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