USGBC Statement in Response to USA Today News Article | U.S. Green Building Council
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Published on
Posted in LEED
Published on
Posted in LEED

Washington, DC – (Oct. 24, 2012) – The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) issued a statement in response to the USA Today piece that ran today about the organization and its LEED green building program.

USGBC is a 501c3 non-profit organization that is dedicated to sustainable building design and construction. Its mission is to transform the way buildings and communities are designed, built and operated, enabling an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy, and prosperous environment that improves the quality of life.

“The LEED program has been built from the ground up by hundreds of thousands of volunteers and is the catalyst for fundamentally changing the way we think about designing, constructing and operating buildings in the United States and across the globe,” said Rick Fedrizzi, founding chair of the U.S. Green Building Council and the organization's current President and CEO. “Green buildings save energy, water and precious resources, reduce waste and carbon emissions, create jobs, save money, drive innovation and provide healthier, more comfortable spaces to live, work and learn.”

The LEED green building program has spurred explosive growth in energy-efficient buildings, which has supported almost eight million jobs across all 50 states and contributes $554 billion to the U.S. economy annually. Today, more than 9 billion square feet of building space is participating in LEED. While LEED has propelled transformation in the building market, it cannot be stagnant and must be constantly updated. The LEED program was built in a way that ensures it undergoes a rigorous cycle of continuous improvement and evolution. USGBC is currently in this process now and taking the next big step forward with the next version of LEED.

"LEED is not and never will be a tool for mandatory regulation; it is a voluntary, market-based green building program. Many of the green building strategies the USA Today article is critical of are the very things that have brought thousands of large commercial real estate builders, owners, and operators into the green building discussion, resulting in millions saved and thousands of better buildings across the world. The costs of individual LEED credits are irrelevant because the market learns to deliver green buildings at little to no added cost,” added Fedrizzi.

LEED isn’t perfect, but it is always improving. The program is developed by technical committees of the highest caliber and any changes to LEED are commented on by the public and must be approved through a democratic ballot process open to all USGBC members.

USGBC is proud that these measures that were once deemed exceptional are now industry standard,” concluded Fedrizzi, “That is why we keep raising the bar. We may be the only organization that has created a program that when the market really starts to like it, we make it more challenging. We develop LEED using a consensus-driven process, and while the rate of change may not be fast enough for some who would like to see more requirements that process allows us to work with the building industry to find the sweet spot that ultimately becomes the LEED rating system. We think we will have more success with the industry's help than without it."

USGBC is currently in development of LEED v4, the fourth version of LEED, which is currently in fifth public comment. To view the drafts of LEED v4 visit

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.

LEED Green Building Program
LEED is the foremost program for the design, construction, maintenance and operations of green buildings. More than 49,000 projects are currently participating in the commercial and institutional LEED rating systems, comprising 9.1 billion square feet of construction space in all 50 states and 130 countries. In addition, more than 24,000 residential units have been certified under the LEED for Homes rating system, with more than 87,000 more homes registered.

By using less energy, LEED-certified spaces save money for families, businesses and taxpayers; reduce carbon emissions; and contribute to a healthier environment for residents, workers and the larger community. Learn more at

USGBC Articles can be accessed in the USGBC app for iOS or Android on your iPhone, iPad or Android device.
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Having participated in the LEED process since 1998 and my introduction to the pilot program for LEED v1 with the encouragement of Bob Berkebile, Jason McLennan and Kath Williams, I recall the mess that existed at the time. Developers and builders of homes, buildings and communities were declaring themselves and their projects as "green" or sustainable, because there was no benchmark, no standard, no baseline from which to compare. So, the article in the USA Today began their LEED piece in the middle of the story-- not at the beginning, and certainly not the end. In the beginning, there were shameful projects that were positioning themselves as green/sustainable projects that could not have been further from the characterization. The USA Today perspective is one that occurs from picking up a book and opening it in the middle--the perspective and context of the story is lost. The authors frustration aside, and for that matter our own (3-ring binders to on-line templates), the LEED road has not been perfect or protrayed as such --since it was created by imperfect people. It is a tool, amongst many, that can and should be leveraged to improve our constructed environment ,which continues to evolve and progress with technology, materials and talented people, who know more today than when we started!

