USGBC’s founder reflects on the movement’s 20-year history and the road ahead. He offers practical solutions and ways to improve.
By Nancy AmdurAs the founder of the U.S. Green Building Council and World Green Building Council, David Gottfried is considered the father of the green building movement, so it’s not surprising that his interest in green living began at a young age.
He was an early recycler, carting glass bottles to recycling centers before curbside pickups became the norm, and he was a backpacker who carried out his waste. While an engineering student at Stanford University, Gottfried designed and made a scale-model solar house. “It was the house I dreamed of living in someday,” he wrote in his latest memoir, “Explosion Green,” which tells the 20-year story of the green building movement.
“I love green,” said Gottfried. “I love all of it. Saving energy, generating clean energy, recycling.”
Gottfried, a Berkeley resident, started his career as a non-green developer in Washington, D.C. But when he worked on a project for the Washington office of the Environmental Defense Fund that included sustainable design features such as energy-efficient lighting fixtures and natural linoleum floor tiles, it sparked his idea for studying ways to incorporate environmentally friendly elements into building and office design. He founded the nonprofit USGBC in 1993 and the WorldGBC in 1999.
Now, nearly 200,000 projects worldwide are certified green by the council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program or are in the pipeline to become certified, according to an introduction in Gottfried’s book by Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chair of the USGBC and chairman of the WorldGBC.
“When people adopt our standards and seek our certification, they’re making a statement: not just that their building meets certain leadership criteria of design, and of energy and water conservation, but that they are part of a worldwide movement,” Fedrizzi wrote.
Indeed, green building is global. There are 140 countries using the certification and 100 countries have green building councils. The green building market is expected to exceed $200 billion by 2016, according to a 2013 outlook report by McGraw Hill Construction, a division of McGraw Hill Financial, which tracks industry data.
“No one intended it to be as huge as it is. It went crazy. No one could’ve foreseen that,” Gottfried said. “It’s the biggest story ever in the world of green. We built a movement.”
There are five LEED rating systems, such as building design and construction or operations and maintenance,and four levels of certification: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum.
In San Francisco, there is a minimum standard for new construction of LEED Gold, said Dan Geiger, executive director of USGBC’s Northern California chapter.
“LEED has become the de facto standard for Class A office space in San Francisco and in much of Northern California,” Geiger said.
“San Francisco is requiring projects to meet a high standard, but there are quite a lot of projects that recognize that goal and aim higher,” said Barry Hooper, a green building specialist at the city’s Department of the Environment. “It’s people going above that floor [who] demonstrate what can be done and help draw others along with them.”
The motivation to build green projects is to “do the right thing,” Geiger said, but also for economic reasons and client demand. “It creates value, reduces costs and attracts talent,” he said.
Demand for green homes also is growing. There are about 150,000 LEED-certified green housing units worldwide, and the number of green homes more than doubled between 2011 and 2012, according to a USGBC report released last month.
As the understanding, technology and supplies to create a green building become easier and more accessible, the council creates new versions of LEED. Last fall, LEED version 4 was released. “The goal is to catalyze the market to strive for ever higher and higher goals and broader goals,” Geiger said.
In general, the LEED system works well, Gottfried said, but he would like to see the certification process simplified.
“As a guideline, LEED is great. As a certification body, we are still asking for too much documentation,” he said. “There might be more effective ways to get a higher result with less effort.”
Gottfried, who has moved on to other business projects but remains active with the USGBC, also would like three green building certification categories: design it green, construct it green and operate it green. “There should be LEED certification for each of the three relays of the triathlon,” he said. “To get the full medal, you should do all three.”
Some emerging trends in the industry are considering the relationship between green building and health—including disclosing what is in building materials; zero net energy buildings that use only as much energy as can be produced onsite through clean, renewable resources; and sustainable communities that look at factors such as an area’s housing and transportation choices with a goal of achieving cleaner, healthier low-impact development, Geiger said.
Gottfried now leads Bay Area-based Regenerative Ventures, Inc., which works with portfolio companies to enhance their value through green building initiatives. He also is extending his green outlook to encompass living a green life with his newer project REGEN360. “It looks at what is a green life and what is a life of purpose and legacy, and how do you create one,” he said.
“I think we all have a part to play and that we all need to be in the game. And no matter how good we’re doing, we can do better,” Gottfried said.