "While 189.1 does meet LEED standards in energy efficiency it does not address other areas such as material selections, waste management and IEQ. Additionally the whole concept of LEED is to go beyondnstandards and achieve better than the norm."

These statements are incorrect. ASHRAE 189.1 was developed in partnership with USGBC and addresses all of the standard sustainability areas. The statement of scope at the beginning of the standard reads:

"This standard provides minimum criteria that:...address site sustainability, water use efficiency, energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality (IEQ), and the building's impact on the atmosphere, materials, and resources."

Section 7 "Energy Efficiency" is based on and exceeds ASHRAE 90.1, and section 8 "Indoor Environmental Quality" is based on and exceeds ASHRAE 62.1.

Tristan Roberts - March 31, 2012 8:54 PM

BuildingGreen has looked at the Army's involvement with LEED quite a bit over the years, including in recent days, and we don't see evidence that they are moving away from it. Difference between a code and a rating system. Here's a link to our article Army: No, We Are Not Abandoning LEED:

Stuart Kaplow
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