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USGBC Beats LEED False Advertising Claims

The U.S. District Court in New York City yesterday dismissed a lawsuit charging the U.S. Green Building Council with false advertising over its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

Henry Gifford, an energy efficiency professional, filed the class action suit in October. He alleged that USGBC has falsely claimed that its rating system makes buildings save energy. Gifford has claimed that buildings can receive the highest LEED ratings regardless of how much energy or water they use.

USGBC said the court dismissed the federal false advertising claims “with prejudice,” meaning plaintiffs are barred from filing a new suit based on those claims, and also dismissed the plaintiffs’ false advertising claims made under state law.

The court held that none of the plaintiffs in the action had alleged or could allege any legal interest that would be protected by their lawsuit, the council said.

“This successful outcome is a testament to our process and to our commitment to do what is right,” said president, CEO and founding chair Rick Fedrizzi. “Thousands of people around the world use LEED because it’s a proven tool for achieving our mission of transforming the built environment.

“We’re grateful that the court found in our favor so we can give our full attention to the important work before us,” Fedrizzi added.

But Gifford told Environmental Leader, “I am surprised to see the USGBC say the court found that none of the plaintiffs alleged any legal interest to be protected by our lawsuit, while our case rested on our claim that we are harmed by the USGBC’s false claims that LEED buildings save energy, when in fact they average 29 percent higher energy use.

“Staying in business is surely a legal interest to be protected, so I will be very interested to read the decision.”

He said he didn’t know if he would be able to appeal the case.

“I am very glad I and other people took a stand for the truth. I thank the many people who supported our efforts, and we will continue to discuss what can be done to stop this tragedy, including the possibility of legal action involving plaintiffs the court might view as more direct competitors,” Gifford added, in a statement.

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3 thoughts on “USGBC Beats LEED False Advertising Claims

  1. This is such an interesting case because it speaks to the heart of the perennial question: What is greenwash? It comes down to whether LEED allows building owners to exaggerate their environmental achievements. As an outspoken opponent of greenwash, I have struggled with LEED for some time. LEED is a certification process that provides benchmarks rather than a set of standards. Developers and building owners pick and choose from a laundry list of greening strategies to reach a green building design that aggregates green standards. As a result, it is true that LEED certification can actually be achieved even in the complete absence of, for example, important energy efficiencies. This loophole remains a major criticism of the LEED program. Additionally, separate LEED ratings systems exist for different building types, so the benchmarks vary depending on your building use and whether you are building from scratch or renovating an existing space. And, while I agree, that LEED does not qualify for greenwash (it has meaningful, verifiable criteria, it is consistent, clear and transparency,it is independent and protected from conflict of interest, and provides opportunities for public comment), for small projects and therefore small businesses, it is often not feasible (mostly because of the expense and entrenched monitoring requirements). But, even if a buisling cannot afford to follow individual LEED criteria, LEED raises the bar for us all and provides motivation to achieve the intent of greening even without the certification itself. In that LEED is a wonderful tool. In the end, LEED’s approach is holistic—and not just eye candy—and therefore legitimate. In the end, LEED promotes sustainable building practices and is not about promoting exaggerated environmental achievements.

  2. Also, LEED 2009 has added energy and water prerequisites such that at least some savings in those areas is now required to achieve a LEED rating. That’s good news too!

  3. Gifford appears to have lost on a legal standing issue, not on the quality of USGBC’s criteria or on Gifford’s substantive issues. So USGBC shouldn’t be patting itself on its back about the substantive issues Gifford raises.

    To gain real credibility, USGBC should come out now and say how, and when, it will meaningfully address Gifford’s critique (and those of people like Jennifer Kaplan above).

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