Three Steps To Make Green Globes Part of the Solution

An entry-level alternative pushing LEED to get better would be great, but GBI’s Green Globes needs to start by joining the green building community.

Tristan Roberts, Editorial Director

Photo: Matthew Cavanaugh
TurboTax gets audited. Now, so does Green Globes.

The green building rating system run by the Green Building Initiative (GBI), would-be rival to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and its LEED rating system, has been likened to the popular income tax software because it takes a complex problem and breaks it down into a user-friendly online questionnaire.

And just as someone needs to check that TurboTax actually reflects the U.S. tax code, we at BuildingGreen felt that it was time to take a deep look at Green Globes to see how well it reflects the needs and values of the green building community.

The result? By nearly every measure, Green Globes and GBI come up lacking. We’ve uncovered the details of our audit in an on-demand webcast (coming soon). Green Globes is one or more steps behind LEED in technical rigor, its process is less likely to push projects to new heights, and, organizationally, GBI is allied with the timber and chemical industries, which spend millions each year in Washington lobbying for anti-LEED policies.

In a side-by-side comparison of LEED and Green Globes, we found a few wins for Green Globes: project teams consider its process more friendly, its lack of prerequisites means it has a lower barrier for entry, and, although its registration and certification fees are higher than LEED’s, its easier process is likely to save projects time, resulting in net cost savings.

But let’s be clear: Green Globes is not an alternative to LEED. The Living Building Challenge is an alternative to LEED. Energy Star is an alternative to LEED. These programs offer unique advantages that speak for themselves, and they help spread triple-bottom-line values to more projects. They spur competition and innovation in the green building space, ultimately making the green building tent bigger. The backers of Green Globes, in contrast, appear more interested in tearing the whole tent down.

Even with Jerry Yudelson, a LEED Fellow, at its helm, GBI has so far chosen to saw away at the tent poles.

Paula Melton, Managing Editor

Photo: Amie Walter
First, there was the honeymoon in the green building media, where Yudelson seemed more intent on getting in digs at LEED than in making a strong case for why designers, builders, facility managers, and owners should consider Green Globes. His line that Green Globes is “better, faster, and cheaper” than LEED sounded good until we actually asked him about it, and he admitted it was an overreach.

Yudelson says he doesn’t want to say anything negative about LEED, but in likening LEED rules to “fatwahs” and “holy writ,” he seems to enjoy insulting not only USGBC but also major religions.

Yudelson and GBI had some great opportunities recently to stand up for accountability and fair competition in the green building space—and they passed them up.

A recent resolution in Ohio has raised the potential—in unusually specific language, even by the bizarre standards of anti-LEED legislation—of banning LEED v4 from public projects in that state. As documented by EBN, the Ohio bill is laden with language pulled from GBI and American Chemistry Council talking points—that it doesn’t follow consensus-based development standards and that its approach to material safety would hamper industry and green building development.

Would Yudelson step forward and criticize legislation that would artificially limit the very kind of competition in the green building industry that he says Green Globes stands for?

No. In a written statement to EBN, Yudelson apparently created a “policy” on the spot that GBI doesn’t “comment on legislation, actual or pending, or on existing laws.” Strangely, his logic was that GBI is not a “lobbying organization.” Yudelson knows that lobbying has a specific legal definition in this country; he virtually quoted it to EBN when we asked him if GBI engaged in political influence. A public figure like Yudelson is perfectly capable of publicly stating an opinion on a political process without engaging in lobbying.

Given another opportunity to distance himself from LEED’s attackers, Yudelson sided with them again when Treehugger exposed the “LEED Exposed” website as the work of professional smear artists. Asked via Twitter by Treehugger’s Lloyd Alter to comment, Yudelson replied, “Why is it a ‘smear’ to ask that LEED bldgs perform?”

