Monday, October 25, 2010

LEED green building officials blue under new lawsuit

Founders and members of the U.S. Green Building Council, who maintain the popular LEED rating system and guidelines for green building design and energy use, have been slapped with a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York for allegedly fraudulently misleading consumers and misrepresenting energy performance of buildings with LEED certification.

The filing plaintiff, longtime outspoken LEED critic and engineer Henry Gifford, owner of Gifford Fuel Saving of Manhattan, is part of a class of plaintiffs consisting of business owners who paid for LEED certification and taxpayers who claim they helped subsidize LEED buildings. Gifford, deemed worthy of a New Yorker profile in 2003, not only claims he has been harmed by USGBC, but claims to represent the interests of the other plaintiffs who say they paid for LEED certification under false promises. Under the suit, they demand that USGBC pay $100 million in compensation and legal fees to victims, and stop their alleged deceptive practices.

But the case seems shaky, at best. Gifford cites his evidence of misrepresentation on his own analysis of data from the most thorough study done of LEED construction to date, a 2008 study from New Buildings Institute (NBI) and USGBC. Gifford claims that, under his own analysis, LEED buildings are, on average, 29 percent less efficient -- a sharp contrast to the findings from the NBI study (supported by the National Research Council Canada) which found LEED-certified building an average of 25 to 30 percent more efficient than the average building.
Gifford (EBN)
Meanwhile, the class action suit might fall apart, as each plaintiff's case varies widely and the lead plaintiffs may not be the best to represent the class. Then there's the question of whether Gifford specifically was truly harmed from the alleged fraud. Oh, and there's this statement:

"I'm afraid that in a few years somebody really evil will publicize the fact that green buildings don't save energy and argue that the only solution [to resource constraints] to more guns to shoot at the people who have oil underneath their sand," he told Environmental Building News.

Hmm. EBN interviewed several lawyers who explained that consumers have numerous opportunities to verify their energy consumption under LEED and that LEED design alone could not reduce energy use if residents do not also adjust other living factors. They're sure the suit won't get too far.

But if the suit succeeds, what could it mean for green building? Read more details to the debate here.

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