Green Building Mandates

July 17, 2008

Governments are beginning to mandate green building for some new construction, and that ought to be a cause for celebration. But because of the way these requirements are made, the possibility of problems arising when a building does not meet a required level of green building could lead to legal difficulties and lawsuits.

A year ago, Greensburg, Kansas was struck by a tornado which destroyed most of the town. In the wake of this disaster, city officials adopted a plan to make the city one of the greenest in the country. All city-owned buildings larger than 4,000 square feet are required to be LEED platinum certified. And while private buildings are not subject to the same regulation, there is strong pressure to encourage them to follow in the same direction and to be built as green as possible.

The plan for Greensburg to go green raises some questions, however. The difficulty arises around the word ‘required.’ While the LEED guidelines outline general principles for green buildings, they cannot anticipate every situation. Sometimes, a few of the credits attempted on a particular building project are denied, and then, the question becomes what penalty is applied for failing to meet the requirement laid out in the law.

Because the LEED process is an audit, performed after the building is constructed, it is possible that a building will not obtain all the credits that are attempted for a particular project. In most cases, this is not damaging to the building’s certification status. Many LEED registered projects attempt more than the bare minimum credits required to meet a particular certification level. But, if a project runs into problems and additional credits are denied, the project may no longer meet the threshold established in a legal requirement.

The U.S. Green Building Council is not a governmental agency. Moreover, LEED is a third-party post-construction evaluation. LEED does not specify methods of constructing a building, nor does it endorse or approve any products. Under LEED, some credits can be assessed and conditionally awarded based on the design of the building. Other credits, however, must be verified during construction, and can be assessed only after the building is completed.

LEED does have a process for appeals, but is not well structured to work with a mandate system. Communities with laws that have more flexibility, such as requiring the attempt, rather than achievement, of a particular level of LEED, will not have as many problems arising over these requirements.

LEED is also not the sole arbiter of what is a green building. There are other building rating systems, though they are seldom referenced in laws that require green buildings. But green buildings can be built without following the particular requirements and checklists of one rating system or another. If the ultimate goal is to build a green building, then a building that misses LEED Platinum by one point is still likely a very green building.

Related articles:
Greensburg KS to Rebuild as LEED Platinum City
Green Home Requirement in San Mateo County
Prohibited Green Technologies

image via: AIArchitect