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.”
The General Assembly has tried to work with the LEED design group about this problem, asking them to consider realigning its standards to a more open and competitive model, but LEED has shown little interest in addressing this structural problem. Bob Shafer, Executive Vice President of the North Carolina Forestry Association, said “Our forests here in North Carolina are grown, harvested and manufactured under the most stringent environmental standards in the world. Yet, the LEED certification system, due to its archaic and agenda-driven requirements, fails to promote locally grown products.”
During the floor debate in May, Representative Michele Presnell (the bill’s primary sponsor) explained: “The reason I started on this whole entire bill, was that I was very concerned when I found that Madison County had a U.S. Forest Service facility that used bamboo flooring from Brazil just to get a higher LEED certification — instead of using our local timber.”
The timber industry in particular has been suffering under a system that discounts local materials in its ratings criteria. Before considering the legislation and its impact, Rutherford County Representative Mike Hager spoke with officials from the lumber and forestry industry (a major employer in his district) and they told him that they have “been disadvantaged since about 2000 and we just want a level playing field, we want to be able to compete.”
The U.S. has roughly 14 million acres of timber rated by the of Forest Stewardship Council as LEED quality, only of which 47,000 acres of which is in North Carolina. That puts our state 41st in the country as far as what could be considered LEED certified timber.
With tens of billions of dollars in construction contracts at stake, HB628 is essentially a jobs bill aimed at keeping our forestry and timber folks working. It creates a more level playing field when it comes to green building standards in state construction and stops North Carolina’s tax dollars from flowing out of the state (and the country). The legislation requires that any certification process give due consideration to building materials and furnishings, such as timber, masonry, concrete, steel and textiles produced within the state.
The bill does not eliminate LEED or any other national standard. It will recognize all national environmental building rating systems as long they do not discredit local certified products. During the same floor debate, Representative Mark Brody cautioned his colleagues to “keep in mind that there are other competitors out there who would love the opportunity to present their rating system to North Carolina.” Competing with the LEED green building rating system are others such as Green Globes, GreenPoint, National Association of Home Builders Green, International Green Construction Code, and Energy Star.
Other timber-rich states are feeling the same pressure and the need to address a systemic bias against the consideration of locally-sourced materials in developing “green building” criteria. Four governors are protecting their states’ products by executive order in Georgia, Alabama, Oregon and Maine; Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Florida are initiating legislation to protect their own products.
HB628 is supported by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, the North Carolina Homebuilders Association, the Weyerhaeuser Corporation, and North Carolina Forestry Association. The legislation was passed both chambers of the General Assembly and was signed into law to Governor Pat McCrory on July 3, 2013.