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Federal Agencies Can Pick the Green Rating System They Like

In a final rule, the Department of Energy says that federal agencies are free to choose any system that is appropriate — as long as it meets certain conditions

Posted on Oct 28 2014 by Scott Gibson

The U.S. Department of Energy won't be directing federal agencies to use any particular green-building rating system when they design new buildings and plan major renovations. But whatever system they choose will have to meet certain criteria.

Rather than choose the U.S. Green Building Council's LEEDLeadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED for Homes is the residential green building program from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). While this program is primarily designed for and applicable to new home projects, major gut rehabs can qualify. system or the competing Green Globes program — both of which have been found to be acceptable by the General Services Administration (GSA) — the rule leaves the choice to agency planners.

"DOEUnited States Department of Energy. is not approving by this rule any specific green building rating systems for use in new Federal buildings and major renovations," the rule says. "Instead, DOE is specifying in regulation criteria for determining acceptable green building rating systems to allow agencies flexibility in choosing a rating system, including the possibility of using new or improved rating systems that are not currently available or known.

"In this way, DOE is allowing Federal agencies to use the system most appropriate for their buildings."

New and substantially renovated federal buildings must meet certain energy standards, but the agencies planning them are not required to use a rating system such as LEED or Green Globes. But should agencies choose to use a rating system, it must meet these conditions:

  • Auditors must be able to verify the criteria of the rating system independently.
  • The certifying organization must be able to collect and use public comment.
  • The standard should be developed with a consensus-based process.
  • The rating system should be recognized in the industry.
  • And it should include a provision for assessing the building's energy and water conservation after it's occupied.

The final rule, issued by the department on October 14, goes into effect on November 13.

GSA had made specific recommendations

The new rule has a long and complicated history.

DOE was required in a law passed in 2007 to identify a green certification system for rating federal buildings. The study fell to the GSA, which in 2008 said that LEED-Silver would meet legal tests. In 2011, DOE asked for comment on whether other green rating systems also would meet requirements of the law, and last year the GSA administrator recommended that federal agencies use either the 2009 LEED standard or the 2010 Green Globes program.

If agencies choose LEED, they should get at least a Silver rating; if they use Green Globes, the GSA said they should be certified at the "two globes" level or better.

In the most recent rule, the DOE "encourages" federal agencies to consider GSA's 2013 recommendations on rating systems even if using one is optional.

And that, writes Shari Shapiro at the Green Building Law blog, probably means LEED will be the favored system. "Sounds a lot like LEED to me," she said of the DOE's updated criteria, "so unless something else comes into the marketplace, Federal buildings are likely to use the LEED standard."

Shapiro found it interesting that GSA requires its own buildings to be certified to the LEED Gold standard.

"Since the Final Rule does not have a recommended rating system, and most agencies are unlikely to parse whether a particular rating system other than LEED complies with these characteristics, the GSA's recommendations are likely to become the Federal default," she wrote.


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