Mark Ginsberg
4 minute read

Mark Ginsberg shares his memories of the origins of LEED.

This year, USGBC has been celebrating 25 years of leadership and innovation in green building. In this series, we hear from of the members of the Northern California community who have supported USGBC’s mission and vision throughout its 25 years as an organization.

It was the late 1980s and early 1990s. There had been a lot of progress in energy efficiency and renewable energy. Earth Day started in 1970, and the U.S. EPA was launched the same year. Some small agencies were consolidated into the Department of Energy (DOE) in 1977. The Alliance to Save Energy was formed the same year as a bipartisan advocate for energy efficiency. People, governments and companies all recognized the importance of saving energy and addressing the environment.

Greening the White House

When Bill Clinton was inaugurated as president in 1993, he was approached by a number of advocates, some from Hollywood and northern California, to “Green the White House.”I was working at DOE as head of the Federal Energy Management Program. FEMP was leading the federal government in implementing laws and executive orders to achieve 20 percent energy savings and implement energy-saving performance contracts.

In early March, I got a call to come to Secretary Hazel O’Leary’s office. She said she wasn’t sure what greening was, but she had heard that I was the “go-to guy on greening.” We went to the White House that afternoon to hear that President Clinton had decided to conduct the Greening of the White House.

It was to be announced on Earth Day 1993, and we were to lead the interagency effort and work with the AIA Committee on the Environment to pull experts together. We pulled together a group of experts, many of whom later founded USGBC. Rick Fedrizzi, Rob Watson, Bill Browning, Anne Sprunt Crawley, Carl Costello and others produced a report to help make the White House the model of energy efficiency that the president called for.

Developing LEED as a team

A few months later, I received a call from Rob Watson, who was an expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Watson had an idea for “a rating system that could show how a building performed.” He said $100,000 could produce a turn-key product. I was in the right place at the right time to find the funding—and LEED began to be developed. We realized that it would require more funding, and after several hundred thousand dollars more, we knew that DOE and NRDC couldn’t do it alone. Other experts stepped up, and a process was formed to include experts and committees. That process continues today, with the global participation that has led to LEED v4.1.

Around the same time, a group of advocates gathered at the National Institute of Science and Technology to discuss founding a green building council. Fedrizzi, Browning and others were joined by Christine Ervin, DOE Assistant Secretary, and Cathy Zoi, of the President’s Council of Environment Quality. That group determined to form a U.S. Green Building Council. Enthusiasts and companies were to become members. It is legend that United Technologies was the first member. Rick Fedrizzi was an executive at Carrier, a UTC company, and became Founding Chairman. LEED was embraced as its primary tool.

Transforming the built environment

Now, 25 years later, LEED is in 167 countries, with some 94,000 projects. Homes, schools, the 128-story Shanghai Tower—all are part of the LEED family. In just two and a half decades, the leaders and supporters of USGBC have gone far in achieving the ambitious goal of transforming the built environment.

There is still more to do, but USGBC stands poised to continue the transformation. Imagine what we can do—building on our 12,000 members; our programs like Arc, TRUE, ParksmartSITES, GRESB, PEER, WELL; and launching LEED for Cities. I can’t wait to see what the next 25 years brings!

See Mark Ginsberg's short video on the 25th anniversary