Chemical Giants Target the USGBC: Part 2

Bill Walsh | July 20, 2012 | Policies

Ramping up its assault on the US Green Building Council's initiative to offer credits for reducing toxic chemicals in LEED®-certified buildings (see Chemical Giants Target The USGBC: Part 1), the American Chemistry Council this week announced the formation of the American High Performance Buildings Coalition (AHPBC).

This organization is comprised of 27 trade associations (including the Vinyl Institute, the Vinyl Siding Institute, and the Flexible Vinyl Alliance). It appears to be designed primarily to stop new, voluntary credits proposed for LEED that would reward efforts to slightly reduce the use of highly toxic chemicals in LEED-certified buildings, by threatening the LEED franchise among its government customers. The "Resources" section of the AHPBC website offers an exhaustive compendium of the organization's leadership initiatives: two letters, one to Congress and one to the General Services Administration, seeking to disqualify LEED from use by federal agencies.

The complaint voiced by the AHPBC is that the LEED revision process is not transparent or consensus-based. With the proposed revisions now moving toward their 5th public comment period, following two years of experience with a pilot credit program, it is difficult to comprehend the basis for this charge. What seems more to the point is that the transparent, consensus-based process used by the USGBC is not producing the outcomes that these trade associations want, and usually get on Capitol Hill. It involves a process - voting by USGBC members - that is deaf to the dog whistle of trade association lobbyists who bring Congress to heel with campaign contributions. We see this as a strength, not a deficiency.

With the proposed materials credits in LEED v4 the USGBC is finally offering those who want to reduce the exposure of building occupants to toxic chemicals a way to earn a LEED credit for their efforts. Far from being a radical departure that threatens energy and cost efficiencies, as claimed by the AHPBC, this is a modest step forward to improve health that has earned widespread support.

When the American Sustainable Business Council spoke in defense of the new LEED chemical avoidance credits, companies like Construction Specialties, Inc. and Dignity Health were quoted on the record. Thirty manufacturers proudly display their logos as participants in the Health Product Declaration Working Group's Pilot Project as they work together with their customers to perfect an open standard format for product content disclosure in anticipation of the new LEED credits.

These companies reflect the real, and growing consensus among building industry leaders: that the time has come to address chemical health risks. "Radical industrialist" and long-time USGBC leader, Interface Corporation, described in a recent GreenBiz article, its decision to embrace an unrivaled level of product content disclosure in order to elevate the dialogue with stakeholders concerned about health risks from chemicals, noting: "If a company is perceived to be flippant about these concerns, then poof - an entire segment of your audience turns their back on you."

Flippant would be a charitable adjective to describe the AHPBC's purported concern for green building standards that are "data-driven, supported by science, and performance-based." On June 4, 2012, twenty-one current or former state legislators, including the Vermont Speaker of the House and the former Maine Speaker of the House, signed a letter to President and CEO of the American Chemistry Council, Calvin Dooley, asking him to hold member companies of his trade association accountable for "unethical behavior," such as "deliberately misrepresenting the science."

USGBC President and CEO Rick Fedrizzi picked up on this theme writing in the Huffington Post last week about the "scoundrels...who attempt to savage a mountain of scientific evidence in favor of obfuscation and innuendo...[i]n their effort to protect a status quo that is good for them but not so much for the rest of us."

For whom does the AHPBC speak? Although not a single company in the world has explicitly associated their brand with this new group, it is apparent that its legitimacy rests upon the company brands it purports to represent. A cursory review by HBN researchers found scores of USGBC member companies represented by the 27 trade associations backing the AHPBC. Some companies are members of more than one of the groups attacking the USGBC. Eighteen USGBC member companies are also members of the American Chemistry Council, which is leading the attack (see list below).

It is reasonable to assume that USGBC member companies may not have been consulted by their trade associations on these specific strategies or tactics. Giving them that benefit of the doubt, it is now time to stand and be counted. Because it would truly be a scoundrel that benefits from USGBC membership, LEED Professional Credentials, LEED credits, and in many cases, sales to LEED-certified government projects, while working to destroy the USGBC brand.

For a fact check on all of the trade association's spurious claims about the USGBC's LEED revision process, we recommend:

USGBC Members of the American Chemistry Council

The American Chemistry Council is leading the attack on the USGBC.


Akzo Nobel

Albermarle Corporation

Aristech Acrylics LLC

Ashland, Inc.

BASF Corporation

Bayer Corporation

Daikin America, Inc.

Dow Corning

DSM Enterprises


Eastman Chemical Company

Holland & Knight LLP


Milliken & Company

PPG Industries


Sika Corporation