LEED is fundamentally flawed because it is a weighted system established by industry interests.
It awards points to compliance with a set of criteria tha it alone has set, yet it does not take points away when the basics of good design practice are absent, i.e., an all glass building goes against good design practice and is atleast 50% wrong.
I do not subscribe to the system that has the built in industry bias.

BNIM Architects

- USA Today Story on LEED was Frank but Misleading -

After an hour with Tom Frank I knew that his Special Report in USA Today last week would probably not be consistent with my view of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system and its impact on the performance of buildings and developments in North America and worldwide. What I didn’t know was that even though we didn’t discuss it, he would argue many of the points I had argued early in the creation of the LEED system: it doesn’t do enough to require energy efficiency and high performance design, and it’s possible to game the system. He also seems concerned that LEED was created by people within the industry who stand to benefit from the use of the system.

I lost the argument that architects, scientists and environmentalists should create a more comprehensive, high performance system--for good reason. The genius of the LEED system is that it was created by a diverse group of volunteers from all sectors of the industry and that it was adopted by consensus. The goal was not perfection but transformation of an industry that has historically been reluctant to change. Transformation is taking place precisely because it was created by consensus among diverse industry stakeholders/users and because it was designed to be achievable.

The LEED system was designed to educate and to evolve, which it has done and will continue to do. (Version 4 is now in review.) I was struck by the fact that Mr. Frank raised some valid points but rather than clarify and contribute to the industry discourse, he chose to focus on a few failures among the earliest LEED tools and projects; he refused to recognize the positive evolution in the current portfolio of tools and systems or the impressive changes in building performance across the aggregate of all buildings certified to date. The article also makes much of the fact that LEED ignores the reality that buildings rarely perform as designed, but it fails to mention that LEED’s requirement for commissioning was a significant leap in the direction of closing that gap by requiring verification of performance prior to certification.

The Living Building Challenge, created by USGBC volunteers and managed by the Cascadia Chapter of USGBC, was conspicuous by its absence from this report. The Living Building Challenge grew out of the LEED system, and it attempts to push the industry into that next level of design, performance and environmental responsibility; Living Building certification requires a rigorous set of design criteria followed by a third party audit of a full year of building operation to prove that performance goals are met.

REGEN, another emerging tool currently in development by the USGBC and a core group of contributors, is being designed to shift the focus of community, development and building from merely sustainable to “regenerative,” meaning that its goal is to improve the vitality of the natural systems that support our wellbeing by the co-evolution of the whole system.

In simplified terms, many say that LEED is focused on “doing less harm,” the Living Building Challenge focuses on “doing no harm,” and REGEN’s emphasis is on “doing good” and yielding positive, regenerative, whole system improvements.

Many of the materials, products, systems and services that were in use when USGBC was formed have been rendered obsolete by USGBC and LEED. The result is that thousands of buildings and developments are more efficient, healthier for the occupants and the environment, and they cost less to operate. Smart businesses, institutions and governments are using LEED with remarkable results, and often their employees are the volunteer members of USGBC who continue the evolution of this transformative portfolio of tools.

USGBC and thousands of volunteers are to be congratulated. They have created tools that are being used or replicated on every continent, proving what very few thought was possible--that significant, positive industry-wide changes can be accomplished in just two decades. This success makes it possible to imagine transforming our thinking and our culture by raising our goals to increase human capacity and the vitality and resilience of all life. The tools to accomplish this will need to be open source, more comprehensive, elegant and economical than the current LEED tools. This conversation is already underway but limited to a small leadership group at this point. Is it possible that USA Today has launched a national dialogue of discovery with this report and accelerated the future we, and our children want?

Vice President, Big D Construction Corp

Take a look at Brendan Owen's article as well:

Fidelity National Financial, Inc.

