Viewing the New LEED Policy Positively
There has been a lot of talk recently about the best ways to incorporate sustainability into the manufacturing industry. As the talk has spread to the building and construction industries, it should come as no surprise that plastics have also been a part of the conversation. Here are a few thoughts on a controversy that is swirling through the world of plastics manufacturing right now concerning policy changes in the works at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).
The USGBC is the voluntary professional organization that sets standards for the prestigious LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program for building sustainable structures. Recently, the members of the USGBC passed a new set of guidelines that take effect later this month, called LEED v4. “LEED v4 is the LEED of the future, where we challenge the marketplace to go further, to make the next great leap toward better, cleaner, healthier buildings where people live and work,” according to the USGBC.
Part of the changes contained in the upgrade to Version 4 of the LEED voluntary standards is language deprecating the use of certain plastics as building materials of choice in construction projects. These prohibitions have caused a lot of debate in the plastics industry. For a good overview of the squabble, please check out the article Controversy Doesn’t Stop Green Building Standards in Plastics News from earlier this year, in which the respected industry trade publication asks, “Can ‘green’ construction and plastics come together?”
At heart, the dispute seems to mostly center on the notion that there are “bad” plastics containing “chemicals of concern” and “good” plastics, whose compositions don’t contain these chemicals. The editors at Plastics News note that the USGBC did accept some feedback from the plastics industry in its review process, and that the proposed draft of LEED V4 was amended so that builders would receive credit toward the different levels of LEED certification for using “good” materials, but their rating would not be negatively affected for the use of those considered by LEED v4 standards to be less appealing. Some proponents for the plastics industry charged that the USGBC did not employ a typical roundtable approach to its standards-making and in July 2013, two dozen prominent industrial and business lobbying groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, launched a new coalition called the American High-Performance Buildings Coalition to challenge the new LEED rating system.
There are no inherently “good” or “bad” chemicals. The use of plastics in construction is a matter of using the most appropriate material in the most appropriate manner, especially with regard to environmentally-responsible concerns. Discounting the role that plastics play in achieving sustainable building practices is not making a positive contribution to the goal of improving these guidelines. Still, it’s a good thing LEED is setting new goals for standards, as it forces many industries to evaluate and improve the use of certain construction materials. We should be highlighting the positive intrinsic value in these plastics, but also continue to work toward improved compositions. The plastics industry is moving in that direction and is now, more than ever, being recognized for great strides in the research and development progress being made. We think both sides in this dispute make valid points, and that a consensus will be reached and best practices will be achieved by discussion, mutual respect, and a positive attitude.