Federal Green Building Code Creates Unnecessary Risks and Costs

Someone recently asked me why I was baffled about the Department of Defense's decision to use both LEED and a green building code.  Here are two reasons: 

1.  The policy is a waste of taxpayer money.

2.  The policy unnecessarily increases risks for government contractors.

LEED + Green Building Code = Duplicative Costs

This concept is so logical to me that I have had trouble articulating it. 

The Department of Defense has proposed a green building code in order to streamline the process of applying for LEED certification. However, obtaining certification and complying with an overlapping green building code will result in duplicative costs, particularly on the administrative side. 

First, a contractor will have to review the green building code, ensure that it is complying with the code, and then submit documentation to the contracting officer to show compliance. 

Second, the contractor will have to review the LEED rating system, ensure that it is complying, and then submit separate documentation to the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) to apply for certification.  

Let's assume the best case scenario -- the green building code and LEED rating system requirements completely overlap (this will never happen).  The contractor will still have to compile separate documentation for a contracting officer and a GBCI reviewing authority.  And because the contracting officer and GBCI reviewing authority work independently, each individual will have separate questions, requests for clarifications and interpretations. 

Because the contractor will be working through two separate entities and submitting two sets of paperwork, the contractor will be completing twice as much work.  Twice as much work means the project will get more expensive. 

Two Interpretations Will Lead to Conflicts

It's human nature for two people to interpret the same clause two different ways.  This happens with LEED credits all the time.  When these differing interpretations occur, solutions can be worked out internally with GBCI.

But differing interpretations becomes a more risky proposition if the DoD simultaneously incorporates a green building code and LEED certification requirements in the same contract. 

On a typical DoD construction project, there is one contracting officer responsible for delivering a project on time, according to the contract and specifications.  The contracting officer has final authority to interpret and enforce the plans and specifications. 

Once the DoD institutes its green building code, a contracting officer will be responsible for interpreting and enforcing it. 

Simultaneously, a contractor working on a green building will also have to submit for LEED certification to the GBCI. 

You probably know where I am going with this.  The following scenarios will likely arise: 

  • Example A - Government Contractor is hired to construct a building that complies with both LEED and the DoD green building code.  Both LEED and the code require installation of a particular bike rack.  The contractor installs a bike rack and submits for a LEED credit related during the design phase.  GBCI approves the credit.  At the end of the project, the contracting officer finds the contractor did not install the specified bike rack.  Does the Contractor lose its certification?  Can the Contractor point to the approval of the LEED credit to overrule the contracting officer?  Does the GBCI have inherent authority to interpret a government contract specification? 

Or worse: 

  • Example B - Contractor completes a project that had to comply with the DoD green building code and get LEED certification.  A contracting officer finds the project was completed in accordance with all green building codes, including the installation of a bike rack.  Months later, GBCI finds that the contractor did not install the proper bike rack for LEED certification.  LEED certification is denied.  Who is right?  Did the Contractor breach its contract by not achieving LEED certification even though the contracting officer approved the bike rack?   

I don't know the answer to these questions.  Government contractors will face more risk if they have to comply with both a green building code and overlapping LEED certification.  There will be conflicting interpretations when contracting officers and GBCI reviewing authorities interpret the same requirements.

In short, this could get very messy. 

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

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

Army To Continue Pursuing LEED Gold and Platinum

I had been hearing whispers that the Army planned to ignore the recently-enacted LEED ban, and now we have proof.

Back in December 2011, GBLU reported on legislation that banned the Department of Defense from pursuing LEED Gold or Platinum certification.  As reported by BuildingGreen, despite the new law, the Army is reiterating its commitment to LEED certification: 

In a call with reporters yesterday, [Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary], reiterated the Army's commitment to net-zero and LEED and gave an update about some of the progress that's already been made. "We're finding it does not cost more to design and construct to LEED" standards, Hammack said.

How can the Army continue to build to LEED Gold and Platinum? 

The BuildingGreen article does a great job explaining the loophole included in the legislation: 

The legislation in question does have a loophole for LEED Gold and Platinum projects as long as they don't cost more. As we reported at the time, "Exceptions may also be made without a special waiver if achieving Gold or Platinum 'imposes no additional cost'."

That loophole is big enough to blithely drive a tank through without bothering to show ID at the checkpoint. You apparently don't have to prove that it didn't cost more--or the Army is interpreting it that way, at any rate, while working closely with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on "educating" Congress.

After giving a green building legal presentation at the American Society of Military Engineers in Fort Leonard Wood last month, I had a chance to talk to contractors about the LEED ban.  They indicated they have been told to simply submit bids that indicate LEED Gold or Platinum costs the same as LEED Silver.  

Is this the end of the LEED ban?  The politics behind the LEED ban have nothing to do with fiscal issues, and everything to do with wood certification, at least according to one Congressman who voted for the legislation.  Do you think Congress will be receptive to the Army's use of the LEED loophole?  

Congress Restricts LEED Spending

It has been a rough year for Congress.  The Republican and Democrats, the House and Senate -- no one can seem to agree. 

Unless we are talking about green buildings. 

In June, I reported on the Department of Defense Reauthorization bill that passed the House of Representatives.  In the legislation, the Department of Defense was banned from pursuing LEED Gold or Platinum certification. 

But would the Senate agree to a similar LEED ban?  

As reported by Lloyd Alter at Treehugger, the Senate passed the House bill with an Amendment that did not mention LEED.  Thus, the Senate passed the House's LEED ban for DoD projects.  You can review the messy details at Thomas.gov.   

Here is the actual text of the LEED ban: 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is the intent behind the LEED ban?  Is Congress concerned about the financial outlay for LEED certification?  Or is Congress trying to reign in the design and construction of plush government buildings? 

