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Q&A with Rick Fedrizzi, President and CEO of USGBC

Read what he has to say about the Recovery Act, LEED criticism, REGREEN and more

Image Credit: USGBC

I recently had an opportunity to ask Mr. Rick Fedrizzi a few questions about green building. With his rich history and the role that he has played in the green building movement, it’s always a privilege and an honor to talk with Rick.

  • With USGBC’s prominent role as a facilitator of the green building market shift, how do you see the organization assisting in the success of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act? What are the challenges to the success of this legislation?

    USGBC is committed to bringing together the community to share ideas and success stories, which will be fundamental to making the most of the funds allocated in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which we see as an important down payment on a new, green economy. 

    Prior to the bill’s passage, we worked closely with Congress to craft significant provisions that directed tens of billions of dollars in funding to green building activities proven to save energy, save money, and create jobs–investing in the weatherization of homes for low-income families, helping make green schools a reality for thousands of children, committing to green building leadership in our federal facilities, and supplying funding to crucial grant programs that aid sustainability efforts at the state and local levels.

    Since President Obama signed the legislation in February, we have launched a multipronged effort to identify and promote ways that state and local leaders and other recipients could maximize the use of recovery dollars to advance sustainability in buildings.  We’ve also developed several resources that can help businesses and homeowners figure out how to best access these funds so the funds can be fully deployed.  The effort is historic, and it will require commitment from a variety of players, including policymakers, citizens, and practitioners, to reinvigorate and transform both our economy and our environment. To learn more about ways to use the recovery funds, visit

  • How do you see the American Clean Energy and Recovery Act (ACES) taking shape before and after it hits the Senate in September? What role could the USGBC play in supporting that legislation once it passes in its final form?

    Climate and energy legislation represents a historic opportunity to accelerate green building.  The bill’s very foundation–a cap and trade system for greenhouse gas emissions and an energy efficiency and renewable electricity standard – provides the necessary framework for dramatically shifting how we make decisions about energy, a shift that will spur innovation and investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy.  We know, according to McKinsey & Co., that we’re squandering $130 billion annually by not harnessing the engine of green, energy-efficient buildings. 

    ACES includes several initiatives or provisions supported by or developed in consultation with USGBC to incentivize and accelerate the economic and environmental benefits of green building across the country.  Given the potential savings of $1.2 trillion and the creation of up to 900,000 jobs by 2020 (again, according to McKinsey), advancing a climate bill that increases our nation’s energy efficiency in buildings is an economic, environmental, and national security imperative.  As the Senate negotiates the final form of its version of climate change legislation, we continue our work to strengthen and shape provisions that support and encourage green building while engaging the community to support its passage.

  • There has been a lot of focus on green building these past few years. Do you think the discussion will be broadened, with greater emphasis on communities, towns, and cities?

    Last year, for the first time, half the world’s population lived in cities. That figure is expected to grow to 70% by 2050. Today, cities occupy just 2% of the world’s land mass but are responsible for more than two-thirds of global energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Current urban development patterns will not support the projected growth; they must be reinvented.

    So yes, and we welcome this broader focus that looks beyond the building footprint to how it both impacts and contributes to the quality of life. The USGBC has been working with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Congress for the New Urbanism to create LEED for Neighborhood Development, the first national program for green neighborhood design and construction. LEED-ND will be hugely important in the marketplace because it takes all we’ve learned about buildings and delivers it on a larger scale, and we’ve learned that it is best delivered not so much building by building, but at the neighborhood level. Not ever building needs its own power plant, but one for a city block or a group of buildings may be more efficient and more resourceful than a national grid. LEED ND helps us explore that.

    We’re also convinced that city-scale thinking and coordination can have the greatest impact the most quickly. In that regard we’ve been working with the Clinton Climate Initiative to develop the Climate Positive Development Program. This initiative aims to meet the dual challenge of rapid urban growth and climate change by supporting the development of large-scale urban projects that will demonstrate that cities can grow in ways that are “climate positive,” striving to reduce the amount of on-site CO2 emissions to below zero. The Climate Positive Development Program will incorporate CCI’s full range of “Cities” programs–including building retrofit, waste management, outdoor lighting, and transportation – into a focused partnership with 16 participating urban developments on six continents.

