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Lawsuit casts shadow on LEED certification

Raises questions that have far-reaching implications

| | Dec 15, 2010 | 11:07 am
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Raises questions that have far-reaching implications

According to an article, titled ‘Lawsuit Takes Aim At LEED Certification’ by Ariel Schwartz (article dated November 8, 2010, accessed on December 4, 2010 from the Fast Company magazine’s website link: http://www.fastcompany.com/1700968/is-the-us-green-building-councils-leed-certification-fraudulent), questions have been raised about the veracity and rationale behind the process of LEED certification.

While Schwartz, in his article, concedes that LEED has become the de facto certification system for green buildings, as it is internationally recognised, and its vast criteria is comprehensive, he alludes to a recent class action lawsuit filed by Henry Gifford, owner of Gifford Fuel Saving. Schwartz says in his article that Gifford has accused the USGBC of monopolising “the market through fraudulent and intentionally misleading representations in the marketing and promotion of their LEED product line.” (as quoted by Schwartz) The writer asks if Gifford’s claims have any merit, and examines its ramification of, by way of answering it.

Schwartz quotes Shari Shapiro, a LEED-accredited attorney with Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel in Philadelphia: “What Henry Gifford is alleging is that the USGBC has defrauded the public. That is, “building owners, building professionals that have gotten LEED accreditation, taxpayers, consumers, and a variety of other people. He is saying that USGBC representations about the energy performance of buildings have harmed all of these classes of people in various ways.”

Schwartz elaborates: The representations in question include claims that LEED-certified properties use 25% less energy, offer CO2 reductions, and feature improved air quality and water efficiency compared to non-LEED-certified buildings. But Gifford has reportedly pointed out that verification of energy usage is not required for LEED-certified buildings, and that the USGBC does not require facility plans to be submitted or reviewed. This, points out Schwartz, in essence, allows building designers to “self-certify”.

Schwartz argues that though Gifford is neither LEED certified, nor owns any building that is LEED certified (which will make it difficult for him to prove that LEED has caused him to lose out on any business personally), the very fact that he has raised the issue deserves a serious thought by USGBC.

The lawsuit has, perhaps, reinforced complaint raised against LEED among green building professionals — that the rating system leaves much to be desired. As Schwartz puts it, “it is inexact, and it’s hard to measure ‘green’.” He adds, “Just because a building plan lives up to LEED’s requirements doesn’t mean its energy consumption will be lower once the building is in use.”

Schwartz, based on his conversation with Gifford, says that Gifford believes he has been harmed, because he is not LEED accredited, and that has unfairly lost him business. Whatever the outcome of the lawsuit may turn out to be, the questions raised by Schwartz have relevance and serious implications for not only the construction sector but also for the issue of sustainability in the Middle East region and beyond.

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