Not April Fool's: Defense Department to Adopt Green Code and LEED

In last week's post, I stated that the Army was abandoning LEED certification in lieu of a green building code based on ASHRAE 189.1.  But 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. 

Confused?  So am I! 

First here's the statement from the DoD that suggested to me that LEED was being abandoned:

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.

I assumed that this statement meant LEED certification was "in the past" and the new construction code would be used in the future. 

Apparently the DoD intends to use both the green building code and LEED certification simultaneously.  Paula Melton reported that according to (Dave) Foster in the Pentagon's Media Relations Division, the Army "will continue to seek LEED certification for our buildings built to that standard and expect to get LEED Silver or better at no additional cost."

I Don't Understand the Difference Between a Code and a Rating System

Before the DoD's announcement, I thought I understood the difference between a green building code and green building certification.  I understood a green building code to be a minimum standard that applied to 100 percent of buildings.  Green building certification, to me, was an aspirational standard that was beyond code and only applied to a subset of buildings. 

But the DoD's use of a green building code to achieve LEED certification is different.  The code will inform the contractor of how to get LEED certification; the certification then confirms the building was built to code.  The USGBC's Lane Burt explained the distinction like this: 

"The code tells you what to do, and LEED tells you how well you did and communicates that to the rest of the world." For building owners, LEED provides third-party validation that "you got what you paid for."

Going forward, federal contractors working with the DoD will have to ensure compliance with both a green building code and then apply for LEED certification. 

I would like to leave with you with a question.  What makes more sense?  

A.  A federal agency adopting a green building code to ensure that its projects are sustainable.

B.  A federal agency adopting a green building code to simplify the process of obtaining a third-party certification to ensure that its projects are sustainable. 

I am baffled. 

Photo Credit:  kalavinka

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Comments (8) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
James - April 2, 2012 1:39 PM

I have never been in favor of "third-party" certification as this leaves the process in the hands of those who could most have a conflict of interest.

It's the old argument: Do you let industry regulate itself, or do you allow government to do so?

It's kind of like the bar exam, you know? Sure, you have a J.D. degree - now prove that you understand the law.
(Of course, the bar exam only proves you can pass a test.. but that's another topic entirely.)

Joan Pauly - April 2, 2012 2:25 PM

Who would validate if not GBCI? As a taxpayer, how would I know if what was designed was actually built according to all LEED categories (not just commissioning validation for certain parts of the project) if there is not third party validation? Who would be the green building code police to ensure that the federal agency green building code was enforced?

Rob Watson - April 2, 2012 4:14 PM

ASHRAE 189 represents a significant step forward in putting many of the more aspirational and beyond-code elements into a regular language of construction.

So, without taking anything away from Standard 189, it should be understood that a code, particularly a mandatory one, established a floor and only means that "if it were any worse, it would be illegal". LEED is a continuously-evolving standard that offers credible and highly-valued 3rd-party verification of a project's green achievement, which would not be forthcoming by simply "meeting code" even if it's a good one.

Jim Newman - April 2, 2012 7:12 PM

Hopefully I might be able to shed some light on this quandary.
First of all, let's clarify one of your statements, Chris, that may be contributing to your bafflement. A "building code" is a minimum code to which buildings have to be built, whereas a "green building code" goes beyond a standard building code.

ASHRAE Standard 189.1, the code referred to in the DoD statement, is a "Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings" Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings.
LEED 2009 refers to ASHRAE Energy Standard 90.1-2007, which is, as all Standards are, a minimum Standard for energy use.

One of the Prerequisites in LEED certification is to surpass the energy use restriction of ASHRAE Standard 90.1 by 10% for new construction. That means that in order to even begin LEED certification the design has to beat ASHRAE Std. 90.1-2007 in energy use by 10%.
Standard 189.1, on the other hand, is far more stringent than 90.1, leading to a starting point relative to energy that will be far beyond Std. 90.1.

What the DoD is saying is that quite a bit of the cost of LEED certification can be in the cost of better lighting, more insulation in the building envelope and the cost of a better thermal energy plant, i.e. the heating and cooling systems in the building.
By using Std 189.1 as their baseline, those costs are already built into the cost of the buildings. Why is this a good thing to do? Because the energy costs will be considerably reduced over the years, the indoor environmental quality will be superior to a building that just meets minimum codes, etc.

So LEED certification, and many of the other aspects of LEED certification referred to in Std. 189.1, will become almost a moot point by using Standard 189.1. Both ASHRAE and the USGBC were instrumental in developing this code, and it contains many of the green and sustainable features of LEED, which is only a guideline for design and construction as you know, and was never meant to be a code.

While getting the building actually LEED-certified will still require doing some extra paperwork, the hard costs associated with the building will be minimized to the point that a LEED-Certified or even Silver building could be built at no extra cost, provided it's done by architects, engineers and contractors who have some experience in LEED projects. And today, there are many of those out there.

My company, Newman Consulting Group, LLC, with many different types of LEED-certified buildings in our repertory, ranging from Certified to Platinum, assist those architects, engineers and contractors who don't have extensive LEED experience to bridge the gap and keep the costs down.

I hope this helps explain the differences and the thinking.

J.C. Martel, SWEEP - April 3, 2012 12:06 PM

Chris, thank you for posting this for us.

Joan, Compliance with the 189.1 will be verified by the relevant code enforcement agency. Often times a consultant will gather the data and details and submit that to the Building Official for compliance verification.

Mike Collignon - April 3, 2012 4:11 PM

So, what happens for military housing, which wouldn't be covered by 189.1? Will it need to adhere to the IgCC (which only allows NAHB's Green Building Standard on a voluntary basis) or LEED-H, which is a similar yet competing rating system?

Jesse Crupper - April 5, 2012 10:30 PM

It seems to me that they are either overlooking the added cost of having two separate agencies evaluate a building, or they are creating an easy way to maintain "green building" without mandating LEED certification.

I would suggest the latter. It often makes more financial sense to put resources into energy savings than it does to chase some of the other points, like local materials. The loose language used in the first announcement and later by Foster suggests to me that 189.1 is mandatory, and LEED certification is hopeful. In other words, the energy efficiency (and lower operation costs) are required, while everything else is, at best, suggested.

Jonathan Herz - April 9, 2012 9:26 AM

Prior to LEED and other green building rating systems, compliance with contract documents was verified by construction contract administrators and inspectors. Nothing prevented designers from "greening" their designs and contract documents and just getting on with raising building environmrntal performance. Nothing prevents them from doing it in the traditional way, now, except that the 3rd-party systems have become instituionalized as another specialist on the project.

For better or worse, the developers of the popular third-party certification systems created a system, outside of the traditional design and construction process, resulting in generally better performing buildings, but also in an increasingly expanding, alternative contract compliance approach.

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