It's not for tree huggers only.

David Gottfried gave a speech earlier this year at the convention of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) that put me on the verge of upchucking. Gottfried is a developer and construction manager by background, and main founder of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the organization that has spearheaded the so-called “Green Building” movement. He's also one of the most self-righteous persons I've ever encountered. To hear him tell it, Mother Earth is on the road to hell and the only way to save it is to become an enlightened, morally superior environmentalist like him. It's hard to root against ecology, but suffering through a tree hugger's lecture brings one very close to wanting to level every last strand of rain forest out of spite.

Give him credit, though. Gottfried departs from many of his green brethren in that he is not anti-business. Plus, he is extremely smart. He has put his career and energy into a movement that has grown far beyond smarmy environmentalism. Eminently sensible people in all walks of the construction industry - including plenty within the plumbing and HVAC sectors - have embraced the USGBC message that it is in all of our interests to construct buildings that conserve water, energy and other precious resources, without significantly diminishing the creature comforts of modern life. “Sustainable design” is the buzzword used within the movement to describe buildings that incorporate ecological principles.

The day after Gottfried's speech at the MCAA Convention, he moderated a panel in which plumbing industry citizens discussed some nuts and bolts of green building projects. He was less self-centered and more informative in that role. One of the panelists was Jim Allen, water conservation manager for Sloan Valve Co. In that program, Allen noted that “LEED has had a great impact on our company; in fact, it led to the creation of my position as water conservation manager."

The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating system was devised as a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings. Members of the USGBC representing all segments of the building industry developed LEED and continue to contribute to its evolution.

The LEED program is a prime example of remarkable strides made by the USGBC in converting a mindset of environmental do-goodism into tangible programs and achievements. The group was recently announced as this year's recipient of the Henry C. Turner Prize for Innovation in Construction Technology by the National Building Museum in Washington. The 2005 Turner Prize - named after the founder of Turner Construction Co. - is being awarded to the USGBC for its promotion of sustainable design and building practices and, specifically, the development of the LEED Green Building Rating System.

LEED was initially created to establish a common measurement to define “green building.” It has since grown into a program aimed at raising awareness of and promoting integrated green building projects. The program also aims to acknowledge environmental leadership in the building industry and, thus, provide further incentives for green building.

LEED awards points to building designs for a variety of energy-efficient and environmentally friendly features, from the installation of radiant heating to reduce energy consumption, to greywater recycling, to waterless urinals, to the use of local building materials that take less energy to transport. LEED points are not given to individual products, but to building systems that save water or energy, or which contribute to a healthy indoor environment. It's a complex rating system that leaves plenty of room for quibbling, but most people in the industry say that when you look at the big picture, LEED achieves what it sets out to in certifying buildings that minimize strain on natural resources, and contribute to healthy indoor environments.

Formed merely a dozen years ago, the USGBC has forged alliances with numerous public and private organizations, as well as government agencies. Since LEED's inception, more than 2,000 new construction projects have registered with the intent to seek LEED certification, and as of this writing 266 have earned one of the four levels of LEED certification. Another 22 have qualified under the LEED-EB (existing building) standard, and 29 for LEED-CI (commercial interiors projects).

Government agencies are increasingly instituting requirements and incentives for LEED certification of public projects. The USGBC has also developed LEED certification standards for existing buildings and commercial interiors, as well as for residential buildings and neighborhood developments.

Illustrating how far the message has spread, Wal-Mart has embarked on a three-year experiment with green building. It started last July with the opening of a prototype store in the Dallas suburb of McKinney, and another is scheduled to open this month in Aurora, Colo. These buildings incorporate features such as photovoltaic electricity, capturing rainwater to water landscaping, radiant floor heat, and using heat generated by refrigeration equipment to heat the water in restroom lavs.

Costs are elusive, but most estimates I've seen say that adhering to LEED may add 3-5% to the cost of new buildings, although I've also seen estimates as high as 20%. The extra cost is not insignificant, but in most cases can be recouped in reasonable time through operational savings from reduced water and energy consumption.

There is plenty of additional information available at the USGBC Web site, Meantime, one of the best summaries I've ever read about the Green Building movement was contributed by Robert Vick, vice president, commercial/industrial for NIBCO. It came in the form of a “white paper” memo from Vick to his company's wholesale sales force. Vick shared it with members of the ASA Industrial Piping Council at an IPD Council meeting in Chicago last July, and gave SUPPLY HOUSE TIMES permission to publish it. A slightly edited version follows. I encourage everyone to give it a read.