Dear USGBC Chapter Leaders,
Many of you may have seen the "www.junkscience.com" commentary that called USGBC's LEED program a "green building racket." The October issue of Fast Company also has an article entitled "The Trouble with LEED."
Both are examples of how our success is going to put us under increasing pressure, not only in terms of capacity and throughput, but also scrutiny. At the bottom of this email, please read the Letter to the Fast Company Editor that was submitted today.
There are two key points to acknowledge with both these articles:
* Never has flawless execution mattered so much in everything we do. What we perceive internally as light speed change appears painfully slow to a market where so many people are getting engaged in year seven of LEED without any perspective on how far we've come. At the same time we all acknowledge there is still a long way to go. We need to keep raising the bar, but we need to do so with a deliberateness that also, always, raises the floor.
* The second point is that USGBC, our growth and success, demonstrates a new model for social enterprise, one that people are still not yet comfortable with. Because USGBC has successfully introduced market incentives to a major segment of the environmental movement, that progress has begun to happen. As Paul Hawken says, "What we need to do is redesign business and the role it plays in human life."
A key for us is that the currency for our "profitability," isn't dollars, but rather it is impact as demonstrated in our success as leaders in market transformation. That the revenues we generate are reinvested in new programs and existing program improvements to further the public good that's served by green building is something to be proud of. We always need to present our growth and the growth of the market with a spirit of gratefulness, but also with firm intent. There is still so much to do.
What we've accomplished is extraordinary - we may very well be the fastest growing NGO in history - but it's not about who we are, it's about what green buildings are doing for people, for operational performance that's profitable, and for the planet. And it's only our continued growth and the currency of our impact we have to leverage that will accomplish our mission of green buildings within a generation.
We developed LEED to light the path for every single building to become green. Before LEED, multiple and contradictory definitions of "green" abounded and greenwashing was rampant; we created LEED to provide the market with a common definition and an objective, verifiable system. The first LEED Steering Committee marshaled more than 600,000 volunteer hours from hundreds, and now thousands, of "fathers and mothers" to draft the first LEED rating system. Committing to certification and recognition of that commitment sets the bar at a level high enough to drive results in terms of reduced energy and water consumption; reduced greenhouse gasses; and human health, wellness and productivity. Can the bar be higher? Sure, but now, so is the floor, and that's one of the points Fast Company missed - among them the vast inventory of inefficient, unhealthy buildings that need retrofits, the 9 out of 10 new buildings being built that represent business and usual, and the vast and vastly important health and productivity benefits that accrue to the people who live, work, heal, and go to school in green buildings.
LEED is a voluntary system, written by the market through our consensus-based processes, for the market that needs the tool. Can it be improved? It is every day by the thousands of committed building industry professionals who participate in its continuous improvement through critical review and thoughtful action. They are not standing on the sidelines and complaining; they're pitching in, helping with the work, and making LEED continuously better.
As green buildings are integrated into the mainstream, costs come down, aggregate benefits go up, and the whole of the market is driven to innovation. It is a case study for how even a large and fractured industry -one that represents 14.7% of US GDP - can change itself from the inside out, and how environmental achievements can be won side by side with powerful economic results.
Following is my letter to the editor at Fast Company. I would ask that you share this with your friends, colleagues, chapter members and anyone who has questions about the article. I would also hope that your own comments will reflect these, not only in their content but also in their spirit.
Letter to the Editor, Fast Company
Your article on LEED in Fast Company's October 2007 issue asserts that the point of LEED is getting lost, but then misses the point itself. The U.S. Green Building Council's mission is market transformation towards the vision of a sustainable - and eventually restorative - built environment within a generation. LEED is our most important tool in that effort. Its intent is to set the bar high, challenge leaders to reach for it, and transform the whole of the building community through leadership by example. That has begun to happen, but 9 out of 10 buildings in design and construction today are still the same old energy hogs - they're unhealthy, put millions of tons of trash into landfills, and are literally flushing clean drinkable water down the toilet. Moreover, 90% of all buildings are already in operation - and they'll require energy retrofits and other improvements to beat the clock of climate change.
It's important to ask "are we doing enough:" the dynamic tension between "how far" and "how fast" drives the constant evolution of LEED. But your assertions about LEED's "newfound power" are naïve. USGBC, through LEED, is affecting about one-tenth of all new commercial construction and has just begun working with existing buildings and homes. Green building is building momentum, but the work of transforming the market is far from done. When every child attends a green school, every home is healthy, and our buildings help to power our cities with clean energy instead of consuming it - maybe then the work will be done.
President, CEO, and Founding Chair
Green Building Council