Yudelson’s attitude would be amusing if it weren’t so insidious. Of course LEED buildings should perform, and USGBC should share more data on how they’re doing. We’ve written as much. But to imply that the LEED Exposed website—which includes a Green Globes pitch—is a credible critique of LEED is unscientific and unethical. Even John Scofield, the Oberlin physics professor who regularly publishes studies criticizing LEED for falling short on energy performance, objected to the LEED Exposed lies. He looked at the same data behind the LEED Exposed claim (now being repeated in op-eds in major news outlets) that LEED buildings in D.C. perform worse than average buildings and found through his own analysis that LEED office buildings are using 16% less source energy than other office buildings in D.C. Scofield wasn’t too impressed with that figure, but he didn’t let the lie stand.

Why would Yudelson?

Green Globes was introduced in the U.S. by a timber-industry lobbyist specifically to undermine LEED. As Yudelson noted in a January 2014 interview with EBN, “Clearly there was a history of wanting another form of wood certification. I’m not going to look at the history and say it wasn’t what it was.” In the same interview, he promised things would be different under his leadership: “It’s a new beginning; we pushed the reset button.” Yudelson’s subsequent Nero impression demonstrates that nothing has changed—that Green Globes and GBI are more intent on tearing down LEED than on joining the green building community that millions have worked to build.

To join that community, GBI needs to do three things:

  1. Run a software update. If Green Globes were an operating system, it would be Windows 95. Giving full credit for using Target Finder for energy points, with prescriptive credits for envelope and equipment improvements on top of that, is just odd. Green Globes is unconscionably behind on VOC emissions standards, and its daylighting credit references a rule-of-thumb metric that the best designers abandoned years ago. Green Globes should at least meet baseline green building expectations in terms of relevance, rigor, and credit weightings.
  2. Be yourself. Green Globes says nothing about avoidance of toxic chemicals and is generally weak on human health concerns. If Green Globes wants to continue to be industry-friendly and stay on the sidelines with some issues—fair enough. The market will decide what it wants. But don’t pretend to be the same as LEED, as Yudelson recently did when he said that LEED and Green Globes were “basically the same” in a ClimateWire article titled “Enviro groups slam building standard initiative.”
  3. Be a better influence. By looking the other way while his allies in the forestry, chemical, and vinyl industries tell lies about one of the most respected, most rigorous, and most grassroots-driven green building standards on Earth, Yudelson is acting like a pawn broker who receives stolen goods with a shrug. Even if they don’t dirty their hands with direct lobbying and public smearing, GBI and Yudelson are complicit if they do nothing to stop them. LEED is under attack from powerful interests—the same interests that have invested millions in supporting GBI and Green Globes. Many of these groups exist primarily for the purpose of blocking environmental regulations. Yudelson as well as GBI staff, board members, and other Green Globes associates should let their friends know that attacking LEED—not to the benefit of future generations, but just to take LEED down—is out of bounds. The stakes for the planet are too high.

That’s where you—the green building community at large—come in. GBI wants your business. Don’t give it to them until it has met these conditions. If your client asks you about Green Globes, give them all the information and suggest a credible system—LEED, Energy Star, Enterprise Green Communities, the Living Building Challenge, Passive House, or, if you’re outside the U.S., a system used in that region, like BREEAM or GSAS.

Cheaper plaques delivered more quickly at the expense of quality and integrity are not what the industry needs. We need better buildings, and that starts with true alternatives, honest information, and constructive dialogue.

Disclosure: BuildingGreen has worked closely with both USGBC and LEED over the past two decades. Several BuildingGreen employees are accredited LEED professionals, and BuildingGreen is a member of USGBC. BuildingGreen is a USGBC Education Partner, and USGBC and BuildingGreen have an ongoing contract supporting our LEEDuser website, which EBN editors have also worked on.

One BuildingGreen employee is an accredited Green Globes Professional (GGP), and two have applied to join the Green Globes consensus body.

Published June 1, 2014

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May 30, 2014 - 3:32 pm

Excellent article, Tristan and Paula!  No doubt you've been receiving some instant rebuttals!  Not sure if your readers are aware of the new joint initiative of the Sierra Club and the Earth Island Institute, Greeenwash Action. It is worth exploring their site to see how your three step program aligns with their goals:  http://greenwashaction.org