$100 Million Class Action Filed Against LEED and USGBC

A "grade A" sustainable office building in Hong Kong.

kennethnokman / Getty Images

Henry Gifford has been a thorn in the side of the US Green Building Council for a couple of years, since hewrote an article claiming that LEED rated buildings used 29% more energy than conventional buildings. LEED has changed a lot since then, but not enough for Henry; He's launched a $100 million class action lawsuit against the USGBC, going after them for Sherman Act Monopolization through fraud, unfair competition, deceptive trade practices, false advertising, wire fraud and unjust enrichment. (PDF here)

Having spent a day in a Henry Gifford seminar, watching him explain the intricacies of steam piping and valves, I can attest that he is a character. But now I have to ask, is he nuts?
Environmental lawyer Shari Shapiro at Green Building Law describes the suit in plain language:

The allegations are essentially fraud and false advertising, an anti-trust claim and a RICO claim thrown in for good measure. His theory is that the 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, that professionals have gotten worthless professional credentials and people in general have been duped into thinking LEED has meaning.

She thinks that there will be more of this kind of litigation, but that Henry is a lousy plaintiff for it.

My initial take (hey--I have to get in my fair share of the follow-on publication) is that the case may have merit, but it has a bad plaintiff. Rosa Parks was not the only person to object to segregated buses by refusing to give up their seat. She was chosen by the NAACP because she made a good plaintiff.

Shari concludes:

To the best of my research, Mr. Gifford is not a LEED AP, and indeed, from his website and publications, he has outspokenly denounced the USGBC and LEED. Mr. Gifford does not appear to own any property certified LEED. In short--the USGBC's actions have not harmed him His career, if anything, has been enhanced by the USGBC's position.

, Gifford denies this, and tells Tristan Roberts:

"Nobody hires me to fix their buildings," he said. Though not an engineer, Gifford is respected in energy efficiency circles for his technical knowledge. He told EBN that he has lost out because owners are fixated on earning LEED points, and he doesn't participate: "Unless you're a LEED AP you're not going to get work." That's unfair, he claims, because while USGBC says that its product saves energy, it doesn't.

When asked why he was going to the trouble of suing, Gifford says:

"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] is more guns to shoot at the people who have oil underneath their sand."

I am not a LEED fanboy. As I see it, Henry made some very good points in 2008; In 2009, LEED changed, and now demands verification, so he's flogging a dead horse. LEED also never was only about energy; green building covers a wider spectrum, energy savings are only one component.

By suing, Gifford just gave anti-greens a whole lot of ammunition. Gifford has made a good living, getting invited to lecture to professional groups like the Ontario Association of Architects, where I saw him. Now he has turned into the Lord Monckton of green building and will never eat lunch in that town again. He is hurting himself and green building in general. I think he's nuts.