It's always the undercurrents of life that are worth watching, subtle movements that seem benign but eventually influence significant change.
The push toward green building has motivated governments and influential trade groups to start taking a look at systems for certification, and therein lies what's worth watching.
This week, we report on a complicated debate broiling in several organizations, including the American Institute of Architects, that will have a long-term impact on the plastics industry and its second-largest end market.
We outline two systems, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Green Globes, a Canadian import making its way into the United States. Each system is backed by a different group, the U.S. Green Building Council for LEED; and the Green Building Initiative for Green Globes. Green Globes is the newer of the two, introduced into the U.S. market just this year.
It's a lot to take in, an alphabet soup of confusing acronyms and voices for both sides that are questioning funding and the role of self-interest. Industry groups, for example, are much more comfortable with Green Globes, having watched LEED already take some positions they don't like.
LEED is being embraced by several federal organizations, and a few states also are adopting LEED for use on public projects. Green Globes, by comparison, is recognized by the government of Canada.
Here's the lesson so far: Everybody loves ``green'' until they realize that everybody who uses the word has a different definition, and some believe certain definitions exclude plastics. Plastics and wood industry officials don't want to see any one system adopted by governments to the exclusion of others, and thus have formed yet-another group, the North American Coalition on Green Building, to oppose those attempts.
In the midst of the discussions and debate, some say Green Globes is a competing certification system; others say no. Some say LEED excludes plastics; others say no. Yet some maintain that more systems simply will encourage environmentally friendly designs.
Right now, the science behind these ratings systems is new, and there are strong debates about whether it is better to identify good and bad materials, or simply set performance criteria.
For example, do you weigh vinyl based on things like its use of heavy-metal additives and its poor recycling record? Or do you look at its performance in making energy-efficient windows that are taking an increasing share of the market?
Both LEED and Green Globes systems seem to be recognizing the complicated questions, and both are changing to address criticisms that they exclude certain groups.
USGBC, for example, is considering allowing industry trade groups to join up, and industry-backed GBI says it's moving toward make its decision-making transparent.
Everyone wants fair representation, including industry groups defending specific materials. The ultimate goal, though, is not protecting materials, but fashioning a green-building rating system that is truly demanding enough to make buildings more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly.