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The Need to Address the Lack of Consensus Procedures in Developing LEED

Posted By Jared Blum, Friday, April 18, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Editors Note: This work originally appeared in Retrofit Magazine.

The work being done by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) and its flagship LEED program has done a great deal to promote green construction and bring concern for high-performance buildings to the mainstream. As a long-time energy-efficiency advocate and supporter of the work of the USGBC, I believe, however, it is important to recognize flaws in the process as epitomized in LEED v4 and work to address them.

Those of us in the high-performance building sector understand that developing new standards and guidelines requires a consensus and deliberative process. Members of the American High Performance Building Coalition, to which PIMA belongs, manufacture products that greatly contribute to the green-building environment.

Unfortunately, these manufacturers are often left out of the conversations concerning updates to LEED, while a only a small percentage of advisors to the LEED process have actual building-products-manufacturing experience. Foam insulation, for example, has been shown to save more than 233 times its embedded energy over the life span of the product. Earlier versions of LEED v4 would have discriminated against all foam insulation and a great number of sustainable roofing products. This oversight was only changed when USGBC could not ignore the tsunami of opposition from those who understood the impact of this well-intended proposal.

These controversies reached a breaking point recently when the Ohio State Senate passed Ohio Senate Concurrent Resolution 25 (SCR 25), which asserts that LEED v4 should no longer be used by Ohio state agencies and government entities. Instead, Ohio is looking at other rating systems, such as Green Globes, that take a more consensus-based approach. The legislation has also been introduced in the Ohio State House of Representatives.

This is not the first time LEED has come under fire by a government body. In October 2013, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) issued a memo stating that federal government agencies can now use either LEED or Green Globes for rating federal buildings. With many government agencies holding vast building portfolios and operating with tax dollars, it is imperative that they look critically at any rating system to ensure they are producing the most value with public funds.

In fact, the EPA is currently seeking comment for its Draft Guidelines for Ecolabels and Performance Standards, which emphasize the use of ANSI/ASTM consensus procedures to develop green product standards. This is important given the industry’s frustrating experience so far with the lack of true consensus in the development of recent green standards, such as LEED v4.

The LEED program has evolved to be the dominant rating system for buildings in the public and private sectors. The commitment to one green rating system, however, has produced some unintended consequences, such as pigeonholing certain products as “not green”. All observers can admit that competition in the codes and standards sector is beneficial; consider the ICC and ASHRAE as an example. Stakeholders will benefit by working together to produce a system that promotes innovation, and through competition, allows the best products to be used in buildings.

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Recent Events Prove that Flame Retardants Save Lives

Posted By Alex Wellman, Thursday, August 15, 2013

Research continues to make clear that flame retardant materials can help people survive fires in planes, cars, homes and offices. 

This issue was brought to the forefront this week when flame retardants provided critical extra time for passengers aboard the Asiana flight that crash landed in San Francisco, CA. Citing information from an article in The Wall St. Journal, the Huffington Post credited the plane’s flame retardant materials as being one of three innovations on the plane "that saved lives." In other words, the awful tragedy could have been even worse.

It was California that first implemented progressive flammability standards for upholstered furniture in the 1970s, which dramatically improved upon the percentage of fires and fire-related deaths related to upholstered furniture. Today, consumers receive a critical layer of fire protection from flame retardants in electronics, building and construction materials, furnishings and transportation.

Existing building code fire safety provisions were established by experts in the field, including fire scientists, fire testing laboratories, code officials and others. But some are proposing detrimental changes to these building code fire safety provisions. The changes would allow foam insulation not treated with flame retardants to be used in residential construction, which would eliminate an important layer of fire safety in homes, according to the American Chemistry Council.

Chemistry has and will continue to play a critical role in evolving GREEN building technologies. We understand that chemistry materials are complex and raise questions, which is why we will be part of the dialogue with groups like the US Green Building Council that help shape green building standards. An open, balanced consensus-standard will deliver the most energy-efficient, resource-efficient and healthy buildings.


