Making Sense of Green Certifications
Those who follow me on Twitter or who read my blog know that I’m not a big fan of LEED or any other any other third party verification system that expects payment from the very project it is verifying, or that has a non-competitive legislative mandate.
First, let me say that I fully recognize the good work the USGBC has done over the years. It, more than any other organization or government entity (including Energy Star), is responsible for the upsurge of interest in improving the energy efficiency of our buildings. But that doesn’t make the LEED approach the best approach, as the recent lawsuit over LEED’s hyping of its Gold Certification standard points out. Or, an even more blatant example is BPI’s shameless strategy of self promotion in its HomeStar legislation, where it managed to get the U.S. Congress to force participating contractors to become BPI — and only BPI — certified. The mandate was written right into the law, and is the equivalent of the Government saying you can only buy Fords, not Chevys or Hondas, if you want to participate in their program. If there’s any sense left amongst legal watch dogs, this move should promulgate a blizzard of antitrust suits. Little known BPI should be proud. You should be scared.
Now, this isn’t to say that we don’t need continuing education in the construction industry. In fact, it’s about time contractors joined the engineers and architects in that regard. Nor is it to say that we don’t need third party verifiers. We need both training and verification. We need the correct mix of government/private partnership; the right laws, and the right regulations that point industry in the right directions.
First, government should set minimum training standards for those participating in the programs its sponsoring, rather than mandating a specific training and certification provider. Any private sector provider can then setup a training and certification program so long as it meets the requirements set forth in the law or regulation. This is, in fact, the tactic used the majority of time by both state and federal agencies. The HERS program is a fine example. What possessed the Congress to step over this very important line with HomeStar is beyond me.
Second, while private firms should be free to create their own building certification programs (this is still supposed to be a free market economy), they should not be allowed to verify compliance of a project using their standard, nor should they be allowed to collect any fees from anyone associated with the project. Only independent, third party certifiers should be allowed to audit the paperwork and prove the building meets the standard. If a project is striving for LEED Gold, for example, the owner or project manager might choose to bring in a third party quality control specialist to watch dog the entire project. At the end of the project the quality control specialist would then certify the building. Another approach would be for a certified inspector to be brought in after the fact, say a certified HERS rater, to audit the project and certify the building. Finally, the rating provider, LEED in this example, could challenge the certifier’s findings if it disagreed. Such disputes are healthy for all involved and would serve as a final check and balance in the system.
What’s important to note in the examples is that I have created a four legged chair with a back. The design/construction team is separate from the rating provider, who in turn is separate from the rating certifier and the training provider. And, because no system is perfect, the back of the chair is the appeal process, probably through the courts or arbitration. Whatever was specified in the contracts. Only when training, standards, and verification are kept separate will we have a system that works well — for the industry and the consumer.
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