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USGBC Statement in Response to USA Today News Article

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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15 commentsLeave a comment

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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