PORTLAND, ORE. — The General Service Administration, aka the nation's landlord, is recommending for the first time that federal agencies be given a choice of green building certification systems for new construction and major renovation projects.
In a decision drawing cheers and jeers, GSA administrator Dan Tangherlini 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.
The federal backing of a new system to verify building performance is seen as a huge victory for Portland-based GBI. The non-profit group offers the Web-based Green Globes certification program that proponents say is a faster, cheaper and more industry-friendly alternative to LEED.
"It's certainly good news," GBI general manager Bruce Carocci said of the GSA sanction in a telephone interview. "It has the potential for significant impact. Business opportunities within the federal government can be opened up by this."
The GSA said it owns or leases 9,600 buildings across the country and plays a major role in the effort to reduce their energy and water use and operational costs. To this end, LEED has been used in about 1,035 federal projects totaling more than 109 million gross square feet in the last seven years.
The LEED program dates back to 2000 in the U.S. Across the country there are more than 16,060 certified commercial LEED projects and 40,430 certified LEED housing units, and a LEED report shows 88 of the top 100 companies on the Fortune 500 list are using LEED for a total of 6.4 billion square feet.
Green Globes has been used in 850 projects since roughly 2006 but it finally has a real foot in the federal door. GBI officials said they expect a ripple effect, too, into the private sector of a market projected to conservatively hit $204 billion by 2016.
"A big step has been taken in what has been the equivalent of a virtual monopoly," Carocci said.
Critics contend the big step came on the heels of a big political push funded by the plastics, chemicals and timber industries, particularly through the 18-month-old American High-Performance Building Coalition, which lobbied against LEED.
"Green Globes certainly goes easy on those industries," said Jason Grant, who sits on the Sierra Club's Forest Certification and Green Building Team. "I'd argue that its basic purpose is to create a foil."
Green Globes is creating competition, countered Carocci, and that, he said, tends to produce better programs and give taxpayers the best bang for their buck.
"The debate should be about which program has the most integrity to help produce sustainable buildings," he said.