With the passage of House Bill 628, so-called “Green Building” rating systems can only be used in the construction of certain state-owned buildings if its certification favors North Carolina’s home-grown building materials.
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a national rating system for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of “green” buildings, homes and neighborhoods. Under the LEED system, points can be awarded in five categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design process.
Roughly half of all construction projects in North Carolina are LEED certified. LEED certification has become a gold standard of sorts in the construction industry, and its proponents claim that meeting its requirements can mean a significant return on investment in terms of increased energy efficiency, health and productivity — as well as the financial benefit of receiving tax credits. North Carolina’s Sustainable Energy-Efficient Buildings Program requires that any major facility construction or renovation project (such as state university and community college buildings) use these sustainable, energy-efficient building standards.
Green buildings cost significantly more upfront, but a 2003 study of 33 LEED projects found that compliant buildings can yield savings of over ten times the initial investment after 20 years. Other studies have shown that LEED certified buildings can bring in higher rents, sale prices and occupancy rates.
Not everyone is a fan of LEED certification, however, including many green builders. Gennaro Brooks-Church, a LEED certified AP himself, sees the entire scheme as overrated and largely unnecessary: “LEED and green building so far have very little in common. In fact, anyone who uses LEED as proof of their green building kudos is either a newbie wannabe or a marketing agent wanting to sell you something (and it aint green building). LEED is better than building crap. LEED is better than chopping down the rain forest. But LEED is a deterrent from practical, affordable, ethical and easy green building. You can build a LEED Platinum building by fudging the numbers and spending lots of money on useless elements, but it takes a lot of time and paper-pushing.”
Bias against local materials has crept into the ratings criteria over time and poses a threat to the state’s forestry sector and the thousands of jobs the industry supports. Rather than establishing a set of specifications that a supplier could meet, the LEED design group began certifying certain suppliers and programs themselves, presenting a barrier to other qualified competitors such as Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the American Tree Farm System. These programs are used by owners of private forest land in North Carolina, promoting “sustainable forest management through a set of standards developed by professional foresters, conservationists, scientists and others, addressing key environmental, social and economic forest values — from water quality and biodiversity to harvesting and regeneration.” (more…)