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It looks like plastics can still have a starring role in sustainable construction. The General Service Administration is giving federal agencies a choice of green building certification systems, and that's good news for plastics. GSA administrator Dan Tangherlini recently endorsed the Green Building Initiatives' Green Globes 2010 system, in addition to the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) 2009.
You may recall LEED was in the news a few months ago, because a draft for the newest standards, called LEED v4, proposed giving builders credit for using "good" materials. That was a compromise choice — the original plan was to give builders credit for avoiding "bad" materials. But either way, some within the plastics and construction industries were concerned about how that would affect some widely used building materials, including PVC.
Green Globes has a reputation for being faster, cheaper and more industry-friendly than LEED.
Federal backing for Green Globes is likely to have an impact on the private construction market, too. Before, LEED had a virtual monopoly on determining if a project could be considered sustainable. Now, there's competition. That won't sit well with everyone.
Also, Jason Grant, who sits on the Sierra Club's Forest Certification and Green Building Team, told Plastics News' Catherine Kavanaugh that Green Globes "goes easy" on industry critics of LEED, including the plastics, chemicals and timber industries. Those groups joined forces to lobby against LEED 18 months ago when they formed the American High-Performance Building Coalition.
It's tempting to say GSA's decision in favor of Green Globes is a victory for plastics. But it's too soon to make that call. Green Globes will have to prove its value in the marketplace in order to be taken seriously by architects, builders and consumers.
How can that happen? Here's a suggestion — highlight the advantages of using materials like plastics. There are plenty, after all: energy efficiency, cost savings, carbon footprint.
GSA itself says both systems have won the debate. But it's important to note that GSA endorsed both Green Globes and LEED 2009 — but not LEED v4, which is the version that had upset groups like the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of "The Plastics Blog."