(Photo by Eric Richards via Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)
The following is a reprint from The Register-Guard newspaper of a January 29 guest viewpoint written by Gabe Cross. Gabe is the current chairperson for the Eugene branch of the Cascadia Green Building Council and a sustainability consultant at New Axiom, LLC. He specializes in green building design and certification, and is well-versed in all aspects of LEED.
With Gabe’s permission, I’m republishing his article here on SW Oregon Architect for the benefit of those who read my blog but may not receive The Register-Guard or access it online. I admire how clearly Gabe counters arguments made by those who suggest that LEED is bad for business. He forcefully makes the case that LEED certification actually is good for Oregon, our local economies, and the bottom line.
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Green Building is Good for Oregon Business
By Gabe Cross
In a misguided Jan. 4 guest viewpoint, “LEED’s ‘green’ certification hurt local timber industry,” Anna Morrison argues that green buildings are bad for Oregon business. Setting the record straight, LEED—Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design—does not require Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood (you get points for it, but it is not required), many cities and states offer incentives for LEED but don’t require it, and green building is good for business in Oregon and everywhere else.
The column is part of an ongoing organized attack on the green building movement from a small group of reactionary industry insiders. Representatives from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, a watered-down version of the Forest Stewardship Council started by lumber companies, and Green Globes, a watered-down version of LEED started by plastics and timber executives, have been claiming LEED is “bad for business” in every paper and website that will publish them, and claiming that they offer business-friendly alternatives.
But their argument is not based in reality—it is based on fear that they can’t adapt to a changing marketplace. And the “alternatives” that they offer are not really green, they are business as usual with some greenwashing.
So let’s examine the facts. Cities incentivize LEED and LEED incentivizes the Forest Stewardship Council, but LEED also supports buying local. So maybe there isn’t as much FSC land in Oregon as one might hope, but LEED is hardly driving projects to buy FSC wood from around the world for framing lumber.
On the Gillem Residence, a recent high-scoring LEED for Homes Platinum project here in Eugene, the builder, Six Degrees Construction, worked with local vendors that sourced local timber for all of the structural wood and much of the finish wood products. Eugene and Springfield business were specifically chosen because they could prove that their logs came from local forests, and at least one sourced all of its logs from Southern Oregon. The requirement that local products be harvested, processed and assembled locally means local jobs at every stage of the supply chain, and this credit is available for a lot more than wood.
So LEED is hardly bad for Oregon wood, and may even be good for it. But what about other business?
By at least one measure, LEED has a huge positive impact on businesses that lease green building space. Several studies have been performed on the effect of green buildings on the productivity of their tenants, and the results have consistently shown that workers in green buildings are more productive. The savings and increased revenue are often much higher than the additional cost per square foot for green building.
That means that green buildings are creating measurable value for the business that build and inhabit them. LEED buildings may cost a bit more, but they deliver value to the owners, the managers and the tenants.
The organizations that rail against LEED use the language of business and economics to suggest that the green building system is bad for the bottom line, but the facts do not bear their story out. Rather than stifling innovation, the stronger requirements of systems like LEED have led to an explosion of innovation in the building materials markets. Companies that manufacture everything from carpet to concrete are bringing new products to market or improving old products every day to meet the requirements of LEED, and all that innovation creates a positive feedback as processes and materials developed for one sector are repurposed for another.
Finally, although LEED has been growing in market share over the years, it is still a minority player in the building industry. It is a program that is meant to set some buildings apart as being better for the environment and better for their inhabitants. But seeking a more “business friendly” alternative is solving the wrong problem. Rather than trying to stop cities or states from using LEED to recognize and reward the efforts of green builders, we should be asking why all buildings aren’t healthy, efficient and supportive of their surroundings. LEED should be a carrot leading the building industry in the direction of positive change.
So LEED is good for business, good for people and good the environment. Change is always scary to entrenched companies that fear they cannot adapt, but in the end the successful company is the one that changes with the times instead of railing against them.