  • Are you surprised that the USGBC is continuing to grow at such a rapid pace? How do you explain that in light of the economy and downturn in construction?

    I think that in a troubled economy, success comes from finding opportunities among challenges. Green building is even more important in light of the current economic challenges. We know that buildings in the U.S. are responsible for 39% of CO2 emissions, 40% of energy consumption, 13% water consumption, and 15% of GDP per year, which makes green building a source of significant economic and environmental opportunity. The Center for American Progress says that greater building efficiency can meet 85% of future U.S. demand for energy, and a national commitment to green building has the potential to generate 2.5 million American jobs. And as I mentioned earlier, we know that 900,000 new jobs are possible by 2020 if we fully advance energy efficiency in our buildings.

    People want to solve these problems–the economy, climate change, energy dependence. And they know better buildings are a solution–a specific, uncomplicated, straightforward immediate solution, and they know that USGBC has a reputation for getting things done. We give our members and the industry a place to convene. Together we educate, advocate, and press for practical solutions that raise the bar but don’t try to go the distance in one fell swoop. Every time we’ve raised the bar, the market has responded, and that gives us the room to raise the bar a bit more. I think our members and the industry see this and appreciate this social capitalist approach we take.

  • When I hear negativism about the USGBC or the LEED rating systems in the LEED courses that I am teaching or elsewhere, I tell people that the USGBC folks listen to constructive feedback. Is the recent addition of performance requirements to LEED V3 an initiative that was in the cards for USGBC for some time, or was it in response to criticism within the last couple of years?

    LEED has been in use only nine years, and yet we’re already on the third significant evolution of the rating system precisely because the market keeps telling us what it needs. Though we all might want to go faster, getting a consensus and developing a comprehensive plan takes some time. We began working on LEED 2009 in 2006, and the performance gap—or the disconnect between the modeling that occurs in the design and construction phase and what actually happens in daily operation—was one critical issue we felt had to be part of the next evolution of the rating system, and—equally important—that the market was ready for it. The LEED Steering Committee developed the new Minimum Program Requirements, or MPRs, as a mechanism to help close that performance gap. One of the MPRs requires that USGBC access building energy and water use data was envisioned by the LEED Steering Committee to let owners and operators know how their buildings are performing while helping to improve on future versions of the rating system. And we’re not done–we’re in the process of rolling out a program that will further enhance our data collection and diagnostic efforts to help individual building owners and the industry at large better calibrate their needs in an effort to achieve continuous performance.

  • I am really enjoying creating the USGBC course for REGREEN Home Renovation Guidelines. I firmly believe that this class is a game changer for the USGBC and its educational offerings, given the current emphasis on energy efficiency and available resources through ARRA. Would you like to see REGREEN evolve into a rating system to add to the impressive LEED library?

    We don’t envision REGREEN as a rating system, but rather as a collection of tried and true best practices and resources for homeowners to use when implementing home renovation projects. We’ve enjoyed the partnership with ASID, and they’ve provided invaluable input into the formation of the nation’s first residential remodeling guidelines. That being said, somewhere down the road, we hope to develop a rating system for existing homes, much like the LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance rating system, that will help ensure that a home is being operated and maintained as energy- and resource-efficiently as possible, all the while providing a healthier environment for occupants. Greening America’s 120 million existing homes and making sure new home construction is green are vital parts of our ability to slow climate change, reduce energy dependence, and help homeowners save on their energy and water bills.

  • Web forums are buzzing with complaints about the LEED AP test. Most complaints focus the questions that are easy to look up in a reference book rather than knowledge of green building concepts. How do you respond to these observations?

    First let me describe how the tests were developed. All LEED Professional Credentialing exams—the LEED Green Associate Exam and the various LEED AP specialty exams—are specifically designed to test a candidates knowledge in three areas:

    1. Recall of the factual material that is presented in a similar context to the exam references;

    2. Application of this learning to problems or scenarios so that the candidate can demonstrate an ability to solve these issues using familiar principles or procedures described in the exam references;

    3. Analysis that assesses a candidate’s ability to break the problem down into its components to create a solution.

    Once developed, the validity and reliability of the exam were subjected to extensive independent analysis of each individual question and the exam as a whole. Each exam question was developed and validated by global work groups of “subject matter experts,” referenced to current standards and resources, developed and monitored through psychometric analysis, and found to satisfy the test development specifications of a job analysis.

