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Response from Rick Fedrizzi to the Fourth USA Today Article Attacking Green Buildings

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Statement from Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO & Founding Chair, USGBC, Response to the Fourth USA Today Article Attacking Green Buildings

Washington, DC (Dec. 11, 2012) – USA Today has once again written an article attacking green building, deliberately ignoring information we provided and cherry picking data that misleads readers. The story is unbalanced and purposely attempts to impugn LEED despite the fact that it has helped lead quantified best practices in designing, constructing and operating all our buildings, including our nation’s schools.

Our kids deserve schools that enhance their ability to learn by providing more daylight, better acoustics and cleaner, fresher air. But too many of our schools are dark, dingy places filled with airborne toxins and worse. Our schools need improvement and green schools are the answer. Green schools emphasize high indoor air quality, remove toxic materials and products and reduce CO2 emissions. Green schools offer welcoming learning environments that lessen distractions and encourage student participation. On average, green schools use 33% less energy and 32% less water than conventionally constructed schools, significantly reducing utility costs. These are facts.

A LEED certification of new construction means that every aspect of the building design and the construction process was better than standard practice, better than minimum code requirements, and third party verified to be real. Building owners, be they private sector leaders like Starbucks, Target, Wells Fargo and PNC Bank or state, federal and local governments, find value in LEED certification because it validates that they got what they paid for through the design and construction process.

We have repeatedly explained to USA Today that USGBC is a 501c3 non-profit and we have a specific rating system for the on-going performance of buildings — LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance — that is not mentioned here or in any of the other articles. This is where and how true performance happens.

Although LEED is not the only way to improve or green a school, LEED is helping put money back into classrooms around the country and can make a tremendous impact on student health, school operational costs and the environment. Today, nearly 3,000 K-12 school projects participating in LEED are saving energy, water and precious resources, reducing waste and carbon emissions, creating jobs, saving money, driving innovation and providing healthier, more comfortable spaces for children to learn, play and grow.

U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)
The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is committed to a prosperous and sustainable future through cost-efficient and energy-saving green buildings. USGBC works toward its mission of market transformation through its LEED green building program, robust educational offerings, a nationwide network of chapters and affiliates, the annual Greenbuild International Conference & Expo, and advocacy in support of public policy that encourages and enables green buildings and communities. For more information, visit and connect on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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32 commentsLeave a comment

President and Co-Founder, Bernheim + Dean, Inc.

In reading the USA Today article dated December 11th 2012 I am struck by the lack of emphasis on human health in the school environment. Firstly let me emphasize that the USGBC, through its programs and LEED Green Building Rating System, fully support healthy and comfortable learning environments in schools. It is important to note that children's bodies are developing during their years in school and therefore they should study in chemically clean environments. Chemical and volatile organic compound exposure during their early years has a strong potential to lead to chronic health impacts such as allergies, asthma, and more seriously cancer.

It is to the USGBC's leadership and credit that LEED for New Construction recognizes with credit points the use of low and no-Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) content and emitting building products, and LEED for Existing Buildings, Operations and Maintenance recognizes with credit points the use of low and no-Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) content and emitting building cleaning agents. The building product manufacturers have responded by providing new and improved products that meet these requirements at no additional cost to the school districts. This drives improved indoor environments.

As a School Board member, Past National PTA President, Parent, Grand-Parent and Construction Professional I must share my support for the USGBC's Green Schools campaign.

The numbers speak for themselves, school buildings that are more environmentally secure, safe, healthy and technologically equal provide the tax payers long term savings while insuring that our children have a quality learning environment.

I have visited schools across this country where local officials have found themselves having to teach children in building where the walls were falling apart, the heat systems will not work, the windows are not secure and we expect performance to be top drawer? We need school building improvement to take hold today, not tomorrow, and the USGBC offers quality best practices for the end result we all want, a quality learning environment.

I encourage parents to research the information and get involved in the conversation.

Chuck Saylors
Taylors, SC

Bibb County School District in Macon, GA built two replacement high schools that opened in 2009. Southwest HS is LEED Certified and Central HS is expected to also soon receive LEED Certified status. Both have about 200,000 sf, were designed for 1000 students with core spaces for 1200 and were master planned for future expansion. Both were constructed according to the LEED for Schools Application Guide.

According to the energy model for Southwest HS, the baseline building would have annual energy costs of $331,176. The actual costs are $236,565. This is a 28.6% reduction in costs over the same school that is designed simply to meet codes.

According to the energy model for Central HS the baseline building would have annual energy costs of $344,771. The actual costs are $180,516. This is a 47.6% reduction in costs over the same school that is designed simply to meet codes.

