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Environmental Design & Construction

Why Ohio Needs LEED Buildings

Eric Elizondo, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C

June 2, 2014

The belief that LEED will impact the Buckeye State in a profoundly negative way runs counter to nearly a decade of reality.

 

In the summer of 2013, two members of the Ohio Senate, Joe Uecker and Tim Schaffer, created Resolution SCR 25 to ban LEED v4’s use in Ohio’s public building projects. This ban would affect all Ohio projects that utilized state tax dollars. The biggest building program affected would be for K­12 public schools.

 

The reason for banning a certification system that is not even in effect until 2015? The Ohio Senators believe that LEED v4 will hurt Ohio businesses and put Ohioans out of work. They claim that LEED is not a national consensus­ based standard for certifying high­performance buildings. They also claim that LEED hurts Ohio manufacturers because LEED bans certain materials from use in buildings.

 

The truth about LEED v4 is that an A/E/C team can achieve LEED Platinum certification using LEED v4 without even addressing the MR 4 Credit ­ Building Product Disclosure and Optimization ­ Material Ingredients, the credit that the American Chemistry Council (ACC) has attacked. The lobbyist group has been working hard to convince legislators that LEED is out to get them. The ACC bases this criticism on one option within the MR 4 Credit that’s worth one point.

 

For those of us who actually work on LEED projects as part of our daily profession, the concern regarding LEED v4 is a bit absurd, and the senators’ energy is misplaced. The LEED system is designed to give A/E/C project teams many options when designing and constructing a project with a goal to create a healthy, energy-­efficient, water-­saving and sustainable building.

 

 

 

LEED Legislation in Ohio

Before I make the case for LEED buildings in Ohio, let’s look at some history of LEED legislation in Ohio.

 

In 2007 Franklin Brown of the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission (OSFC), which is now part of the OFCC, led an effort to require all K­12 schools be LEED certified if they received state tax dollars. The 122nd Ohio General Assembly approved the document, Resolution 07­124, on Sept 27, 2007.

 

How has this resolution affected Ohio Jobs? Let’s look at the facts:

 

  1. The State has seen an explosion of Ohio LEED Schools in the last six years, including one of the only construction sectors in Ohio that thrived during the recession of 2008 to 2010.
  1. More than 100 schools were LEED certified, and more than 200 are registered.
  1. More schools were designed and engineered to be more efficient than Ohio Building Code (OBC) Requirements— likely saving local school districts money on energy every year.
  1. Data is currently being collected by the Ohio USGBC chapters to show how these schools are improving many important metrics including energy, savings, teacher retention and attendance, to name a few.
  1. Energy use in all of these schools is being tracked in the ENERGY STAR portfolio and can be viewed at GBIG.org.

 

Why have a few Ohio senators soured on LEED? Some building industry groups took issue with the USGBC’s interest in changing the requirements to earn points in the Material and Resource credits during LEED v4’s development. LEED v4 Technical Advisory Groups (TAG) focused on encouraging a more holistic understanding of the materials utilized in constructing buildings by giving points to buildings teams that disclose the chemicals contained within some of the building products. Because federally funded projects have been requiring LEED Gold certification since 2010,1 lobbyists in the chemical and forestry industry worked to ban LEED v4 in 2013, but they failed. Once they failed, the lobbyists turned their focus and efforts on the states that were using LEED as a carrot for funding. First on the list was Ohio.

Questions about LEED in Ohio

Here are the big questions and answers about LEED in Ohio:

 

1. Should LEED be used as a carrot for funding the renovation and new construction of K­12 schools in Ohio?

 

LEED has raised the bar for Ohio K­12 schools. Ohio schools are designed and engineered to be more efficient, and the USGBC Central Ohio Chapter along with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) is collecting data to show that these schools are saving more energy because they are LEED certified. GBIG.org has become the web portal to see how schools are performing.2

 

2. Is LEED the best way to encourage the design and construction of high­-performance buildings?

 

For now, it is the best third­-party verification system in the U.S. to assure that buildings will be designed and engineered as sustainable.

 

3. Will LEED v4 hurt Ohio building product manufacturers that do not want to disclose the chemicals in their products?

 

LEED v4 is just like all previous LEED versions: It gives the owner and the A/E/C teams many choices in achieving LEED certification. The MR credit that the ACC is concerned with amounts to only one point.

 

4. Does LEED v4 ban products from being used in buildings?

 

It merely “encourages” architects and interior designers to think about the chemicals in building products and how they can affect building occupants. Furthermore, LEED is simply encouraging all of us who work on buildings, including manufacturers, to think about the welfare of occupants and our environment. Isn’t that a good thing? There is evidence that the building manufacturing industry does respond to the market while gaining market share. In a Green Wizard article, James McManus writes, “The big players in the industry are already innovating to meet regulation standards abroad and have created chemicals that are healthier and safer.”3 McManus references “Driving Innovation: How stronger laws help bring safer chemicals to market.” The study shows that “regulation is actually creating a viable space for green chemistry in the building products industry, and that it is profitable.”4

Addressing Health Concerns

Why did USGBC want to address potential health concerns related to chemicals used in building materials? Because some building products contain chemicals that are hazardous to humans, and the ACC spent some of its $12.25 million in 2013 to fight studies that might inform the public of this. For detailed spending see https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/ clientsum.php?id=D000000365.

 

Some journalists would even go as far as to suggest the ACC is a lobbying group for cancer. In the New York Times op­ed piece “The Cancer Lobby,” Nicholas D. Kristof writes a detailed account of how the ACC has lobbied to stop scientific studies on chemicals that affect human health.5

 

Despite the many critics of the ACC, it is important to understand that LEED v4 is only trying to encourage disclosure of chemicals in building products through one non-­mandatory point out of 110 possible points. This approach allows the market and science to determine the effects of chemicals on building occupants as more building owners begin to view this credit as an important feature of LEED buildings.

Supporting LEED in Ohio

Ohio needs buildings that are long lasting, that use the least amount of energy possible within realistic upfront cost constraints, and, of course, do not expose people, especially children, to dangerous chemicals. Using LEED v4 as a third­party verification will help to achieve this outcome. It is not a perfect system, but it is vetted by thousands of USGBC members in the voting and review/comment periods. In July of 2013, LEED v4 was voted on by more than 1,200 members,6 and LEED v4 passed with 86 percent approval. Many of these member companies are large Ohio manufacturers, including: Owens Corning, Johns Manville, Jeld­Wen, Alcoa Architectural Products, ClarkDietrich Building Systems, Ludowici Roof Tile, The Sherwin­Williams Company and The Dow Chemical Company.

 

After two public hearings in February 2014, the Ohio Senate passed the resolution to ban LEED v4 in Ohio.7 Now the resolution goes into committee within the House of Representatives. The USGBC Ohio chapters, USGBC, Ohio A/E/C professionals, Ohio manufacturing companies and many volunteers continue to work diligently to educate the legislature about how LEED works and how important the certification system is to Ohio-funded building projects.

 

ERIC M. ELIZONDO, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C, IS A REGISTERED ARCHITECT IN 21 STATES AND TECHNICAL SERVICE MANAGER AT MS CONSULTANTS INC., WHERE HE HAS WORKED ON MORE THAN 50 REGISTERED AND CERTIFIED LEED PROJECTS.