In fact, the intent of the LEED ban stems from a much more contested issue -- the wood wars.   One member of Congress explained that he supported the DoD LEED ban because he believes LEED inaccurately evaluates wood products

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., helped lead the effort to place the language into the appropriations bill on grounds that the Pentagon needed to think more about building products' green qualities over the course of their entire life--from the moment a product's raw materials are extracted from the earth to when that product's components are tossed out or, even better, recycled. This notion, called "life-cycle analysis," has been gaining much momentum in the green building community. And on this front, some groups--including the Green Building Initiative program, a rival to USGBC's LEED--have embraced life-cycle analysis.

"As the Department of Defense works to improve energy efficiency, it is important that its building standards be based on sound science and incorporate due process in their development and implementation," Wicker said in a statement. "Standards should take into consideration the full life cycle of wood products, including the environmental benefits provided by our domestic reforestation programs. After completing this study, the Department of Defense should use credible standards that more accurately assess U.S. wood products."

After reading that quote, I couldn't help but think of the fateful vote this past year when USGBC members shot down a LEED credit that would have recognized alternative wood certifications.  Under the existing LEED rating system, points are only allocated for wood products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).  

I don't think I can overstate how important this LEED ban is for future green building policy.  For example, the Navy was the first federal agency to adopt LEED certification when it did so in 2000.  The Navy will have to rewrite its current LEED policies (or submit waivers for every project): 

The Navy continues to aggressively pursue sustainable development; in May 2011, the Secretary of the Navy announced that all Department of the Navy Military Construction (MILCON) projects will be built to LEED Gold standards. For FY11 and FY12, applicable MILCON projects shall achieve sustainable design and construction equivalent to or above LEED Gold, with certain exceptions. For FY 13 and later, applicable MILCON projects will be required to achieve sustainable design and construction equivalent to, or above, LEED Gold.

The DoD could certainly decide to continue pursuing LEED Gold and Platinum certifications.  But will DoD officials fight for LEED certification while other military programs are facing substantial cuts?  This legislation will likely have a chilling effect not only on DoD green building projects but also on other federal agencies.  Congress has clearly expressed an intent to not support LEED Gold and Platinum projects.  Don't be surprised to see agencies adopting the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) in lieu of LEED certification. 

Do you think federal officials will be willing to ask for LEED waivers? 

Does the Congressional LEED Ban Make Sense?

One of the great parts about Green Building Law Update is interacting with astute readers. One recent comment has forced me to rethink the proposed Department of Defense Reauthorization Bill ban on LEED certification.

In the comments to last week’s post, reader R. David Chambers asked an important question:

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?

No, David, you are not missing anything. And your comment raises an important issue about the policy underlying this bill.

There are two primary reasons why I can see a politician opposing government spending on LEED certification:

1. LEED certification is primarily a marketing tool for green buildings. The federal government does not need to advertise its green buildings. I have always considered this a legitimate policy argument.

2. The government should not be investing in green buildings, period. To me, this argument has less merit. Many studies now find that a green building can be built for the same costs as a non-green building. And green buildings should result in cost-savings in energy and water useage.

If the drafters of the DoD reauthorization bill were concerned with the first policy issue -- the costs of certification -- then presumably they would have banned spending on all LEED certifications.

However, the DoD reauthorization bill only prohibits funding for LEED Gold or Platinum. Buildings that obtain LEED Gold or Platinum certification generally cost more than buildings that obtain Silver or Certified certification. It appears that the DoD reauthorization bill ban on LEED Gold or Platinum certification is based on the policy that the federal government should not be investing in advanced green buildings.

How do you interpret the DOD reauthorization bill ban on LEED Gold or Platinum certification?  Do you think the ban has merit? 

Photo credit: David Reeves

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? 

Conflicts Between Anti-Terrorism Standards and Green Building

On Monday, I discussed conflicts between military construction and green building certification.  Green building certification was originally created for commercial office buildings, which can create some odd applications in military construction.  While we have have already discussed energy efficiency, bicycle racks and HVAC systems, there is one component of military construction that conflicts directly with many green building components:  anti-terrorism.  

I never imagined someone had completed a study of these conflicts:

The LEED®-DoD Antiterrorism Standards Tool addresses the security implications of strategies used to achieve each LEED credit with regard to their inter-relationship (i.e., potential conflicts and synergies), from the Department of Defense (DoD) perspective. Information is presented within a color-coded matrix based on the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System (LEED-NC Version 2.1) cross-referenced with the applicable standards in Unified Facilities Criteria (UFC) 4-010-01, DoD Minimum Antiterrorism Standards for Buildings. As such, critical areas are easily identified, prompting the project team to work collaboratively, using a 'whole building' approach, to develop successful, efficient solutions for a high performance, secure building.

For a government contracts attorney focused on green building legal and regulatory developments, the Standards Tool is a remarkable discovery.  My eye was immediately drawn to the "conflicting requirements" in the Standards Tool.  According to the Standards Tool, the following LEED credits are in direct conflict with Anti-terrorism Standards: 

  •    SS-2 Development Density
  •    SS-5.2 Reduced Site Disturbance, Development Footprint
  •    SS-6.1 Stormwater Management, Rate and Quantity

In future posts, I will be exploring the conflicts between these LEED credits and the Anti-terrorism Standards Tool.  Have any of you worked with a building trying to comply with both LEED certification and the Department of Defense Anti-Terrorism Standards? 

Related Links:

LEED DoD Antiterrorism Standards Tool (WBDG)

Conflicts Arise Between Military Construction and Green Building (GBLU)