Business Lobby’s Stance on New Green-Building Standards Prompts Decision by Construction Firm
Skanska USA, an arm of the Swedish construction giant, will pull out of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday in protest over the business lobby’s stance on green-building codes.
By Keith Johnson, Wall Street Journal
WASHINGTON—Skanska USA, an arm of Swedish construction giant Skanska AB, will pull out of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday in protest over the business lobby’s stance on green-building codes.
The move culminates a year of fighting over the latest iteration of the standards that guide energy-saving green construction, known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, which have fueled a big boom in sustainable building in the U.S. and around the world.
Skanska USA and other companies inside the U.S. Green Building Council, which oversees LEED, have supported new standards that were just approved by council members last week, including limits on some chemical-based materials in green construction. They say the new standards will lead to even greener buildings, and that opponents are simply protecting their own industries.
Big chemical and petrochemical firms, backed by the Chamber of Commerce, fought the new standards and created their own advocacy group to fight for alternatives to the new LEED code. This group says that the new standards were drafted with little scientific expertise and threaten to exclude plenty of advanced building materials from green buildings.
The fight, while seemingly over arcane building standards, is significant because LEED certifications are the gold standard for green building, including federal government buildings.
The fight over energy-efficiency standards has even become a central part of the one energy bill that could pass a bitterly divided Congress. Opponents of the new LEED standard are pushing to change the energy bill to require government construction to abide by other standards for green certification. That could threaten business opportunities for firms like Skanska USA, which have years of expertise in LEED.
After weeks of trying to get the Chamber to change its stance on LEED, Skanska USA decided to leave the business organization in protest.
“I’m not crazy about leaving the Chamber. But on this one, it’s just so wrong, I can’t see us being part of it anymore,” said Mike McNally, president and CEO of Skanska USA. He said the chamber’s support for the alternative standard, and especially the potential for amending the coming energy bill, could damage a thriving construction industry that has embraced LEED standards.
In a statement, the Chamber of Commerce said: “With thousands of members, disagreements about specific issues are inevitable.” It also said it doesn’t view its membership in the American High-Performance Buildings Coalition, which has fought the new LEED standards, “as inconsistent with our support of building efficiency, or even of LEED standards in the future.”
The American High-Performance Buildings Coalition was created a year ago to advocate for building standards “based on consensus and scientific performance data.”
Industries represented inside the coalition, ranging from the American Chemistry Council to vinyl makers and lumber interests, have sought to make sure that green-building codes don’t limit the kinds of materials that green buildings can use. The coalition has sought to provide an alternative code that doesn’t exclude materials its members make.
“It’s high stakes, there are jobs at stake,” said Craig Silvertooth, the president of the Center for Environmental Innovation in Roofing, a member of the coalition. He said that the coalition wants to see building standards based on peer-reviewed science and consensus among affected industries.
Skanska USA’s Mr. McNally disagrees.
“There’s never going to be a consensus. You’d still have asbestos in buildings, you’d still have lead paint in buildings, because God forbid you should disadvantage the lead-paint business,” he said.
Skanska USA joins a number of big companies at odds with the Chamber of Commerce’s stance on environmental issues. Nike Inc., Apple Inc. and a spate of utilities left the Chamber in late 2009 after it fought legislation that would have regulated the emission of greenhouse gases.
For Skanska AB, the U.S. market in particular is increasingly important, accounting for about $5 billion of the company’s $19 billion in annual revenue and a growing share of its order backlog. An emphasis on greener buildings is one reason the Stockholm-based company is betting on the U.S., to the exclusion of markets it abandoned over the past decade, including China, India, and Russia.
Write to Keith Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org