LEED Fellow Yudelson to Lead Rival Green Globes
Green building consultant Jerry Yudelson aims to “push the reset button” at the Green Building Initiative (GBI).
A new force will be making Green Globes go ’round.
Jerry Yudelson, P.E., a LEED Fellow and a prominent green building advocate, has joined the Green Building Initiative (GBI) as president. “It’s a new beginning,” Yudelson told LEEDuser. “We pushed the reset button.”
GBI’s relationship with its former—and controversial—president, timber lobbyist Ward Hubbell, along with lobbying and public relations firm Hubbell Communications, “has been severed,” Yudelson confirmed, and the group has moved from the Hubbell building to a new location in southwest Portland, Oregon.
Yudelson said he will be a much-needed “public face” for the organization, “kind of in the same way Rick Fedrizzi does for USGBC” (the U.S. Green Building Council, where Fedrizzi is president, CEO, and founding chairman). “I’ll also set up a strategic planning process and take them to the next level of development,” Yudelson added.
Despite GBI’s history of an adversarial relationship with LEED and USGBC, Yudelson asserts he’s “not saying anything negative about LEED.” Instead, he points out that “LEED does not meet everyone’s needs” and says there’s demand in the marketplace for a low-cost, user-friendly system that can make buildings greener than they would be without any certification at all.
“My goal is to be in the marketplace with a good product, a good approach, and to get more people to do green building,” he explained. “I don’t really see us getting engaged in anti-LEED activity as an organization.”
Yudelson does fault LEED’s bureaucracy for increasing the cost and slowing the uptake of green building, comparing credit interpretations to “religious fatwas” and arguing that LEED’s complexity creates “the need for highly specialized consultants” who understand “the latest rulings from the ‘mullahs.’” But he views GBI’s role as that of “a friendly competitor” rather than a nemesis.
Competition, he argues, “forces you to continue to respond to the marketplace,” and he points to the Living Building Challenge (LBC) as a model of friendly competition. “There’s always an engine on the train and a caboose and a bunch of cars in the middle,” he said (apparently hinting that LBC is the engine, LEED the cars, and Green Globes the caboose). “But everyone wants to go in the right direction.”
Better, faster, or cheaper: Pick two
In an interview with Building Design + Construction, where he served as consulting editor until taking the helm at GBI, Yudelson claimed “better, faster, [and] cheaper” were the key selling points of Green Globes. LEEDuser asked him to elaborate on how Green Globes is better.
“We can go with faster and cheaper and leave it at that,” Yudelson joked. “In the building industry, we like to say you can have it faster, cheaper, or better: pick two.”
The claims of lower cost and ease of use of Green Globes will be the core messages of GBI under Yudelson’s leadership, he suggested, adding that he hopes to encourage LEED to move in a similar direction. “LEED is really out of touch with today’s realities,” he argued, citing requirements he views as outdated due to regulatory changes—such as sedimentation control, recycling space, and elimination of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCsChlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are a compound of carbon, hydrogen, chlorine and fluorine, once commonly used in refrigeration, that depletes the stratospheric ozone layer.).
“It doesn’t need more credits,” he contends, adding that any project team that hasn’t already addressed the basics probably isn’t realistically going to pursue LEED certification anyway. “It needs a wholesale revamp with a user-friendly approach as the paramount aspect.” (Yudelson’s examples of outdated requirements all refer to longstanding LEED prerequisites—SSp1, MRp1, and EAp3—that are generally considered easy to document on U.S. projects, where they are standard measures, but more of a push on non-U.S. projects.)
Maybe just faster?
Robert Phinney, AIA, director of sustainable design and energy services at HDR Architecture, challenged the idea that Green Globes is less expensive.
“I am constantly hearing that one of the major benefits of Green Globes over LEED is the perception of lower costs. I find this to be misleading, and in many cases, simply incorrect,” he told LEEDuser. “On one recent project, we were asked to look at the cost of pursuing minimum LEED certification and minimum Green Globes certification,” and the results surprised him.
Phinney found that registration costs would be more than twice as much for Green Globes as for LEED ($17,000 vs. $8,150). This meant that although “the LEED process required more effort on the consulting side,” that cost premium “about equalled the difference in admin costs, while the level of effort for the design disciplines throughout each process remained consistent.”
That said, continued Phinney, “From a technical standpoint, both LEED and Green Globes have their pros and cons, and this cost assessment does not reflect a judgment on the choice of one system or another. Each has their place in the industry.”
“About time” or a betrayal?
On social media and in private exchanges, green building professionals expressed a variety of reactions to Yudelson’s move, ranging from “It’s about time LEED had some real competition” to surprise that a long-time LEED advocate would join an organization that has sought to undermine LEED.
“Just picked myself up off the carpet after learning that Jerry Yudelson has become head of GBI/Green Globes,” added Treehugger managing editor Lloyd Alter, who’s been a scathing critic of Green Globes and Hubbell Communications continually since the group’s inception.
Beyond the wood wars
Asked whether GBI’s close ties with the timber and chemical industries gave him pause, Yudelson said he planned to expand the reach of Green Globes to a much broader group of stakeholders.
“Clearly there was a history of wanting another form of wood certification,” Yudelson concedes (see our investigative blog series on the “wood wars”). “I’m not going to look at the history and say it wasn’t what it was.”
But the membership base and board of directors—which currently have outsized representation from mainstream timber and plastics groups—are already diversifying, he claims, and he intends to build on that by doubling the number of members and “build[ing] a membership much more strongly in the area of users and the area of professional services. If you look at the board twelve months from now,” he hopes, “you would say, ‘Gee that looks a lot like USGBC.’” Another goal for the coming year, he told LEEDuser, is to increase Green Globes’ market share in the green building certification world to 10% (from an estimated 2%–4% currently).
Yudelson was not prepared to address directly the recent controversy over discrepancies between the Green Globes tool and GBI’s ANSI standard—a controversy that led to the resignation of longtime GBI board member Harvey Bryan, Ph.D., FAIA (see “Green Globes Board Member Quits Over ANSI Claims“)—but he told LEEDuser he planned to “find out what [Bryan’s] critique is in some detail” and to address that critique, adding that “we’re committed to being an ANSI standards organization, whatever that ends up meaning in practice.”
Although claiming to build bridges, Yudelson took a dig at USGBC for not achieving unanimous support for LEED version 4 (LEED v4). “One in seven people voted against it,” he pointed out. “Some people had genuine concerns about workability and so forth. That’s a fact.” In apparent contrast, GBI will “continue to go down the path” of a “consensus standards approach,” he added.
Although GBI has often attempted to paint LEED as lacking full support and industry representation, consensus standards almost never require a unanimous vote. Like many consensus-based systems, USGBC’s own rules require a two-thirds majority for approval of the standard, and the LEED v4 vote was a historic landslide, with 86% approval. (Contrary to Yudelson’s statistics, only 1 in 10 voters voted against, with 4% abstaining. See “LEED v4 Overwhelmingly Approved by USGBC Members.”)
Yudelson insists he’s trying to fortify sustainability, however, rather than tear down LEED.
“Ultimately, most buildings are built without attention to any standards other than the building code,” Yudelson told LEEDuser. “Our goal has been to get every building to up its game in terms of environmental performance. We need more—rather than fewer—tools to do that. If this thing can work, it’s going to help everybody.”
[Disclaimer: BuildingGreen, Inc. owns LEEDuser, a virtual LEED help desk, and some BuildingGreen staff members have worked with USGBC as volunteers and contractors.]