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New Leaders for LEED: What Will Change?


By Robert J. Kobet, AIA

USGBC was founded 22 years ago with a governance structure appropriate for a U.S.-based, start-up NGO with a transformational mission.

Given the myriad of changes in the global green building movement, the group now recognizes the need for a governance structure that will service its global growth; increase influence; and bring diverse, multi-disciplined and high-level business skills to bear on what it considers its “sophisticated business model.”

Board room
© / ismagilov

The U.S. Green Building Council is changing its governance structure.

Beginning in 2016, the USGBC will seat two leadership bodies: an Advisory Council and a Board of Directors. The organization says this will allow it to accomplish two things:

  1. Leverage the deep technical expertise and broad community engagement that exists in the diverse USGBC membership through the Advisory Council; and
  2. Recruit key players to the Board of Directors who have deep leadership experience and expertise in fiscal management, technology, public policy and marketing, standards development and assessment, law and human resources, and post-secondary education leadership.

The Advisory Council will allegedly provide visionary leadership and perspectives that will build authenticity, credibility and relevance. Advisory Council members will connect with key stakeholder groups across the sustainability movement and identify emerging opportunities and needs.

It will recommend policy and initiatives to the Board. The Board will retain the legal authority to make policy and direct staff. And, the Board of Directors will retain fiduciary responsibility and liability for the advancement of USGBC’s business and mission.

Making the Transition

At the end of this year, the current members of the USGBC Board of Directors will transition to seats on the Advisory Council. Six seats will be up for election in this process because the term of the Board member holding that seat will expire at the end of 2015. Those seats will be filled as they have been in the past, elected by the membership in a process overseen by the 2015 Board.

Word cloud management
© / kgtoh

It will be interesting to see how adding an Advisory Board will influence USGBC governance.

The Advisory Council can have up to 23 seats that represent specific perspectives of the global green building movement. As ambassadors for the global sustainability movement, individuals on the Advisory Council may be tapped to carry out specific initiatives and lend their “acknowledged prestige and community clout” to fundraising and advocacy campaigns, according to the USGBC.

Beginning in 2016, the USGBC Board of Directors will consist of nine directors, one of whom will be the USGBC CEO serving in an ex-officio capacity.

The 2015 Board will recruit candidates for these positions who have the specific, high-level business skills and the influential networks needed to address emerging opportunities for USGBC.

What’s Missing?

What I sense is lacking in all of this is any representation of small business interests.

According to the USGBC, the Board of Directors and members of the Advisory Board will be elected based on their stature in major firms, industry connections and the ability to raise money. This may be the inevitable result of the asymptotic growth of the USGBC and its focus on growth at the highest levels globally.

Sound familiar? The situation resonates with the reality of national politics, where only the most well-connected and financially capable are elected and who, in turn, reap the benefits of the elected position.

Seeking Transparency

With the governance changing I think it’s a perfect time for a deep dive into how the USGBC really works, who benefits and how.

This is also a great opportunity for the USGBC to promote full disclosure and complete transparency of all fiscal issues. Publishing a very detailed, line item listing of all salaries, administrative costs, overhead and travel expenses, legal fees, chapter costs, etc., is in order. 

The USGBC has said many times it depends on the efforts of thousands of unpaid volunteers, membership dues and donated services. I am one of these people. 

An open forum session at Greenbuild 2015 to solicit USGBC member response to the group’s operation and finances would be ideal. Or, maybe, a few members of the new Advisory Board can take up the “USGBC Fiscal Transparency” initiative.  For that, I will happily pay my dues.


Robert J. Kobet, AIA

Robert J. Kobet has enjoyed a dual career as an architect and educator. For more than 35 years Kobet practiced internationally in the fields of sustainable design and development, high-performance green buildings, LEED consulting and environmental education. He is currently enjoying a working retirement that includes a position as adjunct faculty in the Kent State University College of Architecture and Environmental Design where he teaches a variety of courses based on sustainability and regenerative environmental stewardship. For more about Kobet, please visit



Tagged categories: American Institute of Architects (AIA); Architects; Building design; Construction; Good Technical Practice; Green building; LEED; Schools; The Kobet Collaborative; Business management; Business matters; Business operations; Consultants; Eco-efficiency; Environmentally friendly; Green design; Sustainability

Comment from paul scanlon, (9/3/2015, 3:54 PM)

I am a LEED AP (bought the New Construction & Major Renovation Manual, "studied up", and passed the first test with the equivalence of a 92% score) - but never paid the astronomical expense of their seminars, and never joined the USGBC as it appeared to me to have become a bureaucratic organization creating the need for more and more expensive seminars, manuals, etc. (especially for small businesses or sole proprietors like myself). I think that the explosive growth in LEED certification interest, the creation of ever more specialized certification types and processes for different types of buildings, a cumbersome online documentation process, and subcontracting the review process to reviewer companies has resulted in the USGBC not performing very well at what they're trying to do. They need to stabilize their organization and processes, not try to continue expanding what they do! Reviews take way too long, the documentation is way too detailed/complicated, and I see examples of LEED-certified buildings that perform quite poorly in the real world. Now would be a good time for the USGBC to take a step back, breathe deeply, survey their customers (not just members but building owners, contractors and non-members) to find out how they might simplify the process, make it more affordable, and verify actual energy performance in the field. Growth is good, but not if it comes at the expense of the customers losing confidence in the value of gaining certification vs. simply designing to the their (or other reputable)standards. Transparency is an absolute - how much of all the fees, seminar revenue, etc. goes into improving the process vs. lining the pockets of their executive staff?

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