Jared O. Blum is president and chief executive officer of the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association.

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Washington Post Op-Ed: Stakeholders Must Be Part of LEED Updates

Posted By Alex Wellman, Friday, August 9, 2013

The Washington Post published an op-ed on Sunday that reiterates our position on updates to LEED: experts in their field must be part of the process for improving LEED if the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) wants the rating system to remain credible and effective for the long term.

The commentary was written by Craig Silvertooth, president of the Center for Environmental Innovation in Roofing and a member of the American High Performance Buildings Coalition, in response to the most recent update to LEED, which was approved by the USGBC on July 2. That approval came despite many stakeholders’ concerns, which the USGBC did not finish reviewing, responding to or resolving.

Members of the American High Performance Buildings Coalition produce some of the most innovative and effective products and materials available to the green building movement. As the op-ed points out, these products include reflective roofing, windows with engineered frames and glazing, air- and water-resistant building wraps, and foam insulation, which studies have shown saves more than 233 times its embedded energy during its useful life span.

Many of the people behind these innovations, however, have been excluded from the process of improving LEED standards. Overlooking these stakeholders, who invest billions in research and development to maintain their technical expertise in building science and materials, makes the new LEED system - at best - unbalanced. 

The USGBC has established LEED as the dominant green building rating system for both the private and public sectors, and the federal government has come to rely on LEED for schools and all new construction. It is therefore critical that stakeholders in the green building movement be part of the development and methodology used to certify a building as LEED.


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Welcome to PIMA's Polyiso Blog

Posted By Administration, Monday, July 30, 2012
For over 25 years, the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA) has served as the unified voice of the rigid polyiso industry proactively advocating for safe, cost-effective, sustainable and energy efficient construction. Here you can find our thoughts on energy efficiency, policy initiatives, codes and much more. Thank you for visiting our blog, Jared Blum, President, Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association.

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PIMA Joins American High-Performance Buildings Coalition

Posted By Administration, Monday, July 30, 2012

PIMA has joined more than 27 leading associations representing a wide range of interests in the building and construction industry to announce the formation of the American High-Performance Buildings Coalition (AHPBC) (www.betterbuildingstandards.com). We have come together to promote and support the development of sustainable building standards, which are based on consensus and scientific performance data.

This is another positive step on the road to making green construction not an exception but rather standard operating procedure for the construction, design and building maintenance communities in this country.

As building product manufacturers, our members understand their responsibility to work with the design community to achieve truly energy efficient high performing, 21st century buildings The coalition will provide critical experience and expertise to the development of green building standards, and will support performance-based building codes, standards and rating systems developed in conformance with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the established voice of the U.S. standards and conformity assessment system. ANSI-accredited systems recognize transparency, balance of interests represented and consensus decision-making.

The coalition announcement comes as the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) is in the process of reviewing the use of green building standards by the federal government and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) revises its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system.

While PIMA has always been a strong supporter of LEED, but recent deselection proposals included in early versions of LEED 2012 would be counter productive and actually harm this country’s energy efficiency and heat island reduction efforts. The AHPBC supports certification systems based on sound data, scientific methodology and developed using a consensus process. The coalition will advocate that position with GSA, other federal agencies and in other venues where green building certifications are under consideration.

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25 Year of Energy Efficiency – No Small Accomplishment!

Posted By Administration, Monday, July 30, 2012

In conjunction with the Association’s 25thanniversary, we recently released a study that analyzes and quantifies the energy and environmental contribution of polyisocyanurate insulation (polyiso) over the past 25 years. This study reveals that polyiso has contributed to the reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by over 4 million metric tons annually, an amount equivalent to:

  • Taking 711,000 cars off of the road
  • The CO2 emissions from 407 million gallons of gasoline or
  • The energy used in more than 314,000 homes each year.

