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From the “Disappointing But Not Surprising” desk of the Columbus Dispatch, an expose reveals how anti-LEED legislation in Ohio was “largely written by chemical industry lobbyists.” That legislation, Senate Concurrent Resolution 25 (SCR25), has been covered in detail by this resource.

It’s no surprise that narrow self-interest is behind the anti-LEED effort. Other publications have noted that the American Chemistry Council (ACC) is “actively trying to undermine LEED, and there’s a lot of dirty money at play. From 2007 to 2013 … this single organization invested a total of $62 million in influence-peddling.”

It’s also no surprise that lobbyists get paid to write legislation to benefit their clients, or that such legislation is fed to pliable politicians to push the agendas of their benefactors.

What’s disappointing is the brazen obfuscation of the true protectionist motive behind SCR25. It would restrict Ohio public agencies to only those rating systems “that meet ANSI voluntary consensus standard procedures,” such as Green Globes. An intensive comparison of LEED to Green Globes found that, “[b]y nearly every measure, Green Globes and GBI [the group behind Green Globes] come up lacking… Green Globes is one or more steps behind LEED in technical rigor, its process is less likely to push projects… and, organizationally, GBI is allied with the timber and chemical industries, which spend millions each year in Washington lobbying for anti-LEED policies.”

Obviously SCR25’s champion Senator can’t just come out and say that he’s carrying the water for a well-connected lobbyist who’s cashing checks from the same industry insiders whose rating system of choice would benefit from eliminating LEED as competition. Instead, as the Dispatch reports, the lobbyist fed the Senator “a list of talking points to use in favor of” SCR25. Presumably these talking points included jobs, as the Senator robustly declares that “SCR 25 seeks to preserve jobs,” and the Senator insists that “putting Ohio jobs at risk is unacceptable.”

Exactly what jobs are at risk, Senator? Neither the Senator, nor the lobbyist, nor any proponent of SCR25 identified one job under threat from LEED. Nowhere in the record is any data to substantiate the scare tactic talking point. The latest version of LEED basically just incents transparency in certain building materials, and among the many job-creators on the record in opposition to SCR 25 and/or in favor of LEED are Nucor Steel, Eaton, Owens Corning, United Technologies Corporation, Johnson Controls, Ingersoll Rand, GAF, Siemens and Saint-Gobain.

Fortunately the voices of business and reality were eventually heard, and SCR25 should die a merciful death in committee. But this story starkly illuminates how our system works, and how it almost worked against competition in the sustainable design and construction arena in Ohio. To quote business owner and SCR25 opponent Karen Joslin,“[t]his is so disgusting. I hate how the process works.” Couldn’t have said it better.

Shady Politics, Part II (11.16.14): In a tangentially related article, Columbus Dispatch reporter Dan Gearino reveals that top-level officials in Gov. Kasich’s office failed to release a state-funded report containing favorable green jobs data until after public discussion had concluded on SB310 (legislation that puts a two-year freeze on state standards for renewable energy and energy efficiency). The administration spokeswoman claims that the timing of the report’s release, on the very day Kasich signed SB310, was “coincidental.”

Greenbuild 2014

Lately this author’s blogging activities have taken a back seat to the business of establishing the Columbus office of my new law firm. The past few months have presented administrative challenges and client service opportunities galore, including representing USGBC-Central Ohio Chapter and USGBC in opposing Ohio Senate Concurrent Resolution 25 (“SCR25”), a radically misguided piece of anti-LEED legislation.

Some of the lessons learned in the fight against SCR25, most notably in relation to how that legislation could have impacted Ohio’s nation-leading green schools program, will be the subject of this author’s presentation this week at Greenbuild. Together with an inspired panel of colleagues, we will discuss how a sampling of case studies provide insight into how green schools programs can advance market transformation.

For the next few days it will be all sustainable development, all the time. Looking forward to sharing a little knowledge, picking up much more, and returning with renewed inspiration.

Following months (if not years) of hostility and robust legislative battles throughout the U.S. (including here in Ohio), the U.S. Green Building Council and the American Chemistry Council will now work together to advance LEED.

The truce announcement has already been optimistically embracedintelligently dissected, and compared to the rise, fall, and redemption of Darth Vader. But what does it really mean and what happens next?

USGBC has established a working group, the “Supply Chain Optimization Group,” made up of ACC and USGBC staff and member company experts who will discuss how building materials are addressed in LEED. One particularly hot topic for this group will be risk assessment—the method used by policymakers and others to determine how dangerous a hazard is when assuming a certain level of exposure—as the ACC yearns for this concept to receive “greater consideration throughout USGBC’s process.” Details are still being worked out.

