Companies

Swedish firm takes public stand in US green ratings row

17 July 2013

The US arm of the Swedish construction giant Skanska has quit the US Chamber of Commerce in protest over the chamber’s backing of a chemical industry-led initiative that would, Skanska says, ban the future use of the LEED green building standard for government buildings.

Skanska says the initiative, linked to lobbying efforts by the chemical industry related to the Shaheen-Portman Energy Efficiency Bill (S. 761), “threatens to halt years of progress in energy-efficient and environmentally responsible construction”.  

The chamber supports the American High-Performance Building Coalition (AHPBC), a lobby group established last July that includes the American Chemistry Council, which opposes the implementation of a new version of the LEED certification program, LEED version 4.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design. Version 4 of the rating requires more detailed reporting on the chemical composition of building materials.

The AHPBC wants an amendment to bill S. 761 that would prevent the federal government’s procurement body, the General Services Administration (GSA), from using green building rating systems that are not certified by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

The LEED certification program, established by the US Green Building Council, is not ANSI-certified, so the amendment sought by AHPBC would effectively ban LEED from the federal procurement process.

LEED is the most widely used green-building certification program in the US and is used around the world.

Skanska maintains the LEED program has helped grow the green building industry to where it now contributes more than $554bn to the US economy and creates more than 7.9 million jobs annually.

But the AHPBC accuses LEED of being biased against building products made by its members.

“The AHPBC supports certification systems based on sound data, scientific methodology and developed using a consensus process,” the organisation stated upon its formation last year. “The coalition will advocate that position with GSA, other federal agencies and in other venues where green building certifications are under consideration.”

Skanska, however, argues that LEED is maintained and implemented by the independent US Green Building Council (USGBC) through a public and transparent comment and balloting process engaging its nearly 13,000 member companies.

Mike McNally, Skanska USA (Skanska)

It notes that these members voted to approve the new LEEDv4 standards on 2 July with 86% consensus – nearly 20% higher than the USGBC’s required consensus of 66.7%.

Skanska says it spent a week in discussions with the Chamber of Commerce, asking its leadership to remove its support for the AHPBC’s position.

Skanska said the AHPBC would “undermine the LEED program, impact more than 196,000 LEED-accredited professionals, and cripple the progress of environmentally responsible construction across the country”.

But when talks broke down, Skanska removed its name and its funding in protest.

“The chamber is on the wrong side of this issue, and its support of the AHPBC is misplaced as well as misguided,” said Mike McNally, president and CEO of Skanska USA.

“The US Chamber of Commerce was created to advocate for pro-business policies that create jobs and support our economy. The numbers prove that LEED and green building do just that. Because a few companies don’t like the current LEED program, they want to involve the government and create an entirely new system for government buildings.

“This is exactly the kind of redundancy and bureaucracy that we pay the chamber to fight. Rather than support its members, who continually innovate to create new products that straddle the line between responsible and profitable, the chamber has chosen to support a group of businesses who care more about protecting the status quo.”

He added: “Skanska invites the Chamber and the AHPBC to a public discussion in any forum of the issues at stake, including LEED’s consensus-based voting process, the value of green building to the nation’s economy, and the potential health benefits of building with materials resulting from green chemistry.”

Skanska has considerable experience with the LEED rating system.

It built the world’s first LEED-certified airport terminal, Logan International Airport’s Terminal A, and the first LEED Gold-certified hospital, the Providence Newberg Medical Center.