We offer the following recommendations in the hope that they will help step up the pace of high-performance building reconstruction in the U.S. and Canada. We consulted many experts for advice, but these recommendations are solely the responsibility of the editors of Building Design+Construction. We welcome your comments. Please send them to Robert Cassidy, Editorial Director: rcassidy@sgcmail.com.

May 11, 2012

16. Public- and private-sector stakeholders need to find ways to work together on the next stage of technology innovation for sustainable reconstruction.

Technological innovation in building products and systems will require the synergies that might best be created through the collaboration of private industry, universities, and federal labs. The EnOcean Alliance (http://www.enocean-alliance.org/home/), which develops and promotes self-powered wireless monitoring and control systems for sustainable buildings by formalizing the interoperable wireless standard, is one such industry-based consortium.

A more wide-ranging collaboration is the Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster (gpichub.org/), a regional innovation center at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. One of three such federally funded clusters, it is unique in its focus on full-spectrum retrofits (50% or more energy reduction) of average-sized commercial, institutional, and multifamily residential buildings. The consortium consists of Pennsylvania State University, Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center, and Wharton Small Business Development Center, with additional membership from such high-tech companies as Bayer MaterialScience, IBM Research, Lutron Electronics, PPG Industries, and United Technologies.

Research-based universities and technology-enabled companies in other parts of the country need to establish similar innovation clusters to attack specific target technologies that would benefit the renovation and reconstruction of existing buildings.

17. LEED-EB:O+M should recognize buildings that make significant improvements in reducing energy use, outside of Energy Star qualification.

Under current LEED-EB:O+M requirements, owners of the worst energy guzzlers who make substantial investments to reduce energy use in their buildings but who don’t reach Energy Star top 25% level get left out of LEED-EB. This creates an obvious disincentive for owners of energy-hog buildings to participate in LEED-EB. The USGBC should appoint a committee to investigate a new form of recognition for these properties, which in some cases could be realizing greater energy-conservation gains than many certified LEED-EB:O+M properties.

18. The U.S. Green Building Council should delete a proposed credit to LEED 2012 related to avoidance of chemicals of concern.

LEED 2012, which is expected to be released in November, includes a Materials & Resources credit for “avoidance of chemicals of concern.” Among the substances to be avoided is PVC/vinyl.

This latest attempt to get PVC blackballed by LEED should sound familiar to those who have followed the controversy in our White Papers over the past decade. (Note: The Vinyl Institute and Sika Sarnafil, a maker of PVC-based roofing products, are sponsors of this White Paper, but the views expressed here are entirely those of the editors.) Ten years ago, the USGBC asked its five-member Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee, chaired by Scot Horst (now Senior Vice President of LEED at the USGBC), to investigate.

The TSAC spent four years reviewing hundreds of scientific documents and studies related to PVC. Based on the TSAC report, the LEED Steering Committee concluded “that the evidence available at present is not conclusive, but it is suggestive that a credit specifically targeting PVC is not warranted.” In essence, the USGBC’s own blue-ribbon committee concluded that there was insufficient scientific evidence to prevent vinyl from being used in LEED-rated buildings.

The new MR credit came about as the result of a “pilot credit” experiment in which, after two years, only two projects gained credit for avoiding “chemicals of concern.” Two data points do not a scientific conclusion make. Moreover, the list of chemicals to be avoided is based primarily on data from a private ecolabel that does not have an open, ANSI-type process. The proposed credit also makes reference to California Proposition 65, which calls for labeling of certain chemicals used in all sorts of products but does not ban them.

The MR Credit for Avoidance of Chemicals of Concern is another example of the USGBC overstepping its bounds, as it has in creating a de facto wood standard in LEED. The LEED credit development process is not fully open and transparent, unlike that of ANSI and other recognized standards-setting organizations. The USGBC argues that the use of LEED is voluntary, yet its website keeps a tally of all the government entities (442 localities, 34 states, 14 federal agencies) that treat LEED like a de facto standard—without a fully open, ANSI-based standards development process.

The USGBC should not be in the business of creating so-called “red lists.” USGBC staff and members are not professional chemists, biologists, epidemiologists, or toxicologists, and they are not qualified to determine the health risks, if any, of specific building products. That’s the job of Congressionally authorized federal agencies with the appropriate expertise and capability. +


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