Custodial costs have also been reduced due to the polished concrete floors that do not require periodic stripping & waxing.

But, as has been pointed out in other comments above, a high performance school is not limited to reducing the energy usage or operational costs. Let's look more closely at Southwest HS for other indicators.

98% of the construction waste was diverted from the landfill. The former buildings were deconstructed and all concrete, CMU, brick & pavement remained on site to be ground & reused in substrate for roads and underlayment for pipes. Doors, windows, ACT, white boards & other materials & equipment were donated to charity and shipped to Haiti to replace a school demolished by a hurricane. These efforts created an upfront savings to the district of close to $1M.

Keep in mind this was a replacement school with the same students and faculty. Below is a comparision of the '08-'09 school year in the previous building and '09-'10 year in the new building. These numbers came straight from the GA Dept of Ed school report card.

Teacher sick events (full or part day) - reduced by 27%

Teacher sick hours - reduced by 21%

% of graduates entering college/technical - increased 10.7%

% of students passing end-of-course tests
Algebra - 12% increase
U.S. History 4% increase
Physical Science 2% increase

If we single out just the girls we see a remarkable difference.
Algebra - 25% increase
U.S. History - 6% increase

These are the stats.

President, American Federation of Teachers

The AFT welcomes the opportunity to support the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, especially the LEED for Schools rating system. Since the program’s inception in 1993, we have admired USGBC for its vision to develop a coherent system for construction and major renovation in an increasingly challenging environment.

Over the years, the AFT has assisted our members, their students and parents as they address school conditions that range from being uncomfortable to threatening their health and well-being. We also have been concerned about wasted energy costs, and we have pushed for effective and efficient operations and regular maintenance in order to save money and redirect it to classrooms.

Our efforts to improve environmental conditions in schools are not focused exclusively on existing school infrastructure; they extend to the uneven and often poor quality of conventional school construction. We’ve witnessed too many new schools that have been poorly designed and constructed, and lacked any third-party oversight or commissioning.

From our vantage point, the USGBC approach of third-party certification offers a powerful and coordinated approach that will help end the poor design and construction practices that continue to plague schools today. The system is a road map for significantly improved conditions, including natural daylighting, environmental quality and good acoustics. Teachers in these buildings tell us their students are happier and more productive.

USGBC is not an insular organization. It continues to refine the LEED system, and it actively seeks input from stakeholders who are not necessarily builders and designers. The system is dynamic and responsive to changes in building technology as well as to addressing issues raised by the education community.

School districts do not always adopt genuine operations and maintenance plans to keep new green schools truly “green.” This disappoints those of us who would like to see these buildings be energy efficient and environmentally sound. We cannot hold the LEED system responsible for school districts and owners that don’t adhere to good maintenance practices once they have possession of the building.

The AFT is heartened that the USGBC is trying to encourage better stewardship of these buildings by school districts. This will take some effort, but we know that the USGBC actively will promote a major shift in the way many school districts have maintained their buildings.

We understand that there is some skepticism about the USGBC’s LEED system. Some believe the system overpromises the benefits of using it—in other words, that LEED certification is not a good investment. We would disagree. The USGBC and other third-party certification systems such as the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) have made a quantum leap in establishing standards for school building design and construction, much like what has been done to establish academic standards for students.

Randi Weingarten
American Federation of Teachers

Editor in Chief, Green Technology

Today, we know that we can build schools that don’t waste electricity and water. We can build schools that eliminate materials with the potential to make teachers and students sick. We can build schools whose lighting and acoustics improve student performance. We can limit the number of resources that are wasted in the construction process.

What reason could there be to build any other kind of school? We are long past the point of sustaining the illusion that there is an unlimited amount of natural capital “out there,” that our bodies can sustain unlimited exposure to foreign chemicals with no consequences, or that we don’t need every strategy we can find to improve educational outcomes.

Uncertainty about the importance of green schools has its roots in the same kinds of confusions and misrepresentations that complicate public discussions about all aspects of sustainability.
We are living creatures, and every aspect of our lives involves relationships and exchanges with ecosystems and other life forms. No one would breathe polluted air or drink contaminated water by choice. No one would prefer a world without healthy oceans and rivers, flourishing plant and animal life, or an abundance of the natural resources that we require for our survival.

Debate and controversy begin only when we realize that we have set a dangerous course that requires us to change the way we do things, and that these changes may cost money.

In the short term, a “green” school might cost more – but numerous studies have demonstrated that this is not inevitable. The fact is, what was “green” a few years ago is common practice today. This cycle is certain to repeat and intensify, reducing costs and increasing benefits.

