Ohio Lawmakers Strike a Blow to Sustainability in the Built Environment

You might not think of Ohio as a standard bearer of the sustainability movement, but according to that state’s U.S. Green Building Council, it ranks No. 1 in the nation for green schools. These schools provide healthy learning environments by increasing access to natural daylight, which studies have shown can dramatically improve student performance, and reducing toxic chemicals in materials. They are energy-efficient, saving tax payer dollars year after year, and use locally sourced and recycled products. Ohio’s leadership in this area makes the action taken by the Ohio state senate earlier this month to ban LEED certification for state agencies and government entities surprising.

OhioSo why the contradiction? The proposed law cites lack of ANSI (American National Standards Institute) recognition for LEED. ANSI requires a fair and open consensus process for creating standards. The objection reflects the same position taken by the American High-Performance Buildings Council, an industry trade group of conventional timber, plastics and chemical makers, whose products are sometimes not used on LEED projects because the content of their materials or processes to make them are not considered sustainable. But LEED isn’t developed in a back room. The standard is developed, maintained and improved by dedicated, volunteer, building industry professionals in a collaborative committee process. The current version, LEED v4, went through an open and public development process over a considerable length of time.

The reality here is that building to LEED requirements hinder some businesses and is also very good for others. LEED doesn’t tolerate an entirely open field and that’s the point, to encourage outcomes that we want: less toxicity in building materials, reducing carbon pollution by cutting energy use, sourcing materials locally, fueling local economies. While some of these more sustainable practices rub against the status quo, they are still what we should be striving for on our path to a sustainable built environment.Ohio definitely deserves some kudos for its achievements, which indicate a desire for moreenergy-efficient, sustainable buildings. So we are hopeful that the action taken by the Ohio state senate (http://www.ecobuildingpulse.com/leed/ohio-moves-closer-to-banning-leed_o.aspx?dfpzone=home&utm_source=newsletter&utm_content=jump&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=EBP_030414&day=2014-03-04) becomes just a hiccup in the sometimes messy policymaking process. We are also extremely heartened by the reintroduction of the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act in the U.S. Senate.(http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/02/28/3344501/shaheen-portman-efficiency-redux/#), which would create new energy-saving standards for buildings and homes saving an estimated $59 billion through 2030. And the House of Representatives just passed the Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2014 last week, also known as the Better Buildings Act of 2013.

LEED was intended to be a tool for market transformation in one of the most entrenched industries in the US. It provides a mechanism for the broad adoption of energy-efficient, green building practices that reduce the social, human health and environmental impacts of the built environment. LEED buildings utilize and inspire community benefits, technological advancement, innovative design, business growth and environmental restoration. All of these things provide the makings of good public policy in Ohio and everywhere.