One of my favorite quotes is by Albert Einstein: "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds" .

Like Einstein, anyone in the green space is an inventor or an innovator. Everyone in this emerging space is breaking new ground every day. But when you break new ground it is a process of give and take to find the best solutions. Not saying there are not legitimate challenges in the USA Today article, but LEED standards were never intended to be a "one size fits all" . The free market drives the demand. and the success of the USGBC's efforts is directly reflected by the growth of LEED Certified properties. Further it has created the path for new standards for green development, environmentally sound building practices, and energy performance standards that have resulted in significant energy and cost savings in the built environment worldwide. "What's in it for me" has always been the measure of success. Until it benefits "them", they don't see it. As advocates of energy independence and a healthier built environment for today and future generations, we must keep the vision but build the story with real time facts and data. We need to make the "what's in it for me" is crystal clear. The green math is still fuzzy and the industry knows it. Let's all work together to find clarity to support our collective vision.

As always, Nadav Malin offers my favorite well-considered outlook. I especially appreciate his mentioning Standard 189 and the IgCC as well as the fact that many jurisdictions have jumped onto the USGBC LEED bandwagon without really understanding it. That, from my understanding, is why USGBC, ASHRAE, AIA, and other supporters of the fledgling ICC code are trying to control the very apples and oranges (i.e., certifications as jurisdictional incentives/requirements) phenomenon on which USA Today is reporting. My rather inane analogy for the certification/standards/codes continuum is that it is like a slug. USGBC is the antennae element moving into unknowable territory, the standards organizations test and confirm the ground, and the codes finally drag along forward as the standard of care. To many it looks painfully slow, but it does move forward.

HDR, Inc.

It's almost like the article was written by a climate change denier. Preferring to focus in on things like "bike racks" while missing the overall environmental and financial benefits of LEED.

Sustainability Manager, University of Washington

The University of Washington is recognized as one of the nation's greenest universities and is committed to sustainability. LEED certified projects is one way that the UW measures sustainability success in the built environment. Using best management practices as a baseline, LEED is an overlay that creates common language and approaches in planning and documenting a project's sustainability actions, and is a recognized standard of success by the State of Washington and U.S. higher education institutions.

CEO, BuildingWise, LLC
Pro Reviewer

"The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about"...said Oscar Wilde. Right now we have reached the 'main stream' where we are being talked about, critiqued, protested and generally being given a 'good shake', and really, that's OK. We've all know for some time that the data showing that buildings actually do reduce impacts has been missing from the equation...well, let's change that, just as we have been making changes to LEED over the last 10 years and more. We have to have a solution (LEED) that delivers and it's right's called LEED EB!

President, BuildingGreen, Inc.

Look like I was a little too quick to complain, in my long critique, about how Frank didn't make use of my interview. There is a second part to the story, at least part of which is now posted online, that talks at length about LEED v4 and includes some comments from me. This second part of the story seems much more reasonable:

President, BuildingGreen, Inc.

I took a call from Tom Frank, a reporter at USA Today last week, and spent over an hour on the phone with him explaining the proposed LEED v4 rating system and what it’s trying to achieve. I wish I had saved my breath, because the story that came out today used almost nothing from our conversation, and instead devotes itself to attacking LEED based not on the future, but on ancient (2002–2008) history.

The story casts LEED as a tool developers use to garner tax breaks and other advantages for very little environmental or social benefit. It’s true that some projects have exploited loopholes in LEED requirements and achieved credits for measures that they either had to do anyway, or did for no good reason except to earn the point. Each new version of LEED has gotten a little more sophisticated in removing those loopholes, so that’s happening less than it used to, but the long lag-time between registering a project and earning certification means that it takes a while for those improvements to filter through.

