Plastics and LEED Building Standards: How Conflict Turned to Cooperation

A onetime critic of the U.S. Green Building Council's widely used certification program, the American Chemistry Council is now working with the group to improve its LEED standard. What happened? Well, eventually the back-and-forth turned to real talk.

It may be the biggest peace agreement in the field of eco-friendly building standards.

Last week, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)—you might know it from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program it administers for new buildings—announced an agreement with the American Chemistry Council (ACC) to work together on the program.

If you’re a close watcher of the plastics industry or the buildings standards industry—say, like Catherine Kavanaugh of Plastics News or Paula Melton of Environmental Building News—you might have been surprised by this development. It was just two years ago that ACC’s Steve Russell, the vice president of the group’s plastics department, was making comments like this in official congressional testimony: “LEED is currently being revised in a way that could jeopardize U.S. jobs and our industry’s competitiveness, not to mention building performance and efficiency.”

At the time, ACC had major concerns about the LEED program’s effect on the plastics industry, particularly an update that made the certification easier to earn when contractors avoided certain “chemicals of concern,” such as PVC plastics. ACC fought federal use of LEED as the primary standard for green building ratings, preferring the upstart Green Globes standard instead.

Room to Cooperate

But when it came down to it, there was plenty of opportunity for USGBC and ACC to talk things out.

In interviews with Plastics News, officials from both groups said they had more in common than their disagreements suggested. And eventually the debate subsided and turned into a broader collaboration.

“Over time it became apparent something could be gained by combining our expertise in building materials, science, and technology and their expertise in sustainability and green buildings,” ACC vice president of communication Ann Kolton told the publication. “We really do both have very similar goals. This is an effort to try to bring those unique areas of expertise together and share information and try to develop approaches that are science-based and incorporate life-cycle analysis as well as sustainability.”

Representatives of the two groups will take part in a working group on LEED standards, noted Environmental Building News, in the hopes of easing concerns about the latest version of the standard, LEED v4.

“This is a pretty groundbreaking agreement for us,” said USGBC Vice President of Marketing and Communications Taryn Holowka. “ACC did have concerns about v4 in the past. Coming together with them and being able to work out this initiative [is a major milestone].”

Las Vegas' Mandarin Oriental, a LEED gold-certified building. (photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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