Plastic industry’s faulty lobbying agenda

The plastics industry will soon conduct its annual industry lobbying day in Washington, D.C. In a perfect world, the industry would be highlighting its new technologies and materials that are contributing to progress and opportunities for business innovation that grows profits while also providing sustainability and human health benefits. Unfortunately, from everything that we observe, the industry’s lobbying agenda is a brazen attempt to block progress.

Indeed, part of that agenda is the industry’s effort to limit government’s use of the U.S Green Building Council’s newest version of LEED, the most popular and effective green building rating system in the world.

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Plastics are a major part of our everyday lives. Plastics comprise 16 percent of products and services used in the construction sector. But some plastics are better for the environment and people’s health than others. So why can’t our common business agenda be to move away from toxic chemicals and towards safer chemicals and products including safer plastics.

LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the gold standard of energy-efficient, eco-friendly and non-toxic building design. The hundreds of building professionals voting for LEED have agreed to encourage – not require – transparency in materials’ ingredients and/or optimizing ingredients to minimize the use and generation of harmful substances. Builders can choose to pursue these credits by using some materials with transparent ingredients, or materials that have been reviewed by other third-party systems. At the same time, no builder is penalized for not using these credits.

So, in a perfect world, this week’s fly-in would celebrate the continued growth and potential of the green chemistry side of the industry. In fact, McKinsey reported recently that “[t]he potential market for green materials is large and growing [and] there is a widespread readiness to pay a premium for green materials.” LEED v4 is poised to help the chemistry industry by providing a forum for market recognition for its progress in these areas.

Yet a vocal subset of the plastics industry is fighting this plan and has become a major critic of LEED –even falsely claiming that these LEED credits are not science-based nor representing consensus.  The truth is that the U.S. Green Building Council has a rigorously inclusive process that seeks critical input from the nation’s top building science experts and leaders in all sectors of the building industry.

And that is exactly how LEED v4 – the latest version – was developed. More than 200 experts across 14 different committees and working groups collaborated to design six drafts of LEED v4 over a period of more than three years. The process required a public comment period. LEED met this requirement not once but six times and received more than 22,000 public comments.

Each and every comment was considered and updates as appropriate were made to the draft LEED rating system. The process engaged with all stakeholders – including those from the American Chemistry Council – considered the different perspectives, and then balanced all of the input. As a result, the market has responded positively; the final version of LEED v4 was approved with an affirmative vote of more than 85 percent of the experts. If that’s not consensus, what is? 

What is also important to note is the incredible shifts that companies large and small and across sectors and geographies are making by moving away from hazardous chemicals in their supply chain.  In polling commissioned by the American Sustainable Business Council, it found that 82% of small business owners agreed that Businesses should be required to share chemical ingredient information all along the supply chain—from chemical manufacturer to final product manufacturer. When added to the increasing consumer demand for healthier safer products, this should be the clear signal that now is the time to embrace the tools and certifications that work.

LEED v4 is one of those tools. It seeks to work with all building trade associations to advance the leadership goal of a healthier, environmentally-friendly and more efficient way to build the office buildings in which we work and the schools where our children learn. There’s a reason nearly nine billion square feet of building space globally participate in LEED rating systems. Because it works well.  The plastics industry should join other industry leaders even those in their sector that are already promoting American innovations in green chemistry.  We’re confident U.S. senators and congressmen would be excited to support greater exports while improving the health of our buildings for our workers, schoolchildren, and families.  That’s something we can all get behind, because it is good for business.

Levine is chief executive officer of the American Sustainable Business Council.