The USA Today story features the Palazzo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, which was certified in 2008 based on a version of the LEED rating system that was released in 2002. Yes, it earned points for some silly things, and won huge tax credits (as we wrote in “Navigating Incentives and Regulations for Green Building” the Nevada law providing those credits was poorly conceived and quickly rescinded). But further, USA Today acknowledges that the team behind the Palazzo also did some pretty important things, such as solar-heating the swimming pools and using occupancy sensors to control ventilation to hotel rooms.

What the article never does is look at the whole picture: either for individual projects or the industry as a whole. Is it a problem that projects earn some low-benefit points if LEED also causes them to take more meaningful measures?

- Government Mandates and Incentives -

Much of the story’s attack on LEED is based on how it is used by governments at various levels to mandate or provide incentives for green building. It’s no secret that LEED is not a great tool for that purpose, which is why USGBC, ASHRAE, and AIA have worked so hard on Standard 189 and the International Green Construction Code (IgCC). Now that those resources are available LEED can focus on what it was created to do, which is to provide a framework for green building and spur voluntary, market-based incentives to go beyond code.

- Does the Cost of Points Matter? -

The author also gets sucked into the red herring of cost, accusing LEED of giving developers credit for doing things that have low or no cost.

The goal of LEED, as far as I’m concerned, is not to get owners to spend a ton of money investing in green technology, but to encourage them to do stuff that provides real environmental and social benefit, regardless of what that stuff costs. If a green measure doesn’t cost much, but most building projects aren’t using it, then LEED has a useful role to play in educating projects about that measure. We highlight lower-cost credit like IEQc4.2 on LEEDuser, and the story quotes LEEDuser’s suggestions as if low-hanging fruit were a sin.

(This is also a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t: LEED v4 has been protested by some industry groups based in part on credits that could push products to implement measures that would cost building projects more and potentially—hopefully, in fact—push product manufacturers out of their comfortable business-as-usual zones.)

- Existing Buildings Don’t Exist? -

The article’s biggest flaw, however, is the way it ignores LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance (EBOM) entirely. I agree that there are problems with awarding certification based on the promise of green performance—it would have been nice if USGBC had taken the suggestion that I (and others) made back in 2008 to change the certification for Building Design + Construction projects to something like “Built for LEED.” But the way the article attacks LEED on that performance gap without even mentioning the EBOM rating system that is based entirely on performance is selective use of data more typical of a political campaign than good journalism. (Tom Frank, the author of the USA Today article, defended this choice in an email to me, pointing out that his focus was on government programs that rely mostly on LEED for New Construction.)

Fortunately, USGBC also recognized the performance gap with its Design + Construction rating systems (such as LEED-NC), and is taking increasingly ambitious steps to close that gap, with everything from improved guidelines for energy modeling to mandatory reporting requirements, and increasing incentives for teams to recertify regularly based on their actual performance.

- Disconnected Messages -

Buried deep in the article are some quotes strongly supportive of LEED, which seem out of place as the article makes no effort to explain why the smart people behind those quotes believe what they say if LEED is the sham the article says it is.

Given the amount of work that apparently went into this story, and the valid concerns it raises, it’s too bad that it ended up so flawed, missing a chance to raise the quality of discourse on more important and relevant questions about LEED and green building generally.

Did you see the USA Today article? What did you think?

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Many of the discussions in the USA Today article are based in fact but taken out of context. The benefits of LEED are clearly overlooked, while the criticisms take center stage. On the optimistic side, I believe it is important to understand the criticisms of this rating system immediately before LEED v4 is released, so that the USGBC can seize the opportunity for improvement.

Architect / Director of Sustainability, Design Collective, Inc

Is there a link to the original article to which this statement is responding? It would be nice to have a capability to read them both to understand the context.

Past (2012) NY Upstate Chapter Chair, Past CSC, and Director of Sustainability Programs, DASNY

Change is messy.

Principal, JBL Strategies

USGBC and LEED certification and accreditation have driven the transformation to green building and sustainable land development practices in this country, assuring to some degree a healthy, sustainable and productive future for the next generations to come. No small task. Thanks to staff and volunteers behind the past 18 years evolution and please keep continuing to raise the bar and set the example.

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