Schools are not just buildings. They represent our hope for the future, our determination to do right by our most cherished “resource.” From this perspective, the biggest reason to build green schools is their potential to help students gain insights and skills that can help them navigate the very real challenges of expanding population and reduced resources. Neglecting to do this, whatever the justification, might be the most unsustainable decision of all.

Carl Smith
Editor in Chief
Green Technology

Research Associate, Colorado State University - Fort Collins

The research methods in the USA Today article appear not only incomplete, but biased and misleading. Let us first consider simple logic - If instances of asthma in schools are reduced due to better indoor air quality, it follows that absenteeism would also be reduced. If absenteeism is reduced it follows that academic achievement would increase. This is very straight forward reasoning and is the basis for assertions that a green school may have a positive effect on student achievement. However, we know that verifying this cause and effect relationship in a school environment is very difficult. Countless variables influence student achievement and to isolate the influence of one requires controlled experiments or hefty sample sizes. The research community is working on this. But in the meantime, can we all agree that improving the student learning environment through better air quality, daylighting, acoustics, and non-toxic materials is not only a good thing, but a moral imperative?

Measuring the efficiency of school facilities is not as straight forward as it might seem. Simply looking at total consumption is an incomplete analysis. What is the total square footage? How many computers are in the building? Does the school have cooking facilities and walk-in freezers? These questions must be considered in order to make an equitable comparison of energy efficiency. This is why these are considered in an ENERGY STAR evaluation. Finally, building management, maintenance, and the energy consumption behavior of occupants often play an even greater role in building efficiency than design. In the future, let us agree to use more complete evaluations of energy efficiency before drawing conclusions or generalizing the poor performance of one green school to the whole of the green school building stock.

Poudre School District

Based on the multitude of highly reliable and proven resources available to us, PSD has been able to build high performing schools for the past decade or more. These schools are more comfortable at all times of the year, have less ambient noise in teaching areas, have high quality natural lighting, outstanding views from over 90% of the spaces in the school, and are very energy efficient. There are many other outstanding examples of high performing schools in CO as well. As an energy manager, my highest priority is to reduce the amount of money spent on utility costs and devote as many of our limited resources toward educating our students. These school make my job much easier. PSD has proven many times now that you don’t have to spend more for high performing schools and they do perform through a process of collaboration, integrated design, energy modeling, commissioning, staff and student engagement and awareness, dedicated and skilled operations and maintenance staff, and annual accountability through ENERGY STAR certification.

Based on the link below to our BOE Energy Conservation Update, please see for yourself how our schools compare (old and new):

Principal, SfL+a Architects, PA

I worked with a school Superintendent many years ago – great client, well-respected, on the Governor’s council, leading school district in the state, etc…..when standardized testing was first being implemented. His statement was simple: “Standardized testing is the last desperate gasp of an obsolete system.”

The critical point here is that we are still, 15 years later, using the same testing standards that are based on outmoded rote regurgitation to assess performance – while pedagogy has moved miles away, embracing project-based learning, modality assessment, cognitive benchmarking and the more sophisticated migration to “social media” as a fundamental learning process through technology-rich environments. We design schools today with distance and on-line learning centers, project rooms, and integrated technology infrastructure to support educational strategies and enhance learning. Our student’s today are “tapping in” to their learning environment on both personal and global levels. They respond to the learning connections – our opportunity is to build these learning connections through relevant, real-life experiences delivered in an appropriate learning environment.

The issue is that it is the tests that are the differential – they’re simply unreliable as a testament to actual student performance in today’s educational environment. High performance buildings provide quality learning environments that enhance the performance and productivity of students. Indoor air quality keeps students in school, not home sick. Daylighting studies support increased performance by as much as twenty percent. It’s absolute irrelevant to argue progress or decline without a reliable basis of true assessment. I would submit however, that without the advantages of high performance buildings, the test scores of today’s students will be even lower as pedagogy continues to move in a different direction. If we simply give up on high performance facilities providing the quality learning environments, where will we be then?

We have just completed construction on the Rocky Mount High School in Rocky Mount, NC and will be submitting documentation shortly for LEED Gold Certification. The new Rocky Mount High School is a two-story, 248,000 sf facility serving 1,600 students that reflects the district’s vision of a contemporary high-performance educational facility. From the outset, the district was very interested in creating an energy-efficient and sustainable facility for their new high school project. Illustrating the district’s commitment, while in the design phases for the high school project, the district was awarded the prestigious 2009 ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year Award. The district came to SfL+a Architects with a list of concepts for the new high school that focused on what they understood in energy-efficient design principals. Many items were consistent with USGBC principles from the outset and using LEED for Schools 2009, the project framework grew into a comprehensive vision, where the concept for creating a high-performing facility that will provide long-term energy savings for the district was given context and organization. The LEED for Schools 2009 checklist structure allowed the project team to explore and develop a comprehensive approach to the project that both addressed and enhanced the district’s vision and goals for the project. The ultimate result will be a highly sustainable, high performance building that will set the standard in Rocky Mount and other North Carolina school districts for years to come. The project is in the final stages of commissioning and is due for submission for LEED Gold certification. Upon certification, the Rocky Mount High School will be the first LEED Gold high school in the state of North Carolina.