The study further reveals that, over the service life of polyiso insulation, the cumulative carbon dioxide emissions reduction would be in excess of 80 million metric tons. Additionally, the cumulative savings in building heating and cooling energy over a typical twenty-year roof system service life would be in excess of 14,000 trillion BTUs.

The bottom line is that polyiso insulation has had, and will continue to have, a very positive impact on energy efficiency and the environment.

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PIMA Testifies Before GSA’s Green Building Advisory Committee

Posted By Administration, Friday, May 11, 2012

PIMA Testifies Before GSA's Green Building Advisory Committee
Longtime energy efficiency supporter voices concerns about LEED 2012

WASHINGTON, May 9, 2012 – A member of the Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA) Board of Directors testified today at GSA's Green Building Advisory Committee Public Meeting and voiced serious concerns about some of the proposals dealing with material avoidance in LEED 2012 that fly in the face of building science.

PIMA Board Member and the Codes and Standards Advocate for Bayer MaterialScience Jerry Phelan, questioned whether or not GSA should be recommending green building rating systems that fail to meet true consensus requirements, as directed by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

The Association's testimony offered support of Green Globes as an alternative to LEED but voiced concern over the addition of the Living Building Challenge and the proposed LEED 2012. In addition, the Association recommended several additional LEED alternatives, including ASHRAE 189.1: Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings and the IgCC – International Green Construction Code.

"The vetting and implementation of the Living Building Challenge (LBC) falls well short of the benchmarks established by either LEED or Green Globes, with authorship confined to a very small number of individuals and a failure to include many important stakeholders in the process,” said Phelan. "The LBC embraces an unnecessarily exclusionary approach which has demonstrated little or no market acceptance, with only three buildings achieving full LBC certification in the United States.”

PIMA also addressed the "Red Lists” of the Living Building Challenge, which feature materials or products to avoid when building with energy efficiency in mind. The list prohibits the use of broad categories of materials, like halogenated flame retardants. This "Red List” approach, PIMA argued, undermines the long-term value of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).

"Life Cycle Assessment is considered by building and environmental scientists to be the best approach to assessing environmental impacts,” noted Phelan. "LCA holistically looks at the advantages and disadvantages inherent in all building material choices, but the exclusionary approach advocated by the LBC eliminates reasonable options before they can be evaluated and considered, which reduces flexibility and innovation in building systems.”

The Living Building Challenge "Red List” includes modern building materials currently considered by building professionals to deliver critical performance and environmental benefits. In fact, the list includes materials that are widely used and, in some cases, have been used for many decades in building and construction and other applications.

"PIMA has been dedicated to energy efficiency and sustainability for 25 years, and we are concerned about the impacts of some of these new proposed guidelines,” said Jared Blum, President of PIMA. "While PIMA is excited that the GSA is looking at ways to increase energy efficiency and lessen environmental impact, we want to ensure that the approach to achieve these goals is sound and fair, and will have an overall positive influence.”

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Funding for Department of Energy Programs

Posted By Administration, Friday, May 11, 2012

Did you know that the buildings sector is responsible for more than 39 percent of the total U.S. energy consumption, 71 percent of electricity consumption, and 53 percent of natural gas consumption? Those are some significant statistics! And these statistics are also the reason why PIMA is strongly in support of higher standards for building energy codes – which are the most effective tool for reducing energy use in buildings – and several U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) programs.

Keeping this in mind, it's no surprise that PIMA was interested in the House Appropriations Committee release of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill for fiscal year 2013. Why? Because this bill covers funding for all DOE programs, and there are two programs that are of particular interest to PIMA – and to building contractors, specifiers and architects nationwide. These two programs are:

  1. Building Technologies Program
  2. Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP)

Both of these programs are related to building energy codes and building energy-efficiency. Given the statistics above, imagine the impact that higher standards for building codes and efficiency could have on our nation's overall energy consumption. These two programs are well worth the required funding of $310 million and $32 million, respectively.

