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A bit of advice for GBI’s new CEO: How to improve Green Globes’ sorry reputation and lack of market uptake

Published on Written by Posted in LEED

We hear that Jerry Yudelson has a brand new job as the latest head of the Green Building Initiative (GBI). Headquartered in Portland, Oregon, it has 35 organizational members (of which more then half are either timber, chemical or plastics affiliates) and a staff of 11 employees/contractors – it’s not exactly clear. What is clear, though, is that they haven’t hired a new president as much as they’ve hired a new sales-person-in-chief, who’s now in charge of putting lipstick on their floundering, imported rating system. 

Mr. Yudelson has tried hard in his initial public remarks to avoid being seen as the latest “yes man” for the GBI of yesterday and today (let’s call it the “Old Green Globes.”) Instead he focuses on a very ambitious vision of the future, committing to essentially “reinvent” GBI in USGBC’s image, e.g., with a board that in “12 months” will make one think “Gee, that looks a lot like USGBC” or a president that provides a “public face” for the program “kind of in the same way Rick Fedrizzi does for USGBC” (read LEEDuser's recent blog).

I’m compelled to point out the obvious fact that Rick is so much more than a public face; he’s the acknowledged global leader of the green building movement, providing outsized leadership for both the infrastructure and inspiration required of something as global, game-changing and potentially life-altering as this movement has become.

This decision not to defend (or effectively co-brand with) the Old Green Globes has somewhat mitigated the community concern that Mr. Yudelson has talked himself into a deadly form of professional self-immolation. And yet, Mr. Yudelson talks with mind-boggling, borderline quixotic confidence about his new employer enjoying a “new beginning” and of the organization’s having “hit the reset button.” 

It is fair, therefore, to ask whether he is deeply naïve to think he can single handedly make Green Globes the genuine change agent it clearly was never intended to be. 

We are nothing if not a constructive, pragmatic and fair-minded crowd in the green building community. To ensure Mr. Yudelson is moving forward with his eyes wide open, I’d like to offer a little advice from a relatively seasoned rating system operation. What follows are some specific suggestions for Mr. Yudelson to consider that are genuinely aimed at helping him with his goal of leaving the Old Green Globes behind and reinventing GBI as an organization that could be something more than the institution charged with the perpetuation of the status quo for the plastics and timber industries. 

1.   Old perceptions die slowly. Avoid being mistaken for a Timber Lobbyist.

Challenge: The truth is that the person you are replacing in this job is an amiable timber industry lobbyist and you, up until this point in your career, are not. Inevitably, however, there will be those that will assume you have similar professional qualifications and viewpoints as your predecessor and will treat you accordingly. 

Specific Guidance: Take steps early to distance yourself from anyone “bought and sold” by any specific industry (especially timber, vinyl and plastics) and openly revel in any accompanying outrage from some members of your board when you do this.

2.   Ensure a focus on healthy buildings for people and not just efficiency for the sake of the bottom line.

Challenge:  In pitching a rating system, it’s easy, even seductive, to focus exclusively on energy and water efficiency metrics. Because of its provenance, the Old Green Globes could not align itself with the increasingly mainstream trend toward building occupant health and well-being.

Specific Guidance:  Ensure GBI engages constructively with those genuinely committed to improving supply chain transparency and the informed use of building materials that don’t compromise the health of the people in the building. At a minimum ensure GBI joins and advocates for manufacturer participation with the Health Products Declarations Collaborative. 

3.   Scrap the fantasy that Green Globes is just LEED by another name. 

Challenge: Rob Watson, another longtime player in the green building movement and chair of the initial LEED Steering Committee, recently stated online that “if Jerry can move GBI away from their misguided insistence on LEED equivalency and reposition the standard as a gateway to LEED, he'll be a hero. If he continues GBI's failed strategy as positioning the standard as an alternative to LEED he'll end up a shill and a sell-out.” 

Specific Guidance: Junk what Rob (and pretty much everyone else) recognizes as a “failed strategy” and focus on making Green Globes a non-controversial niche program for very cost conscious owners of small buildings. Crucially, to accomplish this strategy it will be necessary to actually make the 1,000 point Green Globes tool cheaper than its competitors.  

4.   Try (at least) to heed your own words about “not saying anything negative about LEED” or “getting engaged in anti-LEED activity as an organization.” 

