Last week, Green Building Law Update blogger Chris Cheatham created a wildfire of confusion regarding the U.S. Army’s adoption of the new ASHRAE Standard 189. Cheatham had thought the Army meant to abandon their LEED commitments and switch in favor of the new ASHRAE code in its sustainable building and construction ambitions.
Thankfully, Cheatham cleared up the confusion quickly: the DoD is not abandoning the voluntary certifications under LEED; its adoption of ASHRAE Standard 189 for all of its constructions simply raises the floor of its green performance in general.
The Army will continue to pursuit voluntary LEED certifications; it will also comply with the new ASHRAE Standard 189—potentially a legal requirement.
Cheatham's hasty jump to conclusions perhaps came from a general unacquaintedness with the new ASHRAE code; or at worst, it came from a sense of “either/or” mentality that I often encounter in my quest to understand sustainable developments. I feel this is an important concern, but before I reach to explain my apprehensions let’s take a closer look at LEED and the new ASHRAE Standard 189.
First, LEED is a voluntary certification program demonstrating what the public and institutions may aspire as a viable sustainable construction culture.
LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and provides rating systems for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings, homes and neighborhoods. The Green Building Certification Institute accredit professionals as LEED GA (Green Associate), AP (Accredited Professional), or Fellows; these professionals aid in the building, construction, and certification process so the aspiring infrastructure is labeled as LEED Silver, Gold, or Platinum to demonstrate its energy efficiency and environmental friendliness. LEED is meant to be a framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions.
Since its inception in 1998, there had been more than 7,000 LEED projects in the United States and 30 countries, covering over 1.501 billion square feet (140 km²) of development area. The virtue of LEED certification is that it is an open and transparent process where the technical criteria proposed by USGBC members are publicly reviewed for approval by the almost 20,000 member organizations.
LEED is continuously evolving; its principles currently encompass building design and constructions for new buildings, for core and shell, for schools, for retail, and for healthcare infrastructures. LEED also accommodate interior design and constructions, building operations and maintenance, as well as holistic neighborhood developments. It had left private homes uninteresting until the 2009's adaptation of LEED for Homes. LEED also forms the basis for other sustainability rating systems such as the Environmental Protection Agency's Labs21.
American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standard 189 is one of the most far-reaching and impactful mandatory requirements in terms of sustainable building and construction. Although not binding law, ASHRAE standards often are directly referenced in local building codes and compliance with local building laws often means compliance with ASHRAE Standards. (In essence, ASHRAE codes behaves more like uniformed laws such as the Uniformed Commercial Codes or Model Acts, which states often choose to adopt in entirety or with minor modifications).
Unlike the criticisms faced by the voluntary nature of LEED, there can be no complaints of a competitive disadvantage with ASHRAE since everyone in compliance with ASHRAE has to use the code. The purpose of this standard is to provide minimum requirements for the siting, design, construction, and plan for operation of high-performance green buildings to balance environmental responsibility, resource efficiency, occupant comfort and wellbeing, and community sensitivity, with the goal of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Standard 189 provides minimum criteria that apply to new buildings and their systems, new portions of buildings and their systems, and new systems and equipment in existing buildings. The Standard addresses site sustainability, water use efficiency, energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality (IEQ), and the building's impact on the atmosphere, materials, and resources. (Most of these are also encompassed in the LEED principles.)
Standard 189 provisions do not apply to single-family houses, multi-family structures of three stories or fewer above grade, manufactured houses (mobile homes) and manufactured houses (modular), or buildings that use none of the following: electricity, fossil fuel, or water. Unlike LEED, Standard 189 is not a design guide or a rating system. It is intended to fill the gap between building codes and LEED aspirations.
The Standard is written to establish mandatory criteria to prevent race to the bottom problem with the current voluntary LEED rating system (since LEED is voluntary, builders may either “book” around their certification applications or ignore the existence of LEED; Standard 189 hopes to remove at least some of the incentives there). The Standard has the potential to confirm market certainty for manufactures who would like to produce more sustainable material; it also strengthen the sustainable supply chain by inherent incentives for stocking better performing products as they become available. Some of the more notable aspects of Standard 189 are that it discourages unmitigated urban sprawls, prohibit development activities on flood plains, wetlands, fish and wildlife habitats, as well as addressing urban heat effects and light pollutions.
There hasn’t been a uniformed sustainable building code in the past. LEED is voluntary, not a codified program, but is quickly catching national and international attention. In rapidly developing economies like China and India, this kind of sustainable aspiration is attracting a lot of devotion especially due to their environmental and other critical resource problems; these emerging markets will no doubt dictate the future of the global building and construction supply chains as well as the various international service industries underlying the global construction sector.
Standard 189 is a much needed gap filler for many local markets because existing codes are simply too far behind LEED be an effective floor against the emerging economic incentives worldwide. If we don’t act now, we may be too late to the party in the long run; we may find ourselves outcompeted by other suppliers in the world, other designers, other construction pros keenly focused on sustainable goals. The gap domestically is simply too wide; by raising the legal bar to ASHRAE 189, the DoD perhaps hopes to make it easier for various contractors to adopt certain green practices as the norm.
This will force our construction and other relevant market sectors compete with the coming of an emerging sustainable building economy. But this takes me back to my apprehensions about the new ASHRAE Standard 189.
I once had a brief Q&A exchange with a law professor about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. I had asked the question if we can hope to regulate ourselves out of the millennia old problem of bribery and dirty businesses, or if we can expect corporations to voluntarily change their culture in light of a new Constructive Capitalism landscape.
Of course the law professor had to conclude that we must regulate our way out of our problems, (or else he is out of a job); aspirations are just that: aspirations. Human beings will never aspire to more if they know they can get away with less; hence we have the race to the bottom problem. Either we have laws and enforce them, or we fail.
I resent this kind of "either . . . or"
I hope humanity is a bit more enthusiastic about its future experiences. I take an optimistic view and I hold that voluntary compliance, albeit with market incentives to serve as catalyst, will eventually lead us out of our sustainability crisis. Of course I am less of an idealist as I was when I was young. As far as ASHRAE 189 is concerned, I hope the gap-filler regulations work well, but I continue to hope that voluntary certifications with LEED will self correct market incentives; I hope human aspiration will win out the day as opposed to punishing and regulating ourselves to victory.