Posts Tagged ‘certification

26
Jun
08

U.S. Green Building Council Makes Revolutionary Change

the Solaire in New York

John Tepper Marlin likes the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Standards, and he enumerates the reasons in a Green Building News article, which also delineates what he sees as a very big problem, and predicts how the problem might be solved. The reason why we listen to Dr. Marlin is clear: he is an expert who has published fifteen books about the complicated economic realities of large cities, chiefly New York. He served in the office of the New York City Comptroller for over thirteen years, as both Chief Economist and Senior Policy Adviser. He knows all about the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and also about the not-so-good aspects of LEED certification, one of which he describes as follows:

If the estimate is accurate that half the cost of LEED certification is USGBC’s fee, this is very high compared with other certification programs, where the bulk of the cost is for meeting higher standards. One can hope that the certification cost will drop by the end of 2009 as more certifiers are accredited.

Before getting into that, however, let’s look at what Marlin likes about LEED: just about everything. The LEED point system is broad-based, transparent, and easy to follow, and the most basic level of approval is not too difficult to attain. There’s flexibility built in, and scalabilty and expandability. Independent third-party certifications are recognized. Builders have gotten on the bandwagon, and are anxious to achieve LEED’s blessing, which is a major selling point. Using green products has become fashionable. Leaders in the construction industry have adopted a LEED-friendly attitude, and willingly aim for the best recognition they can win under the system. It gives them a well-deserved reputation for civic responsibility, which is always a plus.

The downside of LEED is, the process is slow as molasses in January. Marlin cites the numbers for New York City as an example: Four years into the LEED program, only 15 certifications had been issued, out of 294 registered hopefuls. This, obviously, will not do.

So, here is the new procedure, which Marlin feels is not getting the attention due to such a major shift in policy. Starting in 2009, USGBC will continue to set the standards, but will outsource the certification process to the bodies accredited by the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), who will then do the certifying. In other words, GBCI will become an Accreditation Agency that will give third-party certification bodies their licenses to issue certificates to individuals, companies, facilities and products.

This is good for two reasons: first, it will bring the U.S. in line with the best practices already adopted by other countries that have been doing things differently and more effectively. This has to do with the “Who’s watching the watchers?” question that always haunts such bureaucracies. Separation is needed between the organization that sets standards, and the organization that decides whether these standards are being met. The offices and officials who are doing the accrediting must maintain the highest degree of credibility themselves. Otherwise, the potential for mischief is enormous and unacceptable.

Second, the new method should clear up the equally unacceptable backlog of buildings awaiting judgment. There could potentially be hundreds of third-party certification bodies, each one holding itself to the most stringent requirements, because it wants to retain its accreditation when it comes up for renewal by the top-level overseers, the GBCI.

In summary, Dr. Marlin says:

USGBC’s move to open up its certification process to outside certification bodies, and to focus on accreditation, is a very good sign that the green-buildings program is going to catch up on its backlog and to be credible, so that the public will know whether or not the claimed standards are actually met.

He will be tracking the success of this far-reaching and much-needed change on his own City Economist website.

Pictured: the Solaire at 20 River Terrace, New York City’s first LEED-certified building (2004).

SOURCE: ” Green Building News – USGBC to Accredit LEED Certifiers” 06/06/08
photo courtesy of Payton Chung , used under this Creative Commons license

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