USGBC Sued Over False Advertising, Fraud

by | Oct 15, 2010

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Henry Gifford, owner of Gifford Fuel Saving and a public critic of the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED certification program, has filed a class action lawsuit against the organization and its founders on behalf of “consumers, taxpayers, building design and construction professionals,” reports Shari Shapiro, an attorney and LEED Accredited Professional, Green Building Law Blog.

The $100-million lawsuit alleges fraud, unfair competition, deceptive trade practices, and false advertising, among other things, reports TreeHugger.

Gifford alleges that USGBC has falsely claimed that its rating system makes buildings save energy, and that building owners have spent more money to have their buildings certified, and professionals have gained worthless professional credentials, says Shapiro. Click here (PDF) to read the complaint.

Gifford uses his critique of a 2008 study from New Buildings Institute (NBI) and USGBC that looks at the actual energy performance of buildings certified under LEED for New Construction and Major Renovations (LEED-NC) to support his allegations, reports Building Green. While the NBI study finds that LEED buildings are, on average, 25 percent to 30 percent more efficient than the national average, Gifford’s own published analysis concludes that LEED buildings are, on average, 29 percent less efficient, according to the article.

Shapiro doesn’t expect the suit to survive class certification for several reasons. For example, she says as “a general proposition, taxpayers do not have standing to sue,” and “there is a commonality problem and a causation problem for the class–did the USGBC’s false statements cause the same type of harm to the same type of plaintiff. Indeed, did the false statements cause any harm at all to these plaintiffs.”

Shapiro raises other questions including: Is the USGBC engaging in intentional, fraudulent actions? Or was it a good organization seeking to benefit the world by promoting more ecologically friendly building practices?

Shapiro also notes that Gifford is not a LEED AP and does not appear to own any property certified LEED so USGBC’s actions have not harmed him or his career.

Gifford told Building Green that he has lost out of business because “owners are fixated on earning LEED points,” adding “unless you’re a LEED AP you’re not going to get work.” He also says he can prove that the buildings he has worked on saves energy.

According to a recent green building study nearly 93 percent of design and construction professionals continue to endorse green building despite the recession, although support for LEED certification slipped again in 2009, widening the gap between support for green construction and LEED certification

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