After months of ongoing scrutiny, the General Services Administration (GSA) is finally showing signs of willingness to hear the arguments against its current system of green building certification.
“GSA published a notice in the Federal Register seeking public comments for the next 60 days on how the federal government can best use certification systems to measure the design and performance of the federal government’s construction and major modernization projects,” reads a February 5th presser from the government agency. “GSA is currently evaluating three certification systems for green building standards, which include the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED 2009, the Green Building Initiative's Green Globes, and the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge.”
GSA has long adhered to a sole certification system for construction projects under its watch, the aforementioned LEED program. That move has essentially perpetuated a flawed monopoly for the program, resulting widespread criticism from government watchdogs and impacted industries.
The certification standards were created by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), a non-profit organization that has spurred the government to use LEED in its building deals.
Recently, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for public release of all email correspondence between the GSA and USGBC, citing concerns that USGBC was turning a profit on the taxpayers’ dime.
Currently, GSA requires a minimum Gold certification under LEED’s standards, with various factors determining the allotment of points. For example, having a so-called "LEED expert" on staff for a construction project yields points towards certification. Taking an $800 class offered by USGBC makes one an "LEED Expert." Conflicts like this are at the heart of concerns expressed by watchdog groups.
A USA Today study pinpointed lucrative tax breaks that come from LEED certification, along with the increased costs of constructing government buildings with taxpayer funds.
Domestic timber producers cite problems within the LEED standards themselves. LEED only recognizes forest certifications by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Less than a quarter of American forests are FSC-backed, shutting out domestic jobs and ratcheting up transportation costs when it comes to moving timber to building sites.
Still, though, the window is open and the GSA has finally expressed a willingness to listen.