“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
- Margaret Mead
No doubt you’ve seen that famous quote before. It is a powerful and simple truth. One such group of thoughtful, committed citizens has changed the construction industry forever. Though small in its inception, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) now consists of a diverse group of builders and environmentalists, corporations and nonprofits, teachers and students, lawmakers and citizens. The Nevada Chapter of the USGBC is but one of 79 similar groups across the country. All told, there are 15,000 member organizations and 162,000 accredited green-building professionals that share the same vision of a sustainable built environment for all within the next generation.
The private, non-profit organization was formed around a simple idea: To change the way buildings and communities are designed, built and operated by making them more environmentally responsible, economically profitable and healthier places for people to live and work. Through a consensus-driven process involving all members, a green-building rating system was created to serve as a road map for improving our built environment. Successful projects could achieve a meaningful certification goal based on the emerging standard. It was named “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,” now most-commonly referred to simply by its acronym, LEED. It is the means by which the USGBC works to realize their vision of a sustainable built environment for all within the next generation.
We All Benefit from LEED
Everyone has benefited from LEED in some way. Many now live and/or work in homes or buildings that have much better indoor air quality and that are more comfortable, energy efficient and enjoyable as a result of LEED certification. Many children enjoy healthier learning environments that reduce absenteeism and improve their ability to learn. Some new homes become LEED certified, and many others are built to higher standards because the bar has been raised for others to follow. Older homes benefit through modern retrofitting techniques that have, in part, been driven by the effects of the LEED green-building rating system. Taxpayers save millions of dollars due to energy efficiency of federal buildings that have participated in the program.
LEED addresses not only energy and water conservation but also human health, biodiversity, and sustainable material resource cycles. And although it is completely voluntary and anyone can join the USGBC to become involved in its ongoing improvement, the opportunity for equal cooperation is not enough for some. Over the years, various industries have attempted to aggressively undermine the program when they felt it might impinge on their profits.
“The new proposed LEED Version 4 standard will give credits for building teams that use materials that do not cause cancer, birth defects, and other health or environmental impairments.”
- Jennifer Sass, Natural Resources Defense Council
Industry Opposition to Good Health
Now the chemical industry feels threatened since the improvements in LEED seek to incentivize the reduction of toxic materials used in our buildings. They are concerned that the concepts of precaution and prevention will cut into their revenues. A who’s who of chemical companies and trade organizations are lobbying Congress in opposition to these latest developments in the LEED rating system. USGBC has taken the high road in their response (PDF).
Jennifer Sass of the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote in a recent post on the NRDC Blog, “The new proposed LEED Version 4 standard will give credits for building teams that use materials that do not cause cancer, birth defects, and other health or environmental impairments.” I can’t imagine why anyone would oppose that. But it is the same old story of powerful corporate interests putting their money and influence above acting responsibly in the best interests of the people of this country.
Joel Makower provides a nice perspective in this recent post: Will the Plastics Industry Kill LEED? Also, BuildingGreen.com provides some valuable fact-checking in Chemical Industry Attacks LEED: BuildingGreen Checks the Facts.
Excerpt from BuildingGreen Fact Check:
LEED does not ban any materials except ozone-depleting refrigerants that are targeted for phase-out by international treaty.
The third Public Comment draft of LEED v4 did include a list of chemicals that could be avoided to earn one or two points; this list was removed from the fourth Public Comment draft in response to public comments and was replaced with a reference to the European Union’s REACH protocol.
Make a Difference
You can help by supporting your local chapter (and by avoiding dangerous chemicals like vinyl). The U.S. Green Building Council – Nevada Chapter is an outstanding, all-volunteer, non-profit organization that provides great services to our state, including many excellent educational events throughout the year. Check them out at www.usgbcnv.org. You can join, learn, participate, attend monthly meetings, become a Friend of the Chapter, or just make a simple donation.
Please be one of those thoughtful, committed citizens who are changing the world. It is up to us you know.