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U.S. Green Building Council

The voice of LEED certification

LEED certification has become so ingrained into the building industry that even those outside of it understand the significance. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is the American voice of the green building sector, suitably located in Washington, D.C. for the past 17 years. President Rick Fedrizzi, one of the original founders of the USGBC, spoke with the American Business Journal about the vision of the organization—and how LEED certification has changed the face of the building industry.

“The role of the USGBC is basically to change the way that people think about the structures that we live and work and heal and learn and play out our lives,” states Fedrizzi. His passion for The USGBC is obvious and makes it easier to see beyond the regulatory body that formulates and regulates LEED certified buildings. “The USGBC is trying to get people, through the environmental movement, to get back to the idea of health issues associated with buildings and the associated economic opportunities buildings provide.”

The LEED rating system has grown into an undeniable force in the building industry. It examines and evaluates a number of environmental attributes relative to a particular building, community, or home. Points are given for performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, carbon dioxide emission reductions, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts. “All of these things are considered in a very simple and, in my opinion, elegant format,” says Fedrizzi. “It is almost impossible these days to build a new building, at least in the U.S., without at least strongly considering LEED certification.

“When people ask me—what is LEED? What does it mean? I liken it to a box of animal crackers. On the side there is a little scale that shows you how much fat, sodium, carbs, etc. and you as the consumer based on your own health and your own knowledge have the ability to purchase that box of crackers or not. And you’re doing it with good information,” explains Fedrizzi. His analogy makes a point—before LEED certification people had no framework to understand how buildings perform and how those environmental and health factors affect us personally.

Inviting business to the table

Perhaps the most impressive achievement of the USGBC is its effectiveness in integrating the building sector into its mandate as an NGO. “If I look at the success of the USGBC, one of the most important things we did as an organization is invite business to the table,” says Fedrizzi. “Prior the USGBC, a large number of environmental NGOs wanted to keep business on the other side of the fence. So basically giving them mandates and trying hard through regulation to get them to stop things. What we really believe as an organization is unless you change behaviour to one degree or another, you will never have consistent, long-term positive net results.”

The intuitive move has effectively worked to promote sustainability in the industry in a positive way—a definite contrast to a mandate that “says we will tell you what is wrong,” according to Fedrizzi. The USGBC’s understanding and commitment to not only sustainability but to the bottom line has been an integral part of its acceptance, growth and support by the building industry.

The low cost of sustainability

Today, LEED certification is not only financially viable—it is actually a savings for businesses. “The first two levels of LEED, certifies and silver, you can do for not one penny more than traditional construction. All you need is an educated team who knows what they are doing starting early in the process and you will have a green building for not one penny more,” says Fedrizzi.

“It’s really a stunning achievement. When you get up to gold and platinum, it is going to cost you two percent more for gold and six percent more for platinum but those things pay it back in very short order and the ongoing savings keep coming back to the business.”

Green education for green jobs

Today, there is more than 9.7 billion square feet of LEED certified commercial building space. It is also increasingly easy to find an educated and knowledgeable team in the United States. There are more than 160,000 LEED Accredited Professionals which can assist in the implementation of a LEED project, and many reputable colleges and universities which are involved in the training of the professionals. As the numbers of people involved continues to grow, the number of green jobs created does as well.

“I shake my head in disbelief sometimes when I hear people say there is no such thing as a green job because there certainly is. We are living proof by our membership, which is 18,500 companies and universities and colleges and corporation and state and local government,” says Fedrizzi. “When a big company such as General Electric or United Technologies has 5 million employees and you do the math, you can very quickly get to the point where you see we are in a very important point of transformation in relation to the built environment—and that’s all we ever wanted as an organization.”

Green schools: way of the future?

The USGBC is very excited about its increasing focus on green schools. Green schools are a phenomenon that is not quite as well-known as a green building, but the USGBC is aiming to shift that point of view. A thoughtfully constructed school that pays close attention to air quality, daylight, and acoustics, and uses materials with no toxins or formaldehyde has consistently proven to have positive effects on teachers, students and the community at large. “There are studies coming out which show that kids have a very significant reduction in respiratory illness, including asthma. Teachers are showing two or three less days of absenteeism due to vocal strain,” says Fedrizzi, noting that there is also a strong correlation between academic performance and the quality of the building.

Beyond the health and performance benefits, green schools can also act as a catalyst for knowledge, as children who attend green schools are aware of the features and qualities which set it apart from other schools. That knowledge will be shared with the family unit, and as Fedrizzi hopes, help spawn even more awareness about the benefits of learning in a green environment. “We are still on the fringe of struggling a little bit with these ideas,” he acknowledges, “but I think empowered young leaders that have really experienced what a green building can do for you will never settle for anything less.”


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