“LEED is moving in the right direction, but there are not enough green buildings. We’ve brought the building market out of the 1970s, but need to move to the next level,” said Scott Horst, U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), at The Atlantic‘s Energy + Infrastructure forum in Washington, D.C. To move to that next level, which would involve dramatically increasing the global share of green buildings, LEED and the USGBC will have to fend off new threats, including the competing Green Globes green building rating system.

Horst said Green Globes, which was recently adopted by Oregon, sprung out of “LEED interest groups, the materials industry, which didn’t want to deal with the latest version of LEED, with its new, more stringent materials credits.” Horst said, “the chemical companies created this system.” USGBC, in a recent shift with version 4 of its rating system, wants building material manufacturers to declare all the chemical ingredients in their building products. Horst said “you should be able to look at the ingredients in a material and then chose which to use in your building, just like you can chose what food to put in your body.” Right now, “people can’t chose.”

The chemical companies, Horst contends, have financed a major campaign against LEED in the U.S. government, advocating against the rating system on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures. Horst said “chemical companies are putting huge amounts of lobbying dollars into fighting our system. They want to see it get beaten down.” Georgia, Mississippi, and other states have actually initiated efforts to ban LEED buildings.

Despite the controversy, Horst believes many government agencies and developers are sticking with LEED. Indeed, LEED just certified its 20,000th project, with another 60,000 in the pipeline. LEED continues to grow because it has the most “name recognition.” Horst said “tenants are demanding green buildings and they want to see a certification people recognize.”

On the technical side, Horst believes the global green building movement must further collaborate and create inter-changeable green building standards. While there’s definitely room for more than one system, there should be common standards so material manufacturers can more easily create parts that fit into different buildings around the world. “The more we aggregate, the easier it will be to create mix and match technologies.”

LEED, he said, also needs to better take into account Energy Star and other rating systems, allowing for “different scores for different areas.”

Increasingly, LEED is focused on long-term building performance. Amazingly, the energy that goes into the materials that make up a building equal about 100 years of that buildings’ energy use. Still, long-term energy use can be cut by focusing on continually rating a building while it’s actually operating, not just when it’s built. “We want to get to dynamic living green buildings.”

All of this will be needed if USGBC is to get any closer to its bold long-term vision: to create green buildings that function like trees, living systems responsive to their environments.

Image credit: ASLA 2013 Professional General Design Honor Award. Brooklyn Botanic Garden Visitors Center. HMWhite / Aaron Bocher