American sustainability - A Q&A with USGBC

By Sumit Modi

The US Green Building Council is a non-profit organization which promotes sustainability in the construction sector, offering a suite of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – commonly known as LEED – certification denoting expertise in green building.

Business Review USA speaks to Marisa Long, PR and Communications Director at USGBC, about some of the inner workings of the company and the impact it has made on its sector.


How did the USGBC begin, and how did it grow into such a huge organization?

Rick Fedrizzi, current CEO and founding chair of USGB, David Gottfried, and Mike Italiano established the council in 1993. By 1998, USGBC had successfully developed LEED 1.0, and it began pilot testing 19 projects.

Following the success of the pilot program, LEED for New Construction saw a public launch in March 2000. That year, 51 projects participated, and in March 2001, drawing on lessons learned from the pilot program, USGBC launched LEED 2.0.

Meanwhile, certifications outside the commercial office sector began to sprout. Notable early successes in 2000 included the Kandalama Hotel in Sri Lanka – the first LEED-certified hotel and the first LEED international project – as well as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Phillip Merrill Environmental Center in Annapolis, Md., the first project to secure LEED Platinum.

Furthering its movement into new market sectors, USGBC saw the first elementary school – Third Creek Elementary in Statesville, N.C. – achieve LEED Gold in November 2002. Meanwhile, as a reflection of the excitement and demand within the green building industry, USGBC hosted the first ever Greenbuild Conference that same month in Austin, Texas, with approximately 4,000 attendees; organizers had only expected 1,500. While many anticipated continued momentum within the green building space, few could have foreseen the explosive growth that was to come.

By April 2004, LEED reached a significant milestone: 100 certified projects, mostly in the commercial office space. USGBC launched LEED for Existing Buildings in October 2004, which quickly grew the market. By July 2007, the 1,000th commercial project was certified, followed by the 10,000th registration in November.

By 2010, LEED’s status as a transformative force within the buildings sector was unmistakable. Beyond certifying thousands of structures, LEED had also created new markets, especially in the product arena. Before LEED, materials like low-volatile-organic-compound (VOC) paints and green cleaning products were virtually non- existent, but by 2009, these items were in widespread use. The same was true for various other green technologies and energy-efficient products, which had become available not only in the commercial sector, but also for homeowners in the residential space.

In 2010, the Green Building Certification Institute certified the 5,000th LEED project. Additionally, in September 2010, USGBC launched the Center for Green Schools as a way to drive the transformation of all schools into healthy, sustainable learning environments.

The latest version of LEED, LEED v4, launched in November 2013 after passing member ballot in June 2013 following a record six public comment periods. All versions of LEED are required to undergo public comment and must pass a ballot by USGBC’s membership.

LEED v4 continues the momentum in green building by increasing LEED’s technical rigor and facilitating its expansion into new market sectors, including data centers, warehouses and distribution centers, hospitality, and midrise residential structures. LEED v4 also brings an additional focus on user experience, with significant efforts put toward streamlining the LEED documentation process and developing helpful tools for project teams in LEED Online, the web-based tool for managing the certification process that launched in 2006.

In 2013, USGBC celebrated its 20th anniversary. The environmental movement as a whole can count LEED among its successful endeavors. Found across all sectors and in nearly every area of the world, LEED plaques adorn college campuses, hospitals, office buildings, sports arenas, restaurants, apartment complexes, manufacturing facilities, retail stores, data centers, police and fire stations and more. Situated at the intersection of business and environmental interests, LEED symbolizes the power of a collective will that insists that our built environment no longer do less harm, but do more good. We have only just begun to unleash its potential.


Can you explain LEED and its importance to the USGBC?

Since its launch, LEED green building certification system has quickly become the world’s most widely-used green building rating program, recognizing commercial, institutional, and residential projects showing leadership in environmental and energy performance.

LEED transforms buildings, homes, and communities in all 50 states and more than 150 countries and territories worldwide, certifying more than 1.85 million square feet of space every day. LEED guides the design, construction, operations and maintenance and recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices.

To receive LEED certification, building projects satisfy prerequisites and earn points to achieve different levels of certification. Prerequisites and credits differ for each rating system, and teams choose the best fit for their project.

