Bill Walsh, the national coordinator for the Healthy Building Network, an environmental group that considers vinyl a toxic material, questions what interest the vinyl industry would have with neuroscience, and sees VI sponsoring conferences as an attempt to influence AIA and its leaders.
The topic is of keen interest to AIA executives, including Chief Executive Officer Norman Koonce, who sits on the board of AIA's Academy of Neuroscience in Architecture.
VI, which is part of the American Plastics Council, said it funded the neuroscience conferences because they were opportunities to get a pro-vinyl message to architects, and the discussions, which looked at how building design influences things like how quickly people heal in hospitals, are adding valuable knowledge.
``It doesn't have any immediate payoff for us, but it seems like it could be important,'' said VI spokesman Allen Blakey. ``We're proud to support this cutting-edge research.''
Walsh also was critical of AIA for having APC and and the American Forest and Paper Association speak at AIA's summit, where they gave presentations on their views on green building issues and made comments about environmental groups that Walsh said were inaccurate. The environmental groups did not have a chance to rebut those comments, Walsh said.
Tom Wolfe, AIA senior director of federal affairs and lead staffer on the summit, said VI and other industry groups are not influencing AIA's decisions. He said industry groups were invited to speak at the summit because ``they have political clout'' and could stand in AIA's way if it decides to go to Congress and push tax benefits for sustainable building.
``If I am going to Capitol Hill and advocating standards, I will have to deal with them,'' he said.
Just saying no
Clearly, mandating standards is a sensitive issue, and creates a potential political minefield.
The country's largest home-builders' organization, for example, strongly opposes mandatory green building requirements.
The National Association of Home Builders told the AIA summit it will oppose legally required green building requirements that go beyond existing building codes. Washington-based NAHB said it favors guidelines it has developed for helping builders make homes greener.
``You would see me oppose the creation of green building standards with the full force of our quarter-million members,'' said John Loyer, NAHB's construction, codes and standards specialist.
Both the Green Building Initiative and the USGBC are changing how they develop their standards, to address criticisms.
Rick Fedrizzi, president of Washington-based USGBC, said he will recommend that the group's board allow trade associations to join, addressing one of industry's chief complaints - that USGBC decision-making is not as open and consensus-based as it should be.
Fedrizzi, who took over as president last year, said he's argued to sometimes-skeptical USGBC members, many of whom are architects, that trade groups bring a lot of resources to debates.
``It is not an issue that will change USGBC in any way,'' he said.
Individual companies always have been allowed to join the council, but he said the group did not let trade associations join because it wanted revenue from companies. Trade groups always have been allowed to comment on USGBC proceedings, including its long-running vinyl debate.
USGBC also will participate in talks in September with wood industry officials to discuss forestry sustainability standards. AFPA spokesman Robert Glowinski praised USGBC's move to let trade groups join, but said until USGBC balances its technical decision-making process, AFPA cannot endorse LEED.
Some in the green building movement question the Green Building Initiative's independence from industry. For example, GBI Chairman Ray Tonjes, a builder from Austin, Texas, also heads NAHB's green building effort. But Hubbell said that misses the point.
Those who are wary of GBI should pay attention to the changes under way, including its plan to adopt ANSI-certified decision-making processes, said Hubbell.
He said GBI, which has been active in the United States for less than a year, is setting up a 30-seat board that will be evenly divided among industry, architects and nongovernmental and academic groups.
With all those changes under way, the green building movement is more a collection of guidelines than a legally binding set of standards, like a building code. But that will change, one building official predicted.
Voluntary green standards work for now, but they will start to become mandatory as higher energy prices push stronger conservation measures, said Henry Green, vice president of the International Code Council and executive director of Michigan's Department of Consumer and Industry Services.
``I'm not advocating today that we have a green building code, but our codes are becoming greener,'' he said.
Plastics News correspondent Michael Lauzon contributed to this report.
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Green building time line
1995 - British Research Establishment's Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) brought to Canada, acts as precursor to Green Globes
2000 - U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) develops Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System; that same year, USGBC proposes that builders get credits for not using PVC
2002 - Green Building Initiatives' (GBI) Green Globes Web-based environmental assessment and rating tool is introduced to the Canadian market
2003 - After dropping its earlier proposal to give credits for not using PVC, USGBC restarts debate about how to treat vinyl
2003 - Trade groups representing segments of both plastics and wood industries form North American Coalition on Green Building (NACGB)
2004 - GBI finalizes agreement to bring Green Globes into U.S. market
2004 - USGBC releases draft report concluding that PVC is no more or less harmful than other building materials; group continues to debate the hot-button topic and plans to issue final report
2005 - American Institute of Architects (AIA) meets over what position it should take in green building debate and how governments should handle green building