Let me be clear up front – I do not believe in anthropomorphic climate change – the notion that man, in our industrial wonder, is ruining the earth with global warming.  I am a skeptic and my hackles come up when anyone in the scientific community (or political community) utters phrases like “it’s settled,” and “there can be no denying it.”  Science by its very nature of being “science” is always in pursuit of the truth and if data exists that challenges a theory, the theory must be re-examined.  My natural skepticism is being rewarded by the recent scandals at the University of East Anglia and NASA and now new findings that hundreds of data points that didn’t “fit the model” were left off the charts so that the global warming theory would be left intact.  The Russians have been saying for some time that we had better be buying furs and not sunscreen for several years.

Now, before I get the pointing finger, “Night of the Living Dead” outing, let me follow by saying that I heartily support “green” building practices.  I support them from the position of stewardship – we should minimize any impact we have, it is the right thing to do.  Reduce the amount of forests cleared? You bet! Re-use existing buildings? Absolutely – done that. Reduce heat impact in a neighborhood? Of course – white and green roofs.  And on it goes.  I believe this is the responsible way to develop and manage real estate. Transit oriented development to reduce man’s footprint? YES. Somewhere deep in my core is a Celtic Druidic gene that enervates my sense that trees and forests are sacred.  I am at peace paddling in a pristine river and I want those things to be there for my children, their children and beyond.  We are stewards of this incredible planet, and for those reasons, I support the green movement.

I have concerns, however, when property rights and values are jeopardized by fluctuating standards either by government or non-government organizations.  Such is the chilling case cited in an article this morning in the San Antonio Business Journal: “Risk of LEED Decertification Looms Large for Real Estate:”

As reported by the Villas County News-Review, a group of Wisconsin residents filed a 125-page complaint with the USGBC challenging the award of the LEED Gold certification to Northland Pines, which is generally credited as the first certified LEED Gold high school. The challenge was based on a little discussed provision in LEED 2009, which reserves the USGBC’s ability to revoke certification a project that fails to meet the program’s “Minimum Program Requirements,” which include requirements for minimum occupancy rates, site boundaries, and information-sharing about the project’s energy and water usage for five years after certification. It was reported that the USGBC sent independent examiners to Wisconsin to conduct on-site tests at Northland Pines to determine the project’s qualifications for LEED, and that a final determination on the school’s eligibility for LEED would be decided in early 2010.

Who are the “residents” who filed this complaint that got the ball rolling on potential decertification?  Now this is for a public high school, but consider the impact on commercial property.  This behavior opens the door for an irritated tenant to truly hurt the value of a building by filing a complaint with the USGBC over whether the owner is behaving properly green to maintain their LEED status.  It is widely viewed in our industry that there will be a premium for LEED certified buildings over time (this is unproven so far), but I believe it will be a deal enhancer as our practices become greener.  In an already badly roiled and potentially worsening market, we didn’t need this:

The ramifications of decertification pose significant threats to every party involved in a LEED project, including the owners, lenders, insurers, tenants, architects, engineers, consultants, contractors, and lawyers. As the LEED 2009 program is currently written, a project that achieved LEED certification today would never have absolute certainty that it could maintain that certification in perpetuity. That risk could threaten the validity of many of laws (like building codes), tax incentives, or financings that are currently tied to the LEED program. Given the many things that can change as buildings age — like air quality and energy efficiency — a LEED-certified building may perform as designed for years, only to lose certification many years later. This could result in buildings becoming unexpectedly out of compliance with building codes or with tax or incentive clawbacks (where incentives need to be paid back), and owners who find themselves in default under their leases and loans … overnight, without fair warning. Uncooperative tenants or failures in routine maintenance could lead to disastrous consequences.

The mission of the USGBC should be to promote responsible development, construction and operating practices for real estate.

This is best achieved with training and certification.  They will hurt their reputation immensely if they decide to go into the snitching and inspection business.  It also becomes enormously problematic if the rules are going to change year to year…that’s what “grandfathering” is for.  Perhaps the solution is to date the certifications so the consumer will know, i.e. “LEED Silver 2009.”  We don’t need shadowy figures taking tips from the neighbors on a foggy night – we need advocates and training to help us build a better product that has less impact on the environment…USGBC can do that.

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