Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Green Buildings? Think Plastics, Sound Science and Consensus

By now I think everyone is aware of the tremendous uptick over the last several years in activities that include the word “green.”  The world of building and construction is no exception.  Green buildings, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, are designed to reduce the overall impact of the built environment on human health and the natural environment by: efficiently using energy, water, and other resources; protecting occupant health and improving employee productivity; reducing waste, pollution and environmental degradation. 

When you think green buildings, you should think plastic. From a traditional standpoint, plastics provide an outstanding range of properties such as durability, lightweight and good barrier properties which are critical to green building design.  In addition, plastics play a critical role in newer technologies such as wind power, solar cells and cool roofing being used in green buildings.

With this growing interest in green building activities, organizations such as the Green Building Initiative (GBI), National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and others have become engaged in developing green building standards.  Some organizations, like NAHB, GBI and ASHRAE,  have followed ANSI (American National Standards Institute) protocols to ensure that their organization’s green building standards are consensus-based and incorporate sound science (which SPI strongly supports). 

Other organizations, however, are choosing to develop their own de facto standards that do not follow ANSI protocols or incorporate the use of sound science.  For example, USGBC solicited comments on the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Health Care (LEED-HC) which focused on planning, design and construction for high-performance healthcare facilities. SPI was concerned because LEED-HC proposed requirements that were lacking in sound science and that were not appropriate for high performance healthcare facility construction.  We offered numerous suggestions on how to improve the technical requirements of this credit. Unfortunately, the offical comments we submitted were ignored and our suggestions were not addressed nor have they been incorporated into LEED-HC.  My point is: Whenever new green building activities are announced, you have to take a closer look at the project.

Just recently the International Code Council (ICC), which is dedicated to building safety and fire prevention, launched its International Green Construction Code initiative. The initiative, which includes the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and ASTM (formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials) as cooperating sponsors, is committed to developing a model code focused on new and existing commercial buildings.  Based on an initial review of the project,  I am pleased to see that ICC’s process will include collaboration, outreach and feedback from its members and the general public.

Incorporating a consensus-based process (even if that means listening to opinions that are different from one’s own) and utilizing sound science are critical components to ensure the success of future green building standards.  Hats off to the ICC for starting on the right foot.

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2 Responses to “Green Buildings? Think Plastics, Sound Science and Consensus”

  1. Are the “official comments” publicly available for view? I clicked the link but was prompted to login with a userid and password.

  2. jw – The SPI comments, and those of other stakeholders, were publicly available on the USGBC/LEED-HC site for several weeks but it appears they have been taken down now. SPI is now making the comments available to members only.