USGBC - Texas Gulf Coast Chapter

We now know what they are thinking and that is always a fantastic strategy.

Our approach with our LEED school districts and our collaborators is to focus on our long-term strategies that will build the strength of Texas green schools. If nothing else, this story allowed groups who had never spoken before about green schools to create new alliances to support each other. We certainly gained some today here in Texas and Houston!

The article is focused on a simple measure that fails to account for how the building is actually used over time. It also only reviews one single year, a snapshot in the building’s history. The article has built its premise off of a broad brush that claims one ratio is the ultimate determinant for how a building operates or improves the learning environment. A more fair way to consider the argument would be review the energy use over a time period and consider how different variables might affect performance, which the article does not seek to do. Some examples are stated below.

For example, is the building used on the weekends? Is it rented to the community at night? Are there technologies that were added after the LEED certification? Did some outside environmental issues occur, such as a flooding, drought or a heat wave? None of these variables or the others like them was explored. This story also seems to claim that LEED is supposed to be immune to variables like these.

Finally, energy use per student is poor measure of a building’s energy efficiency. Using this standard, a school could artificially raise its energy efficiency score simply by crowding more children onto the campus, thereby lowering the energy use per students.

The issue of whether or not a district or community wants to have incentives for energy-efficiencies in their school building operations and construction requirements is an individual one that cannot or should not be judged simplistically either. Many factors go into whether or not an incentive for sustainability is given and how. These factors can include overall quality of life indicators or other indicators that affect the learning environment. This is why the LEED checklist is created to address some conservation measures and some environmental ones. Therefore, LEED is more than an energy-efficiency measurement but it is also more than an environmentally-friendly building standard. It is a holistic, consensus-based system that attempts to find a mainstream application to push the expectations the industry and community has of its built environments. This is the great strength of LEED. The community created a building system for the community that the community can bear.

In Houston, we believe there is a place for any and all benchmarks and systems that increase sustainability in the learning environment. We have LEED schools, CHPS schools and even hybrids of both within our chapter boundaries. We even have schools that are both CHPS and LEED certified. We wholeheartedly believe that the two do not have to compete but can work together to benefit overall learning.

We are working on a long-term relationship with HISD and are organizing a statewide schools effort with the other three USGBC chapters in Texas. Several tangible benefits will come out of this endeavor. One will be a statewide collection of best practices in Texas green schools. Building on the idea that all sustainability systems have a place in Texas, this collection will not only include a review of LEED schools but also other schools that have achieved other building ratings. It is our hope that whether or not a school district board chooses LEED it chooses sustainability in the manner that works for their community and their students.

Executive Director, Institute for the Built Environment, Colorado State University - Fort Collins

While a Prius can get poor gas mileage if not operated correctly, the many gas guzzlers on our roads will never operate as efficiently as a well operated Prius. i.e.….a well-built and operated green school will ALWAYS outperform the thousands of traditional schools built throughout the U.S. before the introduction of LEED, CHPS, and green schools.

An objective journalist would seek to show the true range of green schools, including the many schools that are performing better than traditional schools, and the many schools that are performing even better than originally modeled. For instance, Kinard Middle School, built in 2006 in Fort Collins, CO to meet the Poudre School District’s Sustainable Design Guidelines, was Colorado’s most efficient school in 2007 when it operated at 28 KBTUs/sq/yr. It continues to perform even better than the first year of operation, due to tweaking by the building operators and a culture of sustainability throughout the student body.

Fossil Ridge High School was the 3rd public high school in the country to be LEED certified. It was built for $128/sq ft, among the least expensive schools built in 2004. The school has consistently operated over 50% more efficient than the ASHRAE energy standard in place at the time of construction. Fossil Ridge is not an isolated case – it happened in a district that built 8 schools between 2000-2008, each of them green, built within tight budgets, and continuing to operate well above regional energy averages. When a district works in an integrated way with project teams to set high goals and follow sustainable design guidelines such as LEED and aggressively monitors performance, the result is economical, energy efficient, healthy, daylit places to learn and teach.

Brian Dunbar LEED Fellow

Executive Director, Institute for the Built Environment
Colorado State University

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