Consider this: the federal government is the single largest consumer of energy in the United States, spending more than $24.5 billion on electricity and fuel in 2008 alone. A strong Federal Energy Management Program assures that the federal government can continue to shrink this large cost to the nation.

By meeting the funding requests for these programs, state and local governments will continue to have access to activities that strengthen their abilities to choose the best options for code adoption and administration. These activities include:

  • The development and deployment code compliance tools, like REScheck and COMcheck
  • Providing technical assistance to states and local governments for the adoption and implementation of building energy codes
    • Analysis and support for improving the IECC and ASHRAE 90.1 model building energy codes;
    • Technical support and evaluations by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and other national labs in code development and adoption activities; and
    • Training for architects, engineers, builders and local code officials.

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JCPenney Teams Up With DOE to Increase Energy Efficiency in VA Store

Posted By Administration, Friday, May 11, 2012

JCPenney recently participated in the U.S. Department of Energy's Commercial Building Partnerships(CBP), an initiative that is transforming the country's energy landscape by demonstrating the best ways to achieve dramatic energy savings in commercial buildings. This CBP initiative partners programs, companies and organizations with DOE representatives, national laboratory staff and private-sector technical experts to explore energy saving ideas and strategies.

JCPenney worked with the Pacific Northwest Laboratory to identify energy efficiency design measures that could be applied to store locations across the country. One of the first stores to receive these upgrades was an existing building already in need of some major renovations – a one-story, 107,000 square foot building in Colonial Heights, VA.

The design team on the project took an integrated approach to maximize energy savings. For the building envelope, the team chose to use polyisocyanurate insulation during roof replacement. The benefits from using this insulation were significant enough that JCPenney will now consider adding additional insulation to future reroofing projects at all locations. Energy savings from the total package are expected to be 45% as compared to the store's energy use in the past.

This case study underscores the energy saving potential of polyiso insulation and, here at PIMA, we are excited that the design team chose to use polyiso insulation and even more excited that JCPenney has seen significant benefits since its implementation.

To learn more about the project, take a look at the ASHRAE website.

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Posted By Administration, Friday, May 11, 2012

At the end of September, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) announced The Energy-Efficient Cool Roof Jobs Act, a bill projected to create up to 40,000 jobs nationwide, aid the construction industry and increase energy-efficiency.

In addition to creating thousands of jobs, the bill is expected to add $1 billion of taxable annual revenue in the construction sector and annually reduce carbon emissions by 800,000 metric tons. The bill will also provide economic incentives to speed up the adoption of energy-efficient roofs by removing obstacles in the tax code that hinder roof upgrades.

This is exactly the kind of legislation our country needs. Legislation that creates jobs, improves energy efficiency and lowers operating costs. As a supporting organization of the bill, PIMA believes this is the type of economic stimulus effort that has the potential to pay off in many ways.

The act reduces the depreciation schedule for commercial roof retrofits, lowering the current 39-year depreciation in the tax code to a 20-year depreciation schedule for energy-efficient cool roof systems. To qualify, roofs must include systems with insulation that meets or exceeds ASHRAE 189.1-2009 standards and primary cool roof surfaces in climate zones one through five.

A significant opportunity to increase building energy efficiency lies within the commercial roofing sector, where over 50 billion square feet of flat roofs are currently available for retrofit, four billion of which are retrofit each year. If the insulation levels in these commercial roofs are upgraded from their current R-value to the high performance levels embodied in a High R Roof – 50% above the minimum required values – annual energy savings would exceed $2 billion.

Co-sponsored by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID), the bipartisan bill has the support of PIMA, the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA), Alliance to Save Energy (ASE), American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), Associated Buildings & Contractors (ABC), Building Owners and Managers Association International (BOMA), Environmental and Energy Study Institute, United Union of Roofers and several construction industry associations.

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