Battles Over LEED in the Military Are Still a Distraction
December 11, 2013
A recent memo hints that the Department of Defense will accept Green Globes certification for buildings—but that was already the case.
It started with a press release from the Green Building Initiative, developer of the online Green Globes tool—“Department of Defense Recognizes Green Globes for Assessing Building Sustainability”—and it spread from there to many of our favorite blogs and green building news sites.
The press release claims, “Following the lead of the General Services Administration (GSA), the DoD recently recognized Green Globes as an approved program for DoD facilities.”
Dog bites man
There are two things wrong with this.
First of all, it isn’t news. As we reported in “4 Reasons the Battles Over LEED in the Military Are a Distraction,” DoD has always kept a loose rein on building certification systems. The Army and Navy have pursued LEED aggressively, whereas the Veterans Administration tends to prefer Green Globes. “We didn’t want to lock ourselves into one particular green rating system,” Lt. Col. Keith Welch told us back in March. The United Facilities Criteria (UFC), which is effectively the military’s own building code and was updated last spring, requires LEED Silver or equivalent. “Equivalent,” in practice, has always included Green Globes.
Second of all, DoD did not “follow the lead” of GSA in regard to green building rating systems: it is on the ad hoc committee convened by GSA to determine which systems are suitable for federal government use, and hence it was instrumental in the decision to recommend Green Globes along with LEED. The idea that DoD would not follow its own guidance in this regard, especially given its long history of accepting Green Globes, is absurd. (See “Sustainable Federal Buildings: What’s the Law?” for background on this process.)
What will change—if anything
The GBI press release was loosely based on a November 10, 2013, memo sent by the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense. Among other things, the memo states that DoD branches must have an “auditable process” for sustainable building and clarifies that “the auditable process shall include green-building certification of those facilities through any of the systems approved for federal use” through the ad hoc committee process mentioned above. At this time, that includes Green Globes, but the memo doesn’t mention any systems by name.
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And in all likelihood, since this has pretty much been DoD’s policy all along, very little will change. The Navy was an early developer and early adopter of LEED in the 1990s. Though it’s not impossible, there is no indication that after years of investing in LEED expertise, they will turn around and start using Green Globes instead.
The Army is likewise committed to LEED, along with ASHRAE 189.1. “Based on recent DoD analyses,” Richard Kidd, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for energy and sustainability, told me in an email, “we anticipate that buildings built to the UFC will achieve at least a LEED Silver rating and probably higher, at no additional cost.” Kidd did not mention Green Globes.
Enough with the spinning
This is not the first time we’ve gotten misleading “news” on this volatile topic.
The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), developer of LEED, released a doozy earlier this year touting GSA’s alleged preference for LEED (right agency, wrong committee)—and after the ad hoc committee really made its recommendation of both LEED and Green Globes for federal agencies, USGBC sent media alerts claiming “LEED Green Building Program Remains Preferred Rating System for Use in Federal Buildings.”
The reality is that green building in the military goes far beyond USGBC attempts to ignore Green Globes, and beyond the alleged David-and-Goliath narrative—see this AP story that’s also making the rounds—that GBI would like us to buy into. (Despite GBI’s ties to the timber and plastics industries, the narrative features them as the David figure.)
Here’s the bottom line: most people in the military and throughout the federal government prefer LEED as a way to document sustainable design, and a few prefer Green Globes. The government’s largest building owners have been using LEED since its inception, and the Federal Guiding Principles for sustainable design were originally based on LEED.
A misleading press release, regardless of who’s responsible, cannot change history and is unlikely to change the future.