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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 usgbc.org and connect on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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There is no question that we need to move toward green schools. Being environmentally sensitive makes utter sense at a time when the earth’s resources need preservation. Our nation’s students also need green schools now more than ever. When students walk into schools that are falling apart, run down, known for making kids and staff sick because of poor indoor air quality, it sends the message “I don’t matter.”

Green schools offer many attributes that send the message “I matter.” Not only are they walking into a school that is aesthetically stimulating, they are walking into a building that was designed to provide optimal indoor air quality and multiple opportunities for hands-on learning. Being able to harvest vegetables in school gardens or track utility cost savings are just a few ways that green schools provide students with the skills and knowledge that they need to prosper in the 21st Century.

We know that green schools in isolation do not solve all problems and maintaining a green school after construction is imperative. While there are a number of factors that affect student achievement, children who have the opportunity to learn in a green school more likely have a greater learning potential than students walking into crumbling buildings. They are more likely to look back in 20 years and say, “I mattered.”

Jerry Newberry, Executive Director, NEA Health Information Network

Vice President of Sustainability, Nichols

It is really too bad that the writers of this article haven’t visited some of the schools to see the excitement and the positive difference those buildings have made in the students and teachers that occupy them. It is easy to talk about the operational performance of a building, it isn’t as easy to give credit for many of those attributes that directly affect the health of the kids and staff that occupy the building and the positive learning environment that they have created. So with that in mind I would like to share a couple of operational statistics from LEED schools in West Michigan.

I direct your attention to this video which is on the USGBC Building Performance Partnership web page. Right around 1.3 minutes into the video you will hear from the Energy Manager at Forest Hills Public Schools who will tell you that of his 27 buildings that are all Energy Star qualified, his four LEED buildings out perform all of his others. http://vimeo.com/21084358

In 2010 we did a study on the energy consumption in many of our LEED buildings in West Michigan which included four K-12 school buildings. The EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager was used for this analysis. Of the four K‐12 school buildings in the study, the low score was 77 and the high was 95, with an average score of 89. The low score was for a major renovation of an older building.

We continue to capture this type of information from our LEED buildings and will be launching a second phase of our research soon.

Renae Hesselink, LEED AP BD+C
Chair of the Green School Committee
USGBC West Michigan Chapter

Executive Director, Solar One

Mr. Frank’s wildly unbalanced article makes the preposterous claim that there is no relationship between the “environmentally friendly” design of a school building and improved energy efficiency. This is like arguing there is no link between the design of a car and fuel efficiency. In 1975 the average car in the US got 13.5 mpg. Today it is 29.7 mpg. Redesign made all the difference in the world.

A school building, which involves hundreds or thousands of stakeholders, is in many ways more complex than a car and its driver. Education is the key to unleashing the energy efficiency potential of a school’s design. All the stakeholders must come together, armed with knowledge and awareness, and collectively change their behaviors in order to maximize efficiency outcomes.

Since 2011, Solar One has implemented an education program that aims to do this – the Green Design Lab™ (GDL) – in 22 NYC public school buildings, many with seriously outdated electrical and mechanical systems. The goal of GDL is to inspire students (grades 4-12) to come up with ways to improve the energy efficiency of their school.

GDL helped to reduce kWh usage in these 22 school buildings by an average of 8.2%. One saved a whopping 17%. The schools save thousands of dollars on their yearly electric costs. There was nothing pie-in-the-sky about these outcomes. Low-cost steps can make a big difference in a system as large as the NYC public schools. An 8% reduction on its $250 million a year energy bill would result in $20 million in savings.

GDL proved behavior change is possible (remember when no one used their seat belt?). One can only imagine how much more these schools could have reduced their electric bills if they were redesigned to LEED required electrical and mechanical upgrades.

Chris Collins
Executive Director
Solar One

Representative, Illinois House of Representatives

Gov. Pat Quinn and I visited Tarkington School, Chicago's first LEED-certified school, where test scores have improved 5% a year and students report decreased usage of inhalers for asthma symptoms, according to the principal. I enthusiastically support healthy, green schools for our children because asthma is the number one cause of absenteeism in Illinois.

President/C.E.O., Evangelical Environmental Network

As evangelical Christians, we strongly believe in protecting our children from environmental toxins and constructing green schools remains central to our ministry. LEED designs employ the best design practices to reduce volatile chemicals from construction materials, provide landscape plans reducing fertilizers and pesticides, and lower energy consumption – the current largest source of pollution. Each day we attack our children with a multitude of toxins. LEED designs reduce the pollution linked to children diseases such as asthma, ADHD, cancers, and autism, to name just a few. We are moving in the right direction with more green schools, and my reality simply doesn’t wash with Mr. Frank’s recent USA Today Article. Pennsylvania, my home state, has some of the best examples. The students love them, there are less sick days for both students and teachers, the energy costs are lower, and by the way – the most recent LEED schools have construction costs equal to or lower than conventional built schools. Our ministry in caring for God’s creation focuses on protecting human health, especially our children. Green schools guard our kids, and don’t let anyone say differently.

Representative, Missouri House of Representatives

Sustainable, energy efficient buildings are a good use of taxpayer money. St. Louis Community College’s LEED Gold building at Wildwood, lowered energy and water costs 33%. Student attendance is generally better in a LEED school because ventilation is improved and non-toxic products are used. The costs of building ‘green’ are now comparable to traditional construction costs. Building green is a win win.

Representative, Colorado House of Representatives

As an educator, I know firsthand that there is no single solution to improving our nation’s educational system, but at the same time, I’ve also seen the impact green schools can have on students, teachers and staff. I work hard in Colorado to ensure our schools are as effective as they can be for our children, while also being as fiscally responsible as possible to our taxpayers. I’ve seen how tools such as LEED have helped schools save money and achieve our shared goals.

State Representative, Oregon House District 42

High performing green schools make all the difference for students, teachers, and taxpayers. When state governments and school districts are looking for ways to do more with less, this is a common sense approach. It isn't ideological - it's just good policy and a good investment.

Vice President for Education and Training, National Wildlife Federation

US Green Building Council’s LEED standard has proven valuable to National Wildlife Federation’s sustainability and environmental education work at many of the more than 5000 schools we work with across the United States. We have witnessed significant energy savings at LEED-certified schools that participate in our Eco-Schools USA and Schoolyard Habitat programs, and continue to support adoption of green school building standards along with green facility management practices and environmental education.

Kentucky State Representative

I represent the hardworking people of Warren County, Kentucky, where I’m proud that the schools in my district have literally saved millions of dollars building to LEED standards while also cutting their operations and maintenance costs. I'm not an environmentalist, but as someone who also works in the construction industry, I know firsthand what kind of savings LEED certified buildings bring to owners, both public and private. I’ve seen other school systems and higher education campuses across our state embracing LEED because it is the fiscally smart thing to do for our taxpayers. At the end of the day, green schools are providing healthier learning environments for our children, in buildings that are designed for maximum efficiency.

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