Are We There Yet?

July 25, 2004
Greener Facilities Newsletter
Last month this column featured the paradigm busting teachings of David Tod Geaslin on the disastrous effects of deferring maintenance. And I promised that we would feature part two of Mr. Geaslin’s worthy treatise on avoiding maintenance budget failures. And we will – next month. Since my last column, an issue has come up in U.S. Green Building Council circles that I believe warrants attention.With many families taking to the road for summer vacations, perhaps you are familiar with your children’s incessant questioning of your whereabouts, relative to your destination. I think back to my childhood family road trips, many a mile spent in the backward-facing third seat of the Vista Cruiser with nothing else to do but count out-of-state license plates and make faces at those drivers unfortunate enough to be behind us. Add to that the persistent whine of, “Are we there yet?” and it’s a wonder our parents didn’t jettison the whole lot of us on the side of Route 66!Well, I’ve heard the “Are we there yet?” refrain quite a bit of late, but from a few members of my “other” family – the U.S. Green Building Council. They have been asking the question quite vociferously in addressing the length of time it takes to fully launch LEED products, specifically the standard for Commercial Interiors (LEED-CI) and Existing Buildings (LEED-EB). Some have made understandable assertions that the process is too long. While I agree that the process appears slow and tedious to those who diligently participate in the development, I must push back here because a healthy, yet arduous, debate over an immensely complicated subject, one that will have an impact on commercial buildings and their interiors for generations to come, should take, well … as long as it needs to take!Now, we all sometimes become a little frustrated when things don’t go as quickly as we’d like, particularly when we are chomping at the bit to apply a new standard to present opportunities. But what are the opportunity costs of getting it wrong? This is why we must use wisdom in debating and deciding highly controversial issues such as the avoidance of PVC in commercial interior products.All LEED products are the result of the careful, almost painstaking work that the LEED Steering Committee and Technical Advisory Groups undertake with some particularly difficult issues and related credits. This is due, in part, to the necessity of making each credit resolution acceptable to each of the various LEED products – no simple task. It is also due to the fact that many green building issues are variable, with no simple or obvious resolution, and different stakeholders will, in good faith, argue widely divergent opinions. The simple truth is … the best things in life take time. And sometimes lots of it!Not to be boastful, or dramatic, but the almost deliberate development of the LEED rating system is not altogether different from the path taken in developing the Constitution more than 200 years ago. Like the Constitution, LEED is not, nor should it be, perfect. But it should be enduring, at least for the lifetime of the buildings it influences. To continue the American history thread, in 1775 Benjamin Franklin proposed the Articles of Confederation as a means of governing the Colonies, which had not yet won their independence. These Articles were refined, and many argue, made toothless, in 1781. It wasn’t until 1787, fully five years after a peace agreement had been signed with England, that the Constitutional Convention was held. And it wasn’t until 1791 that Vermont became the last of the 13 original States to ratify the Constitution. It was a process 16 years in the making, with many disparate voices and several opportunities for the dissolution of the fledgling nation. Some might argue that part of the delay was due to the amount of time it took for simple correspondence in the days before cell phones, e-mail, Web casts, etc. Perhaps these things might have sped the process, but I also submit that the lack of pressure for immediate response gave the framers pause to deeply consider the impact of their words on future generations.True sustainability is about evolution rather than revolution. And evolution, by nature, takes time. We have to be patient, and stand firm in our core convictions with an eye towards the future. What makes the Constitution the bastion of democracy it is, is that it has stood the test of time. I can only hope that LEED, and its many offshoots, do as well. Next month we’ll return to Mr. Geaslin’s excellent teachings on avoiding maintenance budget failures. Rick Fedrizzi is President, CEO, and founding Chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council, and President of the World Green Building Council. Please direct questions to ([email protected]).

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