Challenge: Even as I write this, members of GBI are funding and implementing old school lobbying strategies aimed at – among other things --  ending Ohio’s successful green schools program and terminating (or limiting) use of LEED by state and federal agencies. It was clever of you to include the caveat “as an organization” to your statements about not being anti-LEED. Framing your response this way allows your members to independently continue their direct assault on LEED without your formal blessing. Clever, but also disingenuous. Moving forward I encourage you to stay true to the spirit of your words and ask your membership not to fund or participate in any slimy political LEED-bashing.

Specific Guidance:  State and implement a policy preference for “choice” in rating systems rather than the direct or indirect banning of any particular system.  When you make claims that under your leadership GBI will be very positive in tone, it’s important that in your very next sentence you refrain from using incendiary words like “mullahs” and “fatwas” in referring to LEED programs. 

One could also argue quite convincingly that focusing on the lack of technical rigor and transparency around the development process, standards setting and certification process of the Old Green Globes would be a much better use of your time.

5.   Consider an alternative to your recent “Give Green Globes a Shot” message.

Challenge:  As a marketing person, you should know that it is generally not savvy to introduce a message that concedes that your product is risky or an outside bet.  You may know that to be the case, and you’re just trying to be sensitive to the reality that it has not enjoyed any significant market penetration and is controversial within the environmental community as a form of greenwash, but don’t let that infect your messaging.

Specific Guidance:  Stick with something like the “New Green Globes.” That approach only fails when the old product is beloved. 

As a modest incentive to pursue these suggestions let me propose the following:  If three or more of these ideas are pursued in the next six months I will personally take you to dinner the next time you are in Washington.  If not accomplished – or worse you determine they will never be possible to accomplish – you might seriously reconsider your decision to attach your brand to Green Globes.   Otherwise you should go ahead and return your LEED Fellow pin.  It may turn out it will take 100 LEED Fellows to reinvent Green Globes, and nobody else is interested.

 

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    Roger Platt made 8 contributions in the last 6 months