LEED projects earn points by adhering to prerequisites and credits across nine measurements for building excellence from integrative process to indoor environmental quality. Prerequisites are required elements, or green-building strategies that must be included in any LEED certified project. Credits are optional elements, or strategies that projects pursue to gain points toward LEED certification. 

Credits are developed through several rounds of public comments and in collaboration with the USGBC board, broader membership and staff. As market readiness increases and new technologies become widely available, credits adapt to improve the value and environmental integrity of building projects.

Based on the number of credits achieved, a project earns one of four LEED rating levels: LEED Certified, LEED Silver, LEED Gold or LEED Platinum. The LEED rating systems work for all buildings at all phases of development and are meant to challenge project teams and inspire outside-the-box solutions.

LEED projects are third-party certified through Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), which provides technicians the training and expertise necessary to review and verify building quality and integrity.


How does the USGBC help to manage supply chains?

A USGBC working group has outlined minimum steps for product manufacturers that enables them to offer insight and transparency into their processes regarding supply chains that require: a commitment to continual improvement, sharing of information, green chemistry and green engineering; implementation of an environmental management system and require that any direct suppliers of hazardous ingredients have corresponding environmental and health & safety management systems. 


What continuous improvement strategies has the company implemented?

USGBC strives to ensure LEED stays innovative, technically rigorous, and market-relevant. Therefore, LEED regularly undergoes evaluations and other improvements, whether through clarification of specific credit’s language, an adaptation to an existing rating system, or a comprehensive update to an entire suite of rating systems.

LEED was developed to address all buildings everywhere, regardless of where they are in the life cycle. From hospitals to data centers, from historical buildings to those still in the design phase, there is a LEED for every building. The newest version of LEED is designed to be more flexible and improve the overall user experience. Some of the updates of LEED v4 include a focus on materials, performance, smart grid thinking, and water efficiency.


What are some technological advances you’ve employed on the construction front?

LEED provides a framework for building a holistic green building, giving you the chance to nail down every sustainability feature and maximizing the benefits of LEED construction. LEED rating system applies to a number of project types, from commercial high-rises to data centers, and is tailored by market sector to recognize a project’s specialized requirements and maximize the benefits of certification.

LEED v4, the latest version of the rating system, focuses on increasing LEED's technical rigor, expanding the market sectors able to use LEED, and striving for simplicity in terms of usability. LEED v4 optimizes the foundations developed in LEED 2009, and will continue to improve the clarity, usability, functionality and interconnectedness of the rating systems through future version development.


How does the company manage relationships with customers and partners?

LEED rating systems are supported by USGBC staff and volunteers who serve on committees and advisory groups that are constantly reevaluating LEED to ensure it remains robust and efficient. Staff and volunteers also works to develop educational materials about sustainable building and to support the USGBC mission, while other green building councils around the world are helping keep LEED leaning forward internationally.

USGBC works toward its mission of market transformation through its LEED green building certification program, robust educational offerings, a nationwide network of local leaders and affiliates, the annual Greenbuild International Conference & Expo, and advocacy in support of public policy that encourages and enables green buildings and communities.

USGBC offers membership to organizations from all fields. Our members are local and international, big and small, mission and market-driven. They make an impact within their sphere of influence and advance the movement for a more sustainable built environment. Members can join at four different levels – organizational, silver, gold and platinum – and can take advantage of exclusive opportunities to access online education, maintain their LEED professional credentials, discuss and share knowledge through the USGBC blog and garner access to a whole host of green building resources.


What is the most important aspect of the company you would like communicated?

USGBC's vision is a green building for everyone within this generation, and is committed to transforming the way our buildings are designed, constructed and operated through LEED. Every day, USGBC is helping advance spaces that are better for the environment and healthier for us to live, work and play. Through USGBC’s community network, continuous collaboration with industry experts, market research publications and LEED professional credentials, USGBC remains a key driving force in the green building sector.

There are LEED projects in more than 150 countries and territories, representing every continent except for Antarctica. LEED is being used in highly industrialized nations and newly developing ones, and LEED is helping to demonstrate the enormous power and potential of the emerging green economy. In the US alone, according to a domestic economic impact study last year, the green building sector is outpacing overall construction growth in the US and slated to contribute 2.3 million jobs in 2015.

To explore a variety of recent LEED-certified projects, visit USGBC’s project directory


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