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Why would Maryland move backward on green building?

These days, the question isn’t whether we should build green, but rather: Why wouldn’t we build green?

Green buildings are not only more efficient, saving taxpayer dollars in energy and water costs, they also provide healthier environments for occupants. And let’s face it — when we spend 90% of our days indoors, don’t we want spaces that are healthy, comfortable and high performing?

The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED green building program has been the rating system of choice in Maryland for the last two decades. In fact, Maryland is home to nearly 17 million square feet of LEED certified building space, comprising projects like Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Leola Dorsey Community Resource Center and the Residences at Annapolis Junction, to name a few.

Maryland currently requires new government construction or major renovations of buildings — a majority of these projects being schools — to earn green building certification. However, this significant state leadership is now faced with a threat of being drastically walked back.

At a Maryland Green Building Council meeting tomorrow, a proposed new guideline will be unveiled that says new public school buildings — accommodating young people in pre-K up through college, including dormitories — will no longer be required to be third-party certified as green buildings as required by a 2018 statute.

This is a disservice to Maryland residents, whose lives are improved from all of the benefits that green building and third-party certification have to offer.

In fact, 24 school districts serving nearly 860,000 students could be affected. LEED-certified schools promote health and wellness, contribute to better cognition and performance and reduce student absenteeism. They also run more efficiently and have lower energy and water bills, which saves money for local school districts. Additionally, LEED certification helps ensure that school building projects align with the state’s climate plan and goals.

Simply put, trust must be earned. This is where third-party certification comes in. At USGBC, we stand for accountability, and we translate that accountability through the LEED third-party certification process. LEED has set the industry standard for the last 20 years, certifying more than 2.4 million square feet of space every day in more than 170 countries, making LEED the most widely used and respected green building rating system in the world. LEED helps school districts, administrators, teachers and parents achieve the school facilities they want; and third-party certification ensures the design and construction firms deliver a sustainable school that supports student health and learning.

In addition, government at all levels has the responsibility to use taxpayer dollars both wisely and transparently. Through its investments, governments expand jobs and grow markets. By using LEED, thousands of public buildings have saved money, demonstrated strong environmental stewardship, supported local investment and helped create jobs: In Maryland alone, there are more than 6,000 LEED professionals. LEED buildings become iconic civic structures, reflecting smart, responsible and fiscally sound governance.

A Harvard Business School study found that public investment in LEED-certified government buildings stimulates private investment, and supply and market uptake of greener building practice. The research finds that green public building commitments produce a near doubling effect in private investment across the building sector and up and down the supply chain of products, professionals and services — not to mention the energy and water savings. Neighboring communities experience a 60% increase in the same, all of which is encouraged by government leadership by example.

With significant issues such as climate change, resource consumption, ecosystem stress and human health all being impacted by the built environment, this is no time to compromise standards — especially for a state that has, for so long, taken a leadership position for green building and environmental health. We urge the Maryland Green Building Council to continue state green building achievements by strongly recommending the proven standards of LEED certification for all school buildings, and we urge concerned parents, students and others to contact the council so their voices are heard.

Taryn Holowka (tholowka@usgbc.org) is a senior vice president at the U.S. Green Building Council.

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