Mark Ginsberg

This article is part of a series of stories from USGBC's community celebrating 20 years of green building triumphs. Take a walk down memory lane with USGBC, as we reflect on favorite moments and share memories from the last 20 years. Share your own green building triumphs using #USGBC20.

During the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, many of us in the energy efficiency arena searched for the holy grail of metrics. How do we measure energy savings?  How do we quantify what we do?  How much money do we save?  How can we trust that, when we invest in energy efficiency, we get the results that were predicted?

During some of that time, I had the honor of working in the Arizona Energy Office.  The Governor’s Office started getting funding from the U.S. Department of Energy for State Energy Programs, for the Energy Extension Service, for the Institutional Conservation Program (also called the Schools and Hospitals program), and Low Income Weatherization.  Governor Bruce Babbitt asked me to move from his office to help manage this influx of funding from DOE.  I joined the Arizona Energy Office and, over a ten-year period, we attempted to answer a critical question: How do we measure the energy savings? DOE asked us the question.  The State Legislature asked us the question.  Congress asked DOE the question.  And we all searched for a variety of metrics to help answer the question. 

In December 1991, I was appointed as the Director of the Federal Energy Management Program at DOE and faced the challenge of reducing energy waste in the 500,000 buildings that the Federal government owned and operated.  Working with all the other Federal agencies, with ESCOs, with utilities, with energy product manufacturers – we all continued to seek answers to those tough questions.  I put the initial funding into the National Performance Measurement and Verification Protocol (that evolved into the International IPMVP and we joked, soon to be the Intergalactic PMVP as ambition and importance grew).  We invested heavily in ways to quantify the benefits of federal investments.  We developed methodologies for Life Cycle Cost Analysis.  We prepared model energy savings performance contracts, essential for ESCOs and investors to have confidence that their investments would be repaid.  We worked closely with EPA as they developed the early work on Green Lights and Energy Star.  We made good progress and had pretty good confidence that we could document the savings.

Two years later, I got a call from Secretary of Energy Hazel O’Leary.  With a bit of uncertainty, I went to her office to meet her for the first time. 

“Mark, I got a call from the White House.  The President wants to do the greening of the White House.  I understand you are the go-to guy on greening.  We’ve got a meeting this afternoon at the White House.”  

Greening was certainly a new term, but I was relieved I had a few ideas of what we could do to make the White House complex more energy efficient and green.  With the active support of the AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE), we put together a design team to do a charrette.   I had the great luck to have the support of Katie McGinty and Cathy Zoi at the White House to put together a team that included Carl Costello at AIA and Anne Sprunt (now Sprunt-Crawley), who joined me (with the help of Art Rosenfeld of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab).  We put together an amazing team of eager young enthusiasts and experts to devise the Greening Plan. By the way, you may recognize some of these names: Rick Fedrizzi, Rob Watson, Amory Lovins, Bill Browning, Gail Lindsay, Greg Ander.

At this time, USGBC didn’t exist.  But there was a core of dedicated experts who had a vision.  At some point, Cathy Zoi and Christine Ervin, DOE’s Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and I were invited to a meeting at NIST.  A founding group of green experts had convened a meeting to bring green practices to the Federal sector.

Subsequently, I got a call from Rob Watson, who, with the support of Rick Fedrizzi, Mike Italiano and David Gottfried, had a proposal.  Rob was with NRDC and I knew him from the work he had done to make their headquarter building in New York an early showcase.  Rob said he had thoughts about a rating system tool that could demonstrate how green a building was.  My ears perked up.  He had my attention! 

“For just $100,000, we could develop a turn-key system,” he assured me.  A green building rating system.  Something that could tell a building owner how his building could perform.  Something that could say this building was more valuable than that building.  Wow.  All for a $100,000!  That sounded like a good deal to me.  I found the money and LEED was born!

Soon, we realized that $100,000 wasn’t quite enough to do the job.  I put in another $300,000 and more, and then we realized this was too big a job to do alone.  Other funders were sought and LEED began to develop with the peer process and transparency that has been a hallmark of LEED from the start.

Now, it warms my heart to see LEED growing worldwide.  How amazing it is to see LEED plaques in buildings around the world and to hear architects and building owners cite LEED as a transformative tool that we had hoped it could be.

LEED is a constantly improving tool.  While it may not be perfect (I can’t wait for the LEED Zero Energy Building or possibly a LEED Eco-City) and it may have its critics, it is moving toward its constantly expanding goal of perfection.  All this in just 20 years! 

Congratulations to USGBC, its visionary founders, its dedicated early pioneers, its thousands of volunteers, and its dedicated members, staff and supporters!  May USGBC and LEED continue to transform the built environment and make the world a better place.