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Do We Need One Nation Under USGBC?

FRIDAY, MARCH 28, 2014

By Robert J. Kobet, AIA

More items for Building Envelope

I’ve been involved with the U.S. Green Building Council since its early days. Over the last 20 years, I’ve served as Chair of LEED for Schools and other education committees, as a member of the original group of LEED faculty, and as a participant in USGBC events too numerous to count.

BonJovi at Greenbuilt

The Greenbuild 2013 crowd went wild for Bon Jovi in Philadelphia. Is it time for USGBC to share the green event spotlight?

I have always been proud of my association with the organization and still advocate for its success, but recently I find myself concerned with its posture in the green building movement.

Specifically, I am thinking about how best to reconcile USGBC’s asymptotic growth and global reach with the emergence of organizations with similar missions.

Why the Competition?

Like many, I don’t find the current controversy among the USGBC, Green Globes and other green building organizations to be an asset to the green building movement. And I wish the time, energy and resources allocated to posturing could be better used.

For example, if the USGBC could reconcile the existence of the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS)—whose development preceded LEED for Schools—there may be ways the two could together reach the council’s highly touted goal of a green school for everyone within one generation.

The more capable organizations working cooperatively to achieve this common goal, the better.


The Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) preceded USGBC's LEED for Schools. Collaboration on the organizations' shared goal could benefit both, as well as the schools and students they serve.

I have great respect for the enormous contribution that CHPS committee representatives made to the LEED for Schools effort—and I know much was missed by not embracing their ideas more fully.    

Growing Together

The green building movement can use all of the cooperation, energy and human resources we can muster, to continue to transform the market as quickly and effectively as possible.  My suggestions include:

Remember where we came from and where we are going. The USGBC was not always the global influence it is today. Along the way, it experienced its share of controversy, political turmoil and numerous organizational growing pains.

This is to be expected, and I applaud the effort made to move forward along the way.

No one can deny its accomplishments, but do they justify a monopoly?

Green Globes

Today's green building practitioners are sophisticated and savvy enough to make their own decisions about selecting from the available rating systems.

More important, what is to be gained by stifling fledgling organizations based on what they have yet to accomplish? 

Give the rank-and-file user some credit for being able to choose. I believe the green building movement is mature enough—and its practitioners savvy enough—to evaluate the differences between among rating systems and to discern the political and business influences behind each. (They have played out in the media for several years.)

Charges leveled against Green Globes for the support from Big Chemical and Big Vinyl must be taken seriously. Conversely, I believe there is room in LEED for more than one forest stewardship concern, as well as other administrative improvements.

So, how do we improve and strengthen both organizations (and others) so as to enjoy the benefits of diversity and flexibility of more than one approach to market transformation?

A more collaborative effort could produce other beneficial changes that neither can achieve alone.  Imagine if USGBC’s Greenbuild was held every other year, and regional conferences took its place in the off years.

Greening the Heartland

Giving Greenbuild a breather every other year could allow other shows, such as Greening the Heartland, to gain some traction and address the many non-LEED issues in green building.

The council could surely maintain its brand and stature by having its enormous gathering every two years.

Meanwhile, conferences such as Greening the Heartland and Greenprints would enjoy new life and relevance as events cosponsored by a coalition of green building organizations that include, but are not owned by, the USGBC.

Companies and individuals who cannot attend Greenbuild regularly could benefit from participating and marketing themselves regionally.

Freed from focusing on LEED, the conference could be arranged around regional microclimates (think ASHRAE climate zones), vernacular architecture, and local water and socio-economic issues.

'And,' Not 'Vs.'

Ideally, the conferences would be more affordable, manageable and relevant to attendees who find one major yearly conference overwhelming.


Since 1998, the Greenprints conference has facilitated conversations between researchers and on-the-ground practitioners to promote sustainable buildings and communities.

Local experts who cannot make the Greenbuild agenda could participate as speakers. There could be more small business participation, and another tier of green building experts might emerge.

Now, imagine if the USGBC and Green Globes found this format a useful, neutral opportunity for collaboration.

Open Town Hall Meeting-type forums where solutions to common obstacles could be evaluated and resolved together could distinguish such an event from Greenbuild.  There would be less “LEED vs. Green Globes” and more “LEED and Green Globes, Living Building Challenge, CHPS, CalGreen,” etc. 

The Beauty of Balance

I’m sure loyalists in both camps will find these suggestions naïve or far-fetched. There are always those who put more energy into arguing why something cannot or should not happen than into finding ways to accomplish much-needed change.

Greenbuild poster

Greenbuild has accomplished a great deal and has developed plenty of star power over the years. Does it need to maintain a monopoly on the whole nation?

The stakes are high, and the lure of one organization dominating all others is very strong. The stakeholders at the center of the controversy may not be able to cultivate relationships that are truly beneficial to each party, but I think it’s worth a try.

Nature teaches us that monocultures are not as beneficial as well-balanced, diverse eco-systems, regardless of how impressive the dominant species is. The conflict we see may be due to our system being out of balance.

Perhaps the highest and best role for the USGBC is to enrich and stabilize the green building eco-system by nurturing its diversity.


Robert J. Kobet, AIA

Robert J. Kobet has worked with clients on five continents for more than 35 years to create innovative places to live, work and learn. As an architect, educator, speaker, former chair of LEED for Schools, primary author of LEED for General Contractors and Construction Managers, and president and CEO of The Kobet Collaborative, Bob is working to make his vision for a green building era a reality. Leaning Green explores that reality. Contact Bob.



Tagged categories: Architecture; Building design; Design; Environmentally friendly; Green building; Green design; Green Globes; LEED; Sustainability; The Kobet Collaborative

Comment from Ron Adams, (3/31/2014, 12:01 PM)

To many folks it is more about the Money and Perks. These type of money generators have low oversight (they write the rules.

Comment from Sam Missimer, (6/16/2015, 9:13 AM)

This has been an issue from the first with USGBC. I remember being deeply concerned at Greenbuild Austin when the-then Chair stated at a dinner that "If it isn't LEED, it isn't green" followed by the troubling display of a leprechaun dancing through the crowd, throwing gold covered coins, and screaming "There's Gold in Green". It wasn't long ago that LEED spoke of the day when LEED wouldn't be needed. Haven't heard that for a while... There is a real need to move to a 'big tent' mentality, and unfortunately the very growth of USGBC creates a need to 'feed the beast', which makes other programs become a 'threat'.

Comment from Eric Murrell, (7/30/2015, 8:20 AM)

I am somewhat of an near-zone outsider (an Architect who is not LEED accredited). Every interaction I have ever had with the USGBC has left me questioning the kind of "green" they were really interested in - the kind that makes the world a better place, or the kind with numbers and dead presidents. Accordingly it does not surprise me that the USGBC seems to have a problem with "competition".

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