OGBL appreciates the value of communication and compromise, and we recognize that often the best resolutions are those in which both sides leave equally unhappy. Here’s to hoping for better than that as USGBC and ACC work to align their goals.

Green Globes (or, more specifically, its parent organization the Green Building Initiative, “GBI”) describes itself as an alternative to LEED, so the two rating systems would seem to be natural competitors. 

But LEED’s parent organization the U.S. Green Building Council and GBI are both nonprofits, and if Green Globes truly seeks to “advance the overall environmental performance and sustainability of commercial buildings” (as its website proclaims), then why would the same folks who support Green Globes also support Ohio Senate Concurrent Resolution 25, which urges that LEED be banned in all Ohio public construction?

The answer to that question is part of an insightful expose by Tristan Roberts and Paula Melton at EBN. Well worth a read, as they connect the dots between GBI, Green Globes, and the industry special interests who support both Green Globes and Ohio SCR25.

OGBL embraces fair competition as a means to spur innovation and improvement, in the green building realm and otherwise. Roberts and Melton suggest that Green Globes’ backers are pressing the opposite agenda, using questionable tactics in a race to the bottom.

Anybody who appreciates savory sausage gravy and biscuits knows that Bob Evans is down on the farm. But not as many know that Bob Evans is down with LEED.

A key component of Bob Evans Farms, Inc.’s $190,000,000 “Best to Invest in Ohio” campaign is the company’s new headquarters campus, currently tracking LEED gold for the main building and LEED silver for two other buildings. Designed by Columbus, Ohio-based m+a architects, the inspiration for the design was to “think like a farmer.” Explains Joe Eulberg, Bob Evans EVP, Human Resources, “Bob Evans himself was a noted conservationist. However, we knew that we also needed to ensure responsible use of shareholder resources for this major project… Based on our experience, I would and have recommended the pursuit of LEED certification to others considering similar projects.”

Contrast this real-world endorsement from a sophisticated corporation, which has successfully balanced profitability with responsibility, against the ongoing astroturf anti-LEED campaign being waged by the Environmental Policy Alliance. One Alliance-related operative recently placed an op-ed in Forbes that cryptically cites un-named “studies” in support of her conclusion that “the only leading LEED does is from behind.”

Meanwhile, back in the farm fields (and the farm-inspired modern headquarters of major corporations) of Ohio, our legislature debates the merits of a resolution that would urge that LEED be banned in all public construction. Here’s to hoping that our leaders will look to the wisdom of a homegrown and homespun success story, and that they not be fooled by the under-informed ramblings of a shadowy PR firm.

 

 Two recent events starkly illuminate the difference between those who seek to ban LEED in Ohio and those who do not.

On one side stand organizations and groups working to objectively analyze whether or not data substantiate a positive return on Ohio’s investment in LEED. Leading this analysis is Battelle, which just announced that its scientists have been hired to define, by way of advanced statistical modeling techniques, whether or not there is an association between schools with LEED certification and educational outcomes (such as student attendance rates, discipline, and test scores). Green schools are just green buildings, so the results of this analysis could either prove or disprove many claimed benefits of LEED for any building. There are no promises or guarantees, caution the project’s lead investigator and a senior research scientist Ian MacGregor, as the true goal is simply “to better inform the public debate about sustainable design.”

Battelle’s research was the subject of a Columbus Dispatch article to which one anti-LEED voice took umbrage. The head of Wooster, Ohio-based company argues in a responsive op-ed that the article “misses facts,” and he warns that LEED v4 “could cause unwarranted exclusion of materials made right here in Ohio” without providing “facts or science to support the banning of these materials.” Critics such as this are misguided and hypocritical, as they demand vigorous scientific proof of a materials ban that does not exist, yet they offer no studies, data, or other facts to support their claims that LEED v4 could harm any business (in Ohio or elsewhere).

Whereas critics such as the op-ed author from Wooster rely on a USA Today article that has been thoroughly debunked, those fighting the effort to ban LEED in Ohio point to a GSA study of actual building performance which concluded that the portfolio of LEED and other green buildings “use less energy and water, emit less CO2, cost less to maintain, and have occupants who are more satisfied than those working in typical buildings.”

Rather than taking either the USA Today or any other more credible resource as gospel, Battelle will apply scientific principles to conduct research that will be unique to Ohio and subjected to peer review. The facts will be revealed, and the truth will set us free. For Ohio’s government to urge that LEED be banned in the meantime would be short-sighted and wrong.

Now begins a new chapter for Ohio Green Building Law. This author has accepted an offer to join as a partner, and create a new Columbus office, with the Cleveland-based law firm Kohrman Jackson & Krantz.

With a broader platform, and renewed enthusiasm, we will continue to be the Ohio green building and construction law resource.