LEED 2012 was released for a second round of public comment August 1. The comment period will be open until September 14, which will have come and gone by the time this goes to press. Thousands of comments have been submitted to the USGBC in advance of the first public comment period (which opens in November), resulting in major changes to the draft, especially with regard to Materials and Resources. Thousands more will likely be made during round two, because instead of simply fixing problems in the first draft, the second draft throws out large parts of the first draft and replaces it with brand new content-some of it half-baked. It is encouraging that so many comments are being submitted by people evidently now fully cognizant of the consequences in remaining silent.

What's Different?

A summary of changes made between draft version 1 and version 2 can be found on the USGBC Web site for each rating system. I will focus on the Building Design and Construction rating system in this article. A few highlights of some of the most significant changes, outside of Materials and Resources, include:

- Integrative Process: This credit has been substantially reworked and renamed. It’s all about discovery now and requires the design team to conduct analyses on energy load reduction, water systems and site assessment. It’s much skimpier and simpler.

- Low-Emitting and Fuel-Efficient Vehicles: This credit has been removed from New Construction, Core and Shell, Data Centers, and Hospitality rating systems.

- Fundamental Refrigerant Management (Prerequisite): This prerequisite was removed from draft 1 and has been reintroduced in draft 2.

- Enhanced Indoor Air Quality Strategies: This is a new credit created for draft 2 which combines the former Outdoor Air Delivery Monitoring, Increased Ventilation, Indoor Chemical and Pollutant Source Control credits.

- Low-Emitting Materials: All former low-emitting materials credits have been combined into a new Low-Emitting Materials credit that requires emission testing for everything in the interior of the building. In the new credit, points are awarded for meeting minimum percentages.

- Occupant Experience Survey: This credit has been deleted.

The majority of the Materials and Resources section has been completely rewritten and is unrecognizable when compared to the current rating system and formerly proposed revisions in draft 1. Previous credits Building Reuse, Materials Reuse, Recycled Content, Regional Materials and Bio-Based Materials have been rolled into a new credit called Environmentally Preferable Products and Materials. Previous credit Certified Wood has been incorporated into a new credit called Extraction of Raw Materials. Additional credits Nonstructural Materials Transparency and Avoidance of Chemicals of Concern in Building Materials have been introduced in draft 2.

Huh?

The USGBC’s Senior Vice President, Scot Horst, explains these radical changes as “a transition from where we think the market needs to get to be up-to-date with the rest of the world and where it is right now.” Horst describes the changes made to the Materials and Resources section as “bold” and establishes the USGBC as a leader.

Perhaps the best example of what I consider to be half-baked in this draft is the new proposed credit Avoidance of Chemicals of Concern in Building Materials. To get the available point for this credit, 20 percent of all building materials (by cost) must have an available list of ingredients and must not contain any substances listed in the State of California’s Proposition 65-Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. On the surface, this may seem like a pretty good idea. The drafters of the credit, however, either do not understand the purpose of CA Prop 65 or do not care that it has nothing to do with materials avoidance. Indeed, this credit is in direct opposition to the USGBC’s own conclusion on material avoidance which was succinctly stated in its exhaustive study on PVC called Assessment of the Technical Basis for a PVC-Related Materials Credit for LEED issued February 2007. The report concludes that: “The evidence indicates that a credit that rewards avoidance of PVC could steer decision makers toward using materials that are worse on most environmental impacts …” and that, of the materials included in the study, “No single material shows up as the best across all the human health and environmental impact categories, nor as the worst.”

What is California Proposition 65?

The purpose of CA Prop 65, enacted in 1986, is to regulate substances officially listed by California as causing cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm in two ways. First, by prohibiting businesses from knowingly discharging listed substances into drinking water sources or onto land where the substances can pass into drinking water sources and, second, by prohibiting businesses from knowingly exposing individuals to listed substances without providing a clear and reasonable warning. CA Prop 65 is similar to OSHA’s Material and Safety Data Sheet requirement, something architects and contractors are very familiar with. Neither is meant to be a tool for avoidance, but rather as a means to educate users about the contents of things they may come into contact with.

The list of chemicals in CA Prop 65 is long. So long, in fact, that very few businesses in California are exempt from posting the required public warning. Warnings are posted in nearly every business and in every building in the state. For some good reading on the legal debacle that Prop 65 has created, go to this office of the attorney general link: http://ag.ca.gov/prop65/pdfs/G035101.pdf.

The document sums the absurdity of it all with:

“Dried paint. Furniture. Parking lots. Wiring.” Really? As the attorney general points out in the document’s opening brief, the global notices present a “laundry list of dozens of chemicals” and “many of the purported exposures are so unlikely as to be virtually imaginary.”

Safe Chemicals

The proposed credit fails to acknowledge that CA Prop 65 also has a list of chemicals that, below a particular threshold, pose no health risks. Contact with a chemical or chemicals from the list does not automatically mean there is any danger of the development of cancer or a birth defect. In fact, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment of the California Environmental Protection Agency publishes a “Safe Harbor” list of chemicals that pose no threat to human health based on exposure and are exempt from having to be reported in accordance with Prop 65. OEHHA recognizes that many of the chemicals on this list pose no significant risk levels for carcinogens and provide information on the maximum allowable dose levels for chemicals that cause reproductive toxicity. Some of the “safe harbor” chemicals on the list include:

- Benzene

- Asbestos

- Formaldehyde

- Naphthalene

- Vinyl chloride

Lots of things can cause cancer or birth defects-but not at any dose and every exposure. Remember the saccharine scare that began in the late 70s? In a 2007 article written on the 30-year anniversary of the FDA’s ban on saccharine Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, president of the American Council on Science and Health, wrote, “Irrational bans on chemicals are expensive and unproductive. When the next cancer scare comes our way, remember thirty years ago-when saccharin proved to be the ‘carcinogen’ we loved.”

Conclusion

Because there have been such significant changes introduced in the second draft of LEED 2012, I fully expect that the USGBC will be issuing a third draft for public comment. The major revisions to draft 1 were a direct result of the thousands of public comments the USGBC received. The radical, half-baked changes that are being proposed in the current draft add much more complexity and confusion to a rating system that most of us were finally getting comfortable with. I am not sure I can go along with USGBC’s proclamation that the changes signify a bold move toward leadership. If the rating system keeps going in this direction, it will be more difficult to understand and implement and any leadership position envisioned by the USGBC will be over an ever-shrinking pool of supporters and users.