In the U.S. building industry, is it too easy to be green? USA Today reporter Thomas Frank says yes; USGBC top executive Rick Fedrizzi invites critics to take a closer look.

Tom Frank ran a scathing condemnation of green building certifications in USA Today. He collected the customary criticisms of the most well-known rating system, the United States Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design:

  • Buildings often don’t perform as well as their blueprint-stage models predict, especially in energy consumption
  • The benefits of some individual measures are contested by experts, but council insiders profit by keeping them in the rating system
  • Points are too cheap and easy to earn (the bike rack critique) or would have been included anyway (such as locally produced recycled steel)
  • Taxpayers are paying the cost of government buildings that must meet green building standards by law, and tax breaks for private-sector green buildings

To set the tone for his exposé, Frank called the USGBC a powerful private interest group, deriding USGBC’s influence over legislation and building codes.

Rick Fedrizzi, chairman and CEO of the nonprofit USGBC, shot back with a quick response:

  • Green buildings have been proven to save resources, save money for their owners, and provide healthy environments for workers, students and families
  • LEED standards are continuously developed by a painstaking process involving large technical committees of industry professionals
  • The building materials industry has responded to the growth of green buildings by offering environmentally beneficial products at the same cost as their non-green antecedents
  • Green building has created eight million jobs across 50 states and contributes $554 billion to the U.S. economy annually

THE PROBLEM isn’t the cost or effectiveness of LEED-qualifying measures, or legislation that makes LEED attractive or even compulsory. The problem at the root of Frank’s complaints is that the USGBC is aggressive and that gives it a de facto monopoly on green building certifications. The council’s full-steam-ahead effort, led by the exceedingly energetic Fedrizzi, has catapulted the USGBC far in front of other organizations with similar rating and certification systems, so there’s little (if any) competition to LEED.

The USGBC’s singular focus on improving the quality of life through the built environment has led to the undeniably explosive growth in green building, 74 percent of which is in the market-driven private sector. Is the USGBC the 400-pound gorilla among green-building organizations? Absolutely. Is the USGBC malevolent? Only from the perspective of those who wish we could live and work in the days when commonly accepted building standards were devoid of environmental requirements.