    We’re actually pretty excited about how the new credentialing structure has been received. The LEED Green Associate credential is an incentive for more people to become knowledgeable about green building, even if they never design a plan, swing a hammer or spec a window. But these people—lawyers, marketers, general businesspeople–they are as important to market transformation as architects and engineers and designers. For these latter categories, the specialty exams give them ample opportunity to demonstrate their broader expertise.

    We’ve gone from about 55,000 LEED APs this time last year, to nearly 140,000 at the end of July. That’s an astonishing growth curve, and we want it to continue because it indicates our ability to move this market transformation forward faster.

  • Many residential builders point out that the ICC-700 standard is much more builder-friendly than LEED for Homes. Is USGBC interested in finding ways to make LEED for Homes more builder-friendly?

    Less than 1% of the U.S. housing stock has been certified under any green residential program, so USGBC’s vision is to help the residential marketplace simply build more green homes, irrespective of which standard is used.  While LEED for Homes is designed largely for the leaders and innovators of the market, other programs, such as ICC-700, offer other builders a viable starting point as they move up the green continuum. 

    To help promote this vision, USGBC has working partnerships with home building associations and local green building programs across the U.S. that educate home builders and home buyers on the key differences between available green home certification programs. This allows the local markets to better understand their available green options without going through the time-consuming process of a rating system modification. 

  • Silly question: If you had three wishes, what would they be?

    1. That when we get to Greenbuild in Phoenix on November 11 -13, that the market will have begun to turn, and that we can take pride in our industry’s contribution to that through energy efficiency and new jobs;

    2. That every person who stands on the sidelines to “green-bash” is required to actually offer a constructive solution;

    3. That sooner rather than later we start to see green buildings evolve into regenerative, restorative buildings that generate their own energy.


  1. Jerry Vandewater | | #1

    Regreening from the top -down
    Having been involved with green issues and energy efficient studies for many years, I can tell you that the roofing industry does not feel that enough attention is being paid to the opportunities that roofs can provide to the cause. While some attention has been given to Cool Roofing and Green (vegetative) roofs, very little regard is given to other factors such as above sheathing ventilation and assembly performance that can have a significant impact on energy savings as well as sustainability issues. I always think that it is strange when I see LEED certified projects with asphalt shingles covering the roofs. Why is it that America is the only developed country on earth using these disposable roofs that send over 11 million tons of debris to our landfills every year. The slate and tile roofs that predominate the roofscapes in all other parts of the world provide lower life cycle costs, far superior resistance to heat gain and lower carbon foot prints than the asphalt based products that have become the mainstay of American residential roofing.
    Given that every building in America has a roof - and one that will invariably have to be replaced in the near future, isn't it about time that we start considering changing our roofs to a more responsible and sustainable solution?

  2. Expert Member
    CARL SEVILLE | | #2

    Why Asphalt Roofs?
    The answer is very simple. Most people look at first cost, and asphalt is cheaper by far than any other material. While metal and tile roofs are very nice, until recently most people saw their homes as investments that they would flip in a few years for a profit, so thinking about life cycle costs were rarely considered. Hopefully we will start to see a shift in decisions like this as people realize that it is not likely that they will sell their homes quickly for a profit in the short term. Spec builders will have no reason to use better products until consumers demand them - they do install granite counters, high end appliances, etc because they are hot button items that people ask for. Maybe someday high performance and extended life cycle products will be more in demand.

  3. M M Riberdy | | #3

    ReGreen and Residential Buildings
    There is a huge gap in the LEED System when in it comes to residential projects. While Mr. Fedrizzi is correct in that there are few single family homes that are LEED certified or perhaps even compliant, there is a significant amount of muli-unit residential housing stock being built and already existing that is not appropriately addressed under the LEED System. Multi-unit residential buildings have different code requirements than single family/low rise residential buildings. Additionally, they are not classified as commercial buildings. Except under LEED, and then they are shoe-horned into LEED NC or LEED B,D&C where many of the