Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against USGBC in New York.

20 Oct 2010

An interesting Federal class action lawsuit (copy of complaint) was filed against the U.S. Green Building Counsel (USGBC) earlier this month in New York alleging, among other things, violations of the Sherman and Lanham Acts for creating an illegal monopoly and “deceiving users” of the LEED system.  One of the lawsuit’s main allegations is that the USGBC is perpetrating a fraud by falsely claiming that LEED certified buildings on average perform 25-30% better than non-LEED buildings in terms of energy use.

So, does the lawsuit have merit or is it more sensational than substantive?  Too early to tell.  There are as many LEED critics out there as there are LEED supporters.  Some claim that standards like the USDOE’s Energy Star program, ASHRAE standards, and Passivhaus/Passive House USA standards are time proven and that LEED lacks the back-up data necessary to verify the USGBC’s claims (see my prior post: Does LEED = Indoor Air Quality?).  Interestingly enough, one of the changes that the USGBC made last year in launching LEED Version 3.0 was to require ongoing performance data reporting for projects to maintain their LEED certification.

The lawsuit was also filed as a class action and class certification for the plaintiffs could be an uphill battle.  According to various website reports, the lead plaintiff, Henry Gifford, a self-proclaimed energy efficiency guru, is not a LEED AP and does own any LEED-certified property.  As a result, if true, he may have a difficult time demonstrating that he was harmed even if he can prove fraudulent misrepresentation by the USGBC.

This case will undoubtedly be followed closely by the green building industry since its result could have wide ranging impacts on LEED and other green building certification standards going forward.

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