In case you might have missed the news, this Monday, the ongoing soap-opera lawsuit between Henry Gifford and the USGBC was modified. Last Thursday, the White House released its Better Buildings initiative, which is primarily aimed at the Commercial sector. While these two items may seem worlds apart, they are in some ways remarkably similar.
Back in October 2010, a lawsuit was filed, by Mr. Gifford against the USGBC for fraudulently misleading consumers and misrepresenting energy performance of buildings certified under the LEED system, that he claimed hurt not only him, but numerous others including the environment. Based on all the parties being “hurt”, Mr. Gifford sought to make it into a class-action lawsuit. As of Monday, it has been whittled down to one charge of false advertising and now only involves him, an architect and two other engineers that have been hurt by these practices…
“losing customers because USGBC’s false advertisements mislead the consumer into believing that obtaining LEED certification incorporates construction techniques that achieve energy-efficiency.” The suit seeks an injunction and damages against USGBC.”
What I do find interesting are some comments by one of the newest plaintiff’s Andrew Äsk, P.E., as reported by Environmental Building News. In the article, he complains that over-reliance on the LEED AP credential leads to incompetent, less-experienced people taking work from more experienced professionals that choose not to pursue it, like him. Beyond the silliness of those previous statements, we get to the meat & potato’s where he states that the USGBC is “certifying buildings prospectively without proving that they are going to save energy.” He likened this to “Let’s build the building, occupy it, and then read the meter” to assess energy savings.
Better Building Initiative
Well it appears, the White House has moved on from the Recovery through Retrofit Program to the Better Buildings Initiative. Unfortunately, unlike the RTR program, very little information is available on this initiative, except that they plan on making commercial buildings 20% more Energy Efficient by 2020, which would theoretically save businesses around $40 billion a year. One of the main parts of this is to “improve transparency around energy efficiency performance” and to “provide more workforce training in areas such as energy auditing and building operations.”
Commercial Energy Efficiency
Unlike auditing and modeling a house, auditing a commercial building is a different animal all together as they reiterated my recent CEA training. Unlike a house where we can simply compare it to a similar house built to code, how does one compare an office building where there are over a thousand laptops and PC’s on for most of the day? How about a factory building with their hundreds of motors, where raw product is brought in and a finished product rolls off the line at the other end? While some may point out the “reference buildings” that are available from NREL & DOE, can one realistically use those to judge the Energy Efficiency of their building?
Herein lies the rub between both programs, and that is how to do you determine a “buildings” energy efficiency? Unlike a home, most buildings accounts for just a small percentage of the actual energy or resources used. Should we still look at improving the actual buildings and doing appropriate retrofitting work? Well that is pretty simple – of course we should, but the main problem lies in how they are used & in the manufacturing world, the actual processes and equipment used.
For example, while one can design a net-zero building, it does not guarantee an owner that they will never have a utility bill. Putting it into simple terms; while I could design & build a house that should only use $600 worth of electricity a year, do you think ones electrical bill would be higher or lower than that if they are always leaving the door open with the AC or heat on, the lights, or run a bunch of computer gear? Well the same issue applies to every other building, one can build one that should be more efficient as you included XY&Z in it, but if it is not used properly, maintained, etc… all bets are off.
As for Mr. Gifford, while I am sorry your product was not used, one can hardly blame the USGBC for that. Just because there may be a better product out there, which is more Energy Efficient, or a better ways to do something, it does not mean that it will be chosen. I will grant you that their older programs & even there newer ones still have their faults, I would love to see one program that does not.
Training and Certifications
First, let me just take care of the ridiculous portion, before we get to how these two intertwine. Mr. Äsk are you flipping kidding me? Well I don’t want to be certified by them, so it’s their fault that I cannot work on their projects? Are all P.E.’s so well versed in Building Science and knowledge of LEED that one just needs to see those initials & know that you don’t need to take any more tests (well unless you cross a State Line)? Are you planning on suing the AEE, RESNET, BPI, NAHB, etc… that also require one to take a test to be certified? Ok, I have that part out of my system…
On the flip side of the coin, here we go again with the government – obviously, we do not have enough training or all this stuff would be happening because it is common sense. Folks the issue is not training, as we have plenty of smart certified individuals out there. As one poster alluded to in the LEED article above, there are supposedly 155,000 LEED AP’s already, which does not include RESNET Raters for homes, CEA’s, or a whole host of other organizations or all the P.E.’s and others with the knowledge & experience that choose not to get certified. The problem is not finding a trained individual, but instead knowing how they can help & what they can do for you. As a reminder, it is not always about the money as mentioned in the report “”