Subcommittee Evaluates Rating Systems To Measure ‘Green Buildings’

May 8, 2012
Subcommittee Evaluates Rating Systems To Measure ‘Green Buildings’

Washington D.C. – Today, the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight held a hearing to examine the scientific record that green building ratings systems are based upon. The General Services Administration (GSA) and the Department of Energy (DOE) invest in green buildings through federal research and development funding and construction choices.

“Adopting standards for federal buildings that truly save the taxpayer money and put Americans to work is a good idea.  In contrast, adopting standards that don’t save taxpayer money or tell American workers that the products they make are not welcome in federal buildings defies common sense,” said Subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun (R-GA).  “We should be guided by metrics that identify where federal investments will have the most cost-effective impact.”

Chairman Broun also inquired about potential conflict of interest issues at GSA regarding having federal employees serve in formal roles on some green building rating organizations, but not others.  The Chairman expressed his concern that GSA should either participate in all such organizations or none at all to avoid any appearance of favoritism, especially as these organizations receive taxpayer dollars for certifying federal buildings.

Ongoing efforts by DOE have led to the development of new technologies and strategies to reduce federal building consumption.  Many of these efforts reflect common sense approaches to saving money such as more efficient air conditioners and better insulation. However, Chairman Broun noted several efforts, such as DOE’s $10 million “L Prize” award to the manufacturer of a $50 LED light bulb, that raise concerns. “Even with taxpayer subsidies, a $50 light bulb has a very long payback period, if ever,” Broun said.

Witnesses raised a number of concerns with the most frequently used green building ratings system, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system. Professor John Scofield of Oberlin College was particularly critical, calling such systems “a distraction, tapping our time and financial resources while yielding little documented reduction in the only metrics that matter.” Mr. Scofield said that he was aware of no “comprehensive study that uses credible metered energy data for a large number of buildings to demonstrate the effectiveness of any green building rating system at reducing primary energy consumption.”

Mr. Ward Hubbell, President of the U.S. Green Building Initiative, urged flexibility. Mr. Hubbell said that “Locking federal agencies into a one-size-fits-all approach, as a LEED-only policy does, constrains the federal sector to the limitations of one tool and discourages organizations like mine from being innovative, keeping prices low and focusing intensely on good customer service.”

Representing a lumber and milling company, Mr. Tom Talbot discussed how the industry has struggled recently, and encouraged “a level playing field for all building products.”  Mr. Talbot said “A huge array of labeling systems has evolved, many certifying only a small part of the material supply chain which in reality may have only a marginal impact on the overall environmental footprint of a product.”  Mr. Talbot concluded saying that the use of wood in building designs “is important to jobs, specifically in rural communities, and essential to keep forests as working forests and protect America’s landscapes.”

The following witnesses testified today before the Subcommittee:

Panel One
Dr. Kathleen Hogan
, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, DOE
Mr. Kevin Kampschroer, Director of the Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings, GSA
Panel Two
Mr. Ward Hubbell
, President, U.S. Green Building Initiative
Mr. Roger Platt, Senior Vice President, Global Policy and Law, U.S. Green Building Council
Professor John Scofield, Oberlin College
Mr. Victor Olgyay, Rocky Mountain Institute
Mr. Tom Talbot, CEO, Glen Oak Lumber and Milling of Wisconsin