Roger Platt

Senior Vice President, Global Policy & Law U.S. Green Building Council

12 commentsLeave a comment

NYS Office of General Services
I agree with the comments that the tone is not helpful to the dialogue. The author has taken this to a mean-spirited personal level: ("and return your LEED fellow pin"). Some of you may have noted that GBI is now offerring free training to become a Green Globes Professional (with 5 AIA learning units!). Will USGBC press the panic button even more now?
Professor & Research Center Director, University of Florida
The USGBC and the GBI are on the same side and the sniping and snarkiness are hardly useful. The GBI has a different model, one that in many respects is superior to the USGBC's. For example, the GBI has Assessors who both rate the project's performance and answer questions for the project team. Turnaround on most questions is 24 hours and at no cost. The certification process is also very timely, generally within a month of the Assessor's visit at substantial completion. Contrast this with the GBI and its lack of customer service, nickel and dime-ing to death, and slow response times. AND, to use Leedonline you can use only Internet Explorer, AND you have to use an older version! Is it any surprise that there is widespread dissatisfaction with LEED and the USGBC? There is a lot to learn from the GBI and there are plenty of win-win possibilities. So let's get over it, compete in a friendly and constructive manner, and learn from each other.
Director of Sustainable Education, GreenCE, Inc.
As someone who talks with a lot of USGBC members, I can say that a large majority of those I've talked with about this article feel that it detracts from the core positive message "LEED is the best program for most projects", in favor of walking right into this trap of appearing to throw around its weight. This condescending tone effectively paints GBI as the "little guy", which anyone watching the industry evolve over the last decade would find ironic. I once found myself in similar shoes to Jerry's, having led the outreach and technical development for a non-LEED green building rating system, so I can easily appreciate the position he is in as the champion for a program that will unavoidably be compared to LEED. With that in mind, I offer Jerry my best wishes and one piece of advice: Sell your program based on its own inherent merit, not as the path of lesser resistance when compared to LEED. This will foster a customer base that sees building certification as one step in a journey, instead of as the end result.
Principal / Owner, Uncommon
I say I'm glad that someone has spoken without candy coating it. As USGBC, we are constantly under attack for what LEED is or isn't. Some complain the rating system isn't stringent enough, the other side complains that it is too rigorous (although the word they use is too difficult). It seems as though we can't win. Now finally someone has the guts to put it out there the way it really is. Thank you for doing so! Competition is healthy, greenwash is not! Best of luck to Green Globes in their reinvention process. I hope the rating system is finally able to pull itself up to higher level so that it truly can present itself as competition for LEED. I think we as USGBC will welcome an apples to apples comparison.
Architect, Albert Kahn Associates, Inc.
@Chris, before you quit I urge you to help change that which you do not like. because USGCB is ran by humans we all have human tendencies at time. I agree this response does not follow that which I was taught by Pat Lane from USGBC Students that I have imparted upon the students. "ALWAYS STAY POSITIVE!!" I understand this is hard to do when someone you this is a "bully" keeps coming around to steal your "lunch money". I know many of people who see LEED as a bully and I try to talk to them all the time to show them a different perspective. In my opinion, this article should have stayed positive or not posted at all (mother's advice of If you can't say anything nice, don't say it at all). We should be trying to work together with Green Globes like many members have done with Passive House and Living Building Challenge. @Jodi, I always love your thoughtful responses, they are always spot on and I wish I was as sustainable and write like you
Past (2012) NY Upstate Chapter Chair, CSC and the Director, Sustainability Programs, DASNY
@Anthony, I am honored by your statement. Thank you. I am a true beleiver in this sort of open (really open) discussion, though some opinions hit all my panic buttons. Be well.
Principal Architect, Modus Architecture Collaborative
Or maybe this is finally the start of an open and candid conversation about Green Globes.
Principal Architect, Modus Architecture Collaborative
Or maybe this is finally the start of an open and candid conversation about Green Globes.
Rate It Green
I posted a longer reply on Rate It Green, but I will be brief here. 1. Chris' comment represents my #1 concern and the reason I created Rate It Green as an information resource - to get people sharing information and growing this important industry together. (And to KEEP PEOPLE from leaving the industry when they can't find information and become frustrated.) 2. Jodi is right that we can all improve. So we should be wary of throwing stones. 3. Jodi is also right that there's room for healthy competition. I understand some defensiveness given that it seems LEED is constantly attacked. But I just think it pays to stay positive and make calmer clearer points. Negativity can backfire. I support all sincere efforts to promote green building (and we need to take great care before calling anyone insincere). And, I agree we can all do better. And treat each other better, and hear each other more.
Past (2012) NY Upstate Chapter Chair, CSC and the Director, Sustainability Programs, DASNY
Yes, too snarky. However, some excellent points of advice (once you mitigate the tone) that can also inform ongoing LEED improvements. FYI, nothing in Roger's article or below says LEED is done with improving.... 1) Old perceptions die slowly - heed this, LEED and the USGBC. We must also re-make ourselves continually. One perception is that LEED is "hard to navigate". Our current reality is not yet free of this, but vastly improved. One taint is the possible high cost - also improving and proving not so. However, we cannot stop with "better than before". 2) For people - VERY COOL! and LEED is getting there with HPD and other systems analysis, BUT there is a lot of concern that LEED took too timid a step this time. I say we need to clearly and aggressively follow this advice about healthy buildings for people... 3) Scrap the fantasy...well, yes. I also think LEED needs to scrap our fantasy that we are ALL we say we are. LEED is (and the USGBC is) a work in progress with some very successful credits to shout about, many others to build on, and some to flounder with as we understand the market and use ramifications....V4 has a new level of performance and a new type of market demand to it...how will that pan out? Have we prepared ourselves for all the possibilities? 4) Not say anything negative...well, it's frustrating how much energy is spent on defending LEED when that energy, employed in improving, educating and promoting LEED qualities, maight be better spent. BUT (here I go) there is also a time to fight. I always think of the movie "The American President" with Michael Douglas, when he FINALLY says "enough" to Richard Dreyfuss and defends his role as the President thoroughly, and defends his right to his life as well. Very cool. Others will rail and pick at LEED. We''ve ignored them for a long, long time. Do we say "enough" and can we say it from a stable position of power, authority and TRUTH? 5) "Give Green Globes a shot"....well, I know there is too much work out there to be covered by one rating system, even one with many project types, even one with such a knowledgeable staff, development volunteers, and capable credentialing bodies. I'm not sure GG is a valuable tool. But if it gets people thinking, and perhaps working for smarter projects overall, then the world needs it. Just as we need different forms of transportation, different typesof seeds, and a variety of foods, entertainments and living styles. One size does not fit all. We should continue to engage in the better, broader fght and make sure LEED is impeccable, fully respected and supports the people who build and the people who inhabit the built and natural world. More tools; bring 'em on. The market needs more awareness, more involvement, more R+D, more attempts to do better, more accolades for good work and more humble acceptance of process. Game on.
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