The following post is by Robin Guenther:
The war over toxic chemicals and human health is spilling over into places we live and work: our buildings. The American Chemical Council (ACC) has launched an expensive and focused attack on the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to protect the status quo of a small set of bad-actor manufacturers of toxic and obsolete chemicals. But innovative companies across the building industries and human health advocates are fighting back.
The American Chemical Council is lobbying to end the federal government’s use of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building certification system unless USGBC removes all references to human health. If successful, they will keep taxpayers from receiving the cost savings and productivity benefits that LEED certification has generated. Why does a chemical industry trade association think better buildings are such a threat, you ask?
The USGBC has transformed the global building industry with its emphasis on high performance, low energy and healthier building practices through its LEED certification program. In only a decade, LEED plaques have become synonymous with the best buildings in the world.
USGBC’s mission is to make buildings not only more energy-efficient, but healthier spaces for those who inhabit them. The new draft version of LEED seeks to assuage human health concerns of buildings by offering voluntary credits for buildings using healthy materials. Many in the health community see this as a long overdue step for the rating system.
The ACC, however, sees this as a dangerous threat to their member companies because a few of them make a pretty penny producing controversial chemicals.
So if you can’t beat ‘em, lobby against ‘em, right? ACC is doing what it does best -- spreading misinformation and shoving truckloads of cash into lobbying efforts to keep the market from abandoning toxic materials and embracing green chemistry.
They’ve even gone so far as to form the laughable “American High-Performance Buildings Coalition,” a group whose membership reads like a who’s who of industries that make unhealthy products, all uniting to lobby against LEED. From big chemicals to vinyl to adhesives to petrochemicals -- they’re all here.
These toxic trade associations are trying to convince us that they are the ones who truly support “green” building. Perhaps next they’ll suggest that their products only increase your odds of developing “green” cancer.
While they claim LEED is not consensus-based, this is demonstrably false. Any revision to the LEED standard must be approved through a democratic balloting process open to all 14,000 members of USGBC. These members are architects, engineers, builders, contractors and product manufacturers.
In fact, the ACC and many of its member companies are participating in the LEED development process. But when the professionals who purchase building materials began to suggest that a LEED credit be available for purchasing healthier building materials, suddenly the process is flawed, and not consensus-based.
In the real world, when your customers ask for something, you don’t lobby against their right to buy what they want, do you? Let’s hope these companies wake up and start to reign in their out-of-control trade association before people really start to notice who’s behind the curtain.
Green buildings are about more than energy and water conservation; they must also include consideration of human health. Hospitals have started to lead the way. The Health Product Declaration, an independent, open-source methodology for declaring content of building products, is ushering in a new age of transparency in corporate reporting. The Healthier Hospitals Initiative recently released targets for safer products that include credit for avoiding chemicals of concern in interior furniture. Major manufacturers of health-care building products have begun substituting PVC and phthalate plasticizers with safer alternatives. These firms are innovating and capturing market share.
While the ACC protests these LEED credits, we would venture to say their innovative members are investing in R&D to move to safer alternatives precisely because of these initiatives. The construction industry needs the USGBC and LEED; citizens do, too. Someone has to make the push to get these chemicals out of our faces.
Robin Guenther, FAIA, is a principal focused on health care architecture at Perkins+Will, a global design firm. This piece was distributed by American Forum.
The following post is by Kathleen O'Brien:
In early May, I traveled to Portland to the Cascadia Green Building Council's annual Living Future Conference. I enjoyed the conference a lot, and especially the very practical financial focus in several of the sessions.
Moving the needle on real estate investment was the topic of a Living Future panel including Jason Twill (Vulcan), David Baker (Earth Economics), Theddi Wright Chappell (Cushman & Wakefield), Stuart Cowan (Autopoiesis). They noted that investment in sustainable real estate seems to be "topping out" in the market at this time — at LEED Platinum. Their hope is to help the market cross that barrier into higher realms of sustainable achievement, such as the Living Building Challenge.
Jason, David, Stuart, and Theddi are coauthors of "Economics of Change: Catalyzing the Investment Shift Towards a Restorative Built Environment." The research study was funded by Bullitt Foundation, a long time supporter of environmental protection in the Northwest. The point of the study was to "provide evidence of monetized environmental and social benefits...currently not considered in conventional real estate model(s)." The authors hope to provide a defensible rationale for including these public and private benefits into investment models, appraiser methodologies, and supporting policies. This is especially important for U.S. real estate investments where ROI and IRR are the ultimate drivers of most transactions.
The report lays out the ABC's, if you will, of Ecosystem Goods and Services, the potential Ecosystem Services that Living Buildings might provide, and finally the opportunity to measure, monetize, and value those ecosystem services. The study takes a scholarly approach, a step up from the early days when we in the green building field had to rely more on reason and intuition, since we had little real data to base our assumptions on. (Not that reason and intuition is bad...it's what got us here, yes?).
The report also introduces the concept of integrated real estate investment modeling. From this layperson's view, it seems to build on the conventional model, rather than replace it — an approach that makes a good deal of sense. The methodology they propose will allow many environmental and social benefits currently valued at zero to be seen as economically valuable, and therefore marketable. In the next phase of their work, they plan to produce detailed calculations and case studies of the environmental and social benefits of Living Buildings, test the impact of these values of valuation models or appraisals, and create an open source prototype of the integrated real estate investment marketing tool to "demonstrate how environmental and social benefits can be embedded within a pro forma in an new building development context."
In addition to taking this tool out to the real estate development communities (appraisers and valuation specialists), they hope to provide a basis for changes in local, state, and federal policy that will acknowledge public benefits of Living Building development and incentivize it.
As Theddi noted, "right now investors are going for the low hanging fruit — energy efficiency — for example. We need to provide sufficient rationale if we want them to go beyond that."
Kathleen O'Brien is a long time advocate for green building and sustainable development since before it was "cool." She lives in a green home, and drives a hybrid when she drives at all. Having recently sold her firm, O'Brien & Company, she is now focused on leadership work with those "still in the trenches." For more info see www.emergeleadership.net
Somehow, I missed posting about a recent story I did on GSA's $72 million headquarters for the Seattle District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The story appeared in the June 27 edition of the DJC.
From a sustainable viewpoint, it's a fascinating project to consider. It's designed
The project aims to inspire a new era of sustainable workplaces with a goal of being the region's most energy efficient air conditioned building. Models say it will have an energy score of 100, placing it in the top 1 percent of U.S. buildings for energy performance. It may reach LEED platinum, uses geothermal heating and cooling combined with structural piles and is heavily daylit.
But what I think is one of the most interesting elements is GSA knew how much energy it wanted the building to use and asked competing shortlisted teams to demonstrate how they'd get there as part of awarding the project. It went a step further by also requiring the project prove its energy performance during its first year of operation, basically requiring a guarantee from the team.
Generally, anything like this is a big no-no, as I understand it. Under no circumstance, from a legal perspective, should a team guarantee to meet a requirement related to LEED or sustainability. But this is the GSA, the largest
As LEED continues to proliferate and green building fades into the background even further as just a part of good building, do you think this type of performance requirement will become more common? Or is this just a one-time deal?
This week, I toured King Street Station. For those of you who aren't aware, the 1906-built-station is in the midst of a $50 million renovation. The project is absolutely, totally and utterly incredible.
The main thrust of the project is a much needed seismic renovation. Seriously, the tons of steel being put into this project are indescribable. But King Street Station is also a historic building and must be maintained as such. Once the rehabilitation is complete, it will be very sustainable: it's on track to meet LEED platinum, up from a goal of LEED silver. Last year, the project's sustainable efforts were honored by AIA Seattle with a gold level award from the What Makes It Green event. ZGF Architects is the architect. Sellen Construction is general contractor.
Obviously, the most sustainable thing about the project is the fact that it is a historic renovation of an old structure, which retains the embodied energy inherent in the building. But the team went much further. Geothermal wells in the building will likely provide all heating and cooling. The main waiting room will return to its 100-year-old state of being naturally ventilated. Incredible effort has been spent to save, clean and better old building materials. All of these elements will be detailed in a future DJC story.
For now, I'll whet your interest with some photos of the space. As you can tell, I got to tour the inside of the clock tower, which is not part of the current project's phase. However it is really cool. To see more photos of the clock tower or tour, follow my page on Facebook here. And if you haven't voted for this blog yet as best of the web, please do so. For more info on that, see the post below.
One of the hottest real estate stories of the week is the news that Skanska is bringing its commercial development division to Seattle, signifying it sees growth in the regional market.
My colleague at the DJC, Benjamin Minnick, reported the news here. In the story, he reports that
The move is especially notable because Skanska will self-finance all its projects and says it won't necessarily develop projects owners are currently doing, such as apartments in today's times. Instead, the story says Skanska will look at the long term and what is a good buy now.
That's interesting obviously, because of the freedom Skanska has to build what it wants. But it also speaks to the potential for sustainable buildings.
Most developer's green goals are constrained by the cost of super green technologies. I've been told that green projects up to around LEED gold can be done at cost if you begin early. But if you want to go for the super green stuff - net zero energy, Living Building certification, fancy new technologies - there's still a hefty premium, even if there's a huge benefit.
According to the story, Skanska has already said all its projects built locally will meet LEED gold or higher standards, and will be located in urban core areas with strong employment growth. To read the company's sustainability policy, click here (beware- it's pretty overwhelming).
By self-financing its own projects, Skanska, already a leading green general contractor, has the opportunity to do some really incredible things. Additionally, if they plan to hold onto projects for a long time, rather than flip them, they have more of an incentive to invest in green technologies that only pay off over the long term.
I'm curious to see what kind of projects they pursue, what kind of sustainable goals they target, and what kind of green technologies they might choose to pursue that others wouldn't be able to. Of course, they could simply go the LEED gold route. Or they could build something really innovative.
If projects were self-financed and held onto for a longer amount of time, do you think we'd end up with a larger quantity of super green buildings? Or do you think teams would stick to the status quo?
"The suit argues the USGBC is fraudulently misleading consumers and fraudulently misrepresenting energy performance of buildings certified under its LEED rating systems, and that LEED is harming hte environment by leading consumers away from using proven energy-saving strategies," the article says.
The lawsuit looks like it is based at least in part on research by Washington's very own New Buildings Institute.
I don't know the details so I will refer you to those that do: first, read the excellent Environmental Building News Article. For a more opinionated article, check out this Treehugger piece. For a lawyer's take, go to Green Building Law here. If you read the articles, don't forget the comments. There's some pretty interesting opinions.
This blog has covered green building problems before. For our related archives, click the tag 'problems' below.