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Assessing ‘arc’: Is it a Win?


By Robert J. Kobet, AIA

Before I get into the discussion of the U.S. Green Building Council’s new technology spinoff organization called “arc,” I must provide you with some background.

I have been with the USGBC from its early years. I was one of the first 12 LEED faculty members; chair of the LEED for Schools initiative; author and co-author of several LEED related workshops; a course reviewer; and presenter at countless workshops and lectures. I also represented the USGBC in assisting ASHRAE in writing its "50% Energy Reduction in Schools Guidelines."

building metrics
© / Maxiphoto

A successful data driven approach to high performance green building development would be ideal, but buildings are complex.

I’ve been a LEED consultant or participant in more than 100 projects on several continents, and have had a front row seat to the evolution of the organization. This includes the emergence of the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), several other green building rating systems, numerous political machinations and restructuring. I’ve observed firsthand how the USGBC has dealt with its competition, critics and those with differing visions of what it is and where it should be going.

As a green building practitioner, I have experienced the satisfaction of several LEED certifications, the growth of the green school movement—which I still participate in—and the life enriching experiences of working internationally with stakeholders whose green building values resonate with my own.

Responding to Critics

Along the way, especially in the early days of the USGBC, I expended a lot of time and energy defending the USGBC, responding to critics who voiced a chorus of doubt, cynicism and criticism of the green building movement in general, and the USGBC in particular. Much of the nay saying was based on a combination of the following sentiments: “LEED is too expensive, it’s not worth it, and many LEED certified buildings aren’t working as intended.”

The USGBC’s propensity for launching what seems like a continuous stream of new rating systems (LEED for Cities?), different versions of LEED, associated addenda and fee increases, inconsistent reviews and long wait times for credit interpretations reinforced a lot of what I was hearing; my projects were subject to much of it. LEED training became the purvey of mega-providers, fueling criticism of the USGBC as a not-for-profit organization. Through all of this, the questions of whether or not LEED buildings were actually working, and whether there might be other, more suitable rating system approaches remained.

Ardent supporters of the green building movement have gone so far as to say, “If the building does not perform as anticipated, including energy modeling predictions, perhaps LEED certification should be withheld or reduced.”

In response, the requirement to share energy and water consumption as a prerequisite for LEED for Existing Buildings, Operation and Maintenance (EBOM) was developed, in part, to address the desire of many stakeholders to make LEED more performance based and, over time, more reliable projects once the lessons learned were disseminated.

Plaque Before the Arc

More recently, the development of the LEED Dynamic Plaque as a tool for collecting data opened the door for a more transparent disclosure of building systems and human performance. Like LEED itself, the Dynamic Plaque has played to mixed reviews. It is available only to buildings that are already certified.

The LEED Dynamic Plaque is built on a platform that combines LEED Online, where project teams document credit achievement; the LEEDon platform, where both LEED and non-LEED buildings can provide building data and receive performance scores; and the Green Building Information Gateway (GBIG), an online database containing data and information for over 270,000 buildings worldwide.


Arc's online platform is intended to allow all building projects to participate and immediately start measuring performance across any rating system or standard, make improvements and benchmark against the industry.

Scot Horst, who was central to the development of the Dynamic Plaque, has suggested consumers see it as Version 1.0, implying it will evolve as needed. But market uptake of the Dynamic Plaque has been slow.

Enter arc, which, according to Horst, the incoming CEO of the new organization, “is a continuation and a natural outgrowth of the LEED Dynamic Plaque [which] is not going away. The only change is the name and how it will integrate with other systems in the future.

It is described as a “state of the art platform that will allow any building to participate and immediately start measuring performance, make improvements and benchmark against itself,” the USGBC notes in a press release on the program.

“The goal is to make data gathering easier and as a result, to make greening the building industry more accessible—not just for the top 25 percent of buildings originally targeted with LEED,” according to

My Questions

A successful data driven approach to high performance green building development would be ideal. But buildings are complex, and it remains to be seen if a data acquisition tool significantly impacts the ongoing management and operation of green buildings. As global sustainable development leader William McDonough stated, “Design is the first indication of human intent,” and I would like to believe we all have good intentions. 

But I’ve got reservations about arc. Arc is a for-profit construct designed to assist not for profit organizations. In my experience, for profit ventures are subject to a vulnerable confluence of what the intentions are, who benefits and to what extent.

Jerry Yudelson, an author and outspoken critic of the USGBC and LEED, says of arc, “What I would like to see from this new organization Arc is an indication of industry partners who are prepared to use the system and to pay for its development, upkeep and marketing. Otherwise, it sounds like another costly failure in the making like the LEED Dynamic Plaque.”

In my working retirement I will be more of a spectator than user of arc. I wonder what its relationship with other green building rating systems, such as BREEAM and the Living Building Challenge, will be. Most important, I wonder if it will be able to present arguments capable of influencing our design intent.

As a global citizen, I simply want what’s best for the planet. If data driven green building initiatives can accomplish that, I say “arc on!”


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; Carbon footprint; Computer generated modeling; Energy codes; Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI); Green coatings; Green design; High-performance coatings; Information technology; Online tools; Performance testing

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