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A REACH for LEED? USGBC Hits Turbulence with Controversial Import

Friday, June 1, 2012

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The U.S. Green Building Council’s quest to make significant changes to its LEED green-building rating system is running into serious friction from several quarters, including industry and the political arena.

The USGBC last week concluded an unprecedented fourth, and presumably final, comment period on proposed changes for LEED 2012, the much anticipated update to the council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building rating system. The current version was approved by USGBC members in 2009.

 Colorado Convention Center


Rocky road for LEED:  The LEED 2012 development process has been pushed back as debate continues over controversial provisions in the draft versions of the latest update to the green building rating system. Shown here is the LEED-certified Colorado Convention Center in Denver.

The comment process was scheduled to conclude in March with a third comment period, but USGBC has run into headwinds on several fronts, notably from its plans to add an “avoidance of chemicals of concern” credit category, industry sources say. Balloting on LEED 2012 is now scheduled to begin Aug. 15, rather than in June; see LEED 2012.

Not surprisingly, building-materials suppliers are less than keen on USGBC’s latest plan for the “chemicals of concern” category: Pegging LEED credits in the category to Europe’s REACH program, which targets a range of materials for restricted use. And the program presents a moving target as well, as the list of materials and the restrictions are subject to change and evolution.

REACH stands for Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals, a sweeping European Union law that went into effect in 2007 with the aim of reducing the environmental and health risks posed by chemicals. (See REACH.)

But importing REACH into the LEED rating system is viewed as highly problematic by building-materials manufacturers, including the American Coatings Association (ACA), as it brings a whole new, highly complex and “foreign” regulatory program into the LEED picture for non-European companies, designers, specifiers, and builders.

REACH an Overreach?

In comments submitted to USGBC, ACA said inserting the REACH program into the LEED rating system would present major compliance complications. Among other comments, ACA made the following observations.

  • REACH is a complex chemical risk-management program that would present major compliance issues for U.S. building-materials suppliers and other parties with ties to building construction and renovation. Manufacturers currently face the task of complying with domestic regulatory requirements, and bringing the REACH program into the picture would add a whole new set of regulatory requirements.
  • REACH presents a particularly difficult challenge for companies that do not currently export products to Europe and are not versed on the REACH program. This would disrupt the market and could severely limit the range of products that can be used while still meeting the LEED 2012 credit criteria.

ACA also said USGBC has failed to give materials suppliers and other interested “stakeholders” adequate opportunity to participate in the credit-development process, with REACH added as criteria for credits only recently, at the time the fourth and final comment period was announced; the comment period began May 1.

ACA urged USGBC to completely eliminate the credit category for avoidance of chemicals of concern, based on the reasons cited in the comments. The association also said proposed disclosure criteria for “chemicals of concern” would reveal proprietary information about products, a crucial issue for makers of formulated products that rely on technology advances to compete in the marketplace.

ACA also called for revisions in several other parts of the LEED 2012 draft, including emissions testing for low-emitting interior products. Emissions testing as opposed to content requirements is not a practical or viable approach, and would adversely affect the availability of needed products that can comply with such testing, the association said.

Lawmakers: Is LEED Becoming
‘Tool to Punish Chemical Companies?’

USGBC’s plans for LEED also are coming under fire from Capitol Hill, as nearly 60 members of Congress submitted a letter to the acting director of the General Services Administration expressing “concern” about the LEED 2012 drafts and any subsequent adoption of new LEED standards by GSA as part of its program for energy efficiency in buildings.

The lawmakers said the proposed LEED 2012 rating system is a “significant departure” from the previous version and would “eliminate the use of dozens of materials and hundreds of proven building materials, all the while driving up building costs to the taxpayer and threatening employment in our districts.”

The letter, dated May 18, accuses USGBC of transforming LEED into a “tool to punish chemical companies and plastics makers” and says adding the REACH program to the LEED system would give U.S. manufacturers no voice in changes to the program’s requirements.

The letter urges GSA’s administration to discontinue its use of the LEED rating system as a guide for construction or major renovations in federal buildings if USGBC does not reconsider “these harmful provisions in LEED 2012.”




Tagged categories: Architects; Architectural coatings; Architecture; Design; Eco-efficiency; Environmentally friendly; Green building; Green design; Health and safety; LEED; LEED 2012; Sustainability; U.S. Green Building Council

Comment from Robert Pfaffmann, (6/4/2012, 3:50 PM)

As an architect I support LEED but also am against a process that is not transparent and user friendly. D&D owes it to your readers (one of the best industry newsletters btw) to explain to us a little more about the implications. Give us examples of what we might be faced with in specifying a coating across the board from specifier to installer manufacturer. Case studies would be great!

Comment from Barry Lamm, (6/5/2012, 10:15 AM)

LEED started out as an acceptable program, but, lately has become as ot of touch with reality as government some regulations. There needs to be a more common sense approach to what LEED and other such organizations want to accomplish. I agree with Robert Pfaffmann on getting more information on these proposed requirements. I applaude the Congressmen who question any program that spends taxpayer money.

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