As a result of the December 31 presidential signing of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA; H.R. 1540), the Department of Defense, or DOD, is prohibited from funding any LEED Platinum or Gold certification of new buildings for the current fiscal year, unless it submits notification of intent 30 days before the money is allocated.
The only exception to the rule is if LEED Gold or Platinum certifications don’t involve additional expense.
Under the same legislation, the DOD is required to submit a report to Congress (Sec. 2830) no later than June 30 on energy efficiency and sustainability standards used by the Department. This analysis is to be conducted with equal consideration for ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) building requirements (189.1-2011, and 90.1-2010), ANSI (American National Standards Institute) accredited standards, and LEED certification.
LEED rates in four categories: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum — Platinum being the highest with a possible 100 points (110 for new construction). LEED is a highly sought-after building energy efficiency and sustainability standard among corporations, notably Proctor & Gamble. It is also esteemed by some U.S. sports teams.
LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a building standard created and enforced by the U.S. Green Building Council, or USGBC, a nonprofit vested in sustainable building and environmentally friendly land and energy use.
The design principles used by the certification measure site sustainability and feasibility, water use, energy use, sustainable materials use, indoor air quality, and innovation in design, and encourage both awareness of and education regarding “green” building initiatives.
The 2012 directive is, according to many, the result of a dispute in 2010 between LEED advocates and opponents, the latter arguing that the LEED system favors using steel and concrete over wood, and does not even credit the sustainable use of domestic woods certified by the Forest Stewardship Council in framing and construction, but only in furniture.
In fact, the NDAA goes well beyond putting LEED in the backseat. It demands that the DOD prove the cost benefits of all its standards for determining energy efficiency either in new buildings or in retrofits, and may eventually result in the scrapping of at least two (LEED and ASHRAE 2010) and possibly three standards in favor of a hybrid standard which would replace the USGBC’s system.
Congress is not the first entity to call into question the cost-effectiveness of LEED standards, which add (sometimes considerably) to the final amount for new buildings and building retrofits.
This can happen either through misunderstanding or miscommunication about standards and implementation, leading to expensive construction delays or repairs, or through sourcing of sometimes inordinately expensive building materials needed to meet said standards. Not to mention the cost of LEED-savvy architects, engineers, construction superintendents, consultants, and certification experts.
A classic example would be the ImaginOn building in Charlotte, North Carolina, the city’s first “green” building, which ended up using twice as much energy as envisioned based on the building standards applied.
But the most notable incident is undoubtedly Henry Gifford’s lawsuit against USGBC, which charged the rating system was a form of false advertising since it did not reliably increase energy efficiency. The lawsuit was dismissed, but highlights an underlying problem; there may be too many systems by which to measure building energy efficiency and sustainability.
Thus, in spite of Senator Henry Wicker’s (R-Miss.) push to include domestic lumber in energy efficiency certification ratings – which may account in part for the new Congressional guidelines – it may in fact turn out that carbon-sequestering concrete and steel are actually more efficient in that respect.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy, arguing that the NDAA does not prohibit its using LEED standards to meet simple Certification, has said it will continue using USGBC guidelines and seeking certification. The additional comment, that certification at the Gold or Platinum level does not cost more, may be questionable.