Seal of green or greed?

Many are familiar with the round “LEED” (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) seal that is awarded to demonstrate that a building has met a certain energy efficiency threshold as determined by the USGBC.  What many people may not know is that the USGBC is a 13,000-member organization run by activists, architects, builders and building suppliers that collects up to $35,000 in fees for each certification. The organization has drawn intense criticism over LEED’s effectiveness, its market influence, and its cost to taxpayers.  And that was before its July 2013 vote to approve the next version of LEED (LEED v4), which will only elevated these concerns.

As a private, non-profit organization, USGBC’s non-science based standards are dictating government policies and are relied upon by the General Services Administration (GSA) as the exclusive system to certify its 40,000 federal buildings as “green.”  Since 2010, GSA has mandated LEED gold standards for all new federal buildings along with 35 states and over 170 cities that require LEED certification or give builders tax breaks for building to its specifications.

Last year, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) issued warnings that new standards under consideration would be harmful for taxpayers and businesses by explicitly offering a significant competitive advantage to favored industries and implicitly discouraging and unfairly targeting other industries.

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The goal of achieving more sustainable and energy efficient buildings is something that the private and public sectors can support together, and was at the core of LEED’s original mission. But that mission has evolved, and with the new version, its mission now seems more focused on punishing those who use certain products, while relying on non-scientific reasoning as a basis for the new guidelines. In fact, many of the products that LEED now seeks to eliminate are the very materials that help improve a building’s energy performance and sustainability like reflective roofing and solar technology.

With its recent vote to approve LEED v4, the USGBC has made a bad system worse while it lacks the expertise to even be trusted on many of the new standards it will now be responsible to implement. There is a range of options when it comes to standards and guidelines for greater energy efficiency instead of allowing the USGBC to claim a monopoly. In fact, representatives of the federal agencies on the its board—including the Veterans Administration, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Department of Health and Human Services and others—voted in May against keeping LEED as the sole standard for government buildings.

In addition to more Congressional hearings to address these growing concerns with LEED, TPA has sought greater transparency and accountability when it comes to efficiency programs that taxpayers are subsidizing.  Through a series of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, we tried to get answers about the close relationship between the USGBC and the GSA that entrenches this process. However, since first submitted in January of this year, and we are still waiting for answers to these basic questions.

TPA is dedicated to continuing efforts to seek greater transparency, a more accountable system, and a real commonsense approach when it comes to efficiency programs that the taxpayers are subsidizing. As USGBC continues in this unchecked role with the federal government and expands its reach into areas outside the scope of its own expertise, its seal risks becoming a symbol of green greed and misuse of taxpayer dollars.
 
Williams is the president of the Taxpayers Protetion Alliance (TPA), a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to educating the public through the research, analysis and dissemination of information on the government's effects on the economy. For more information, please visit www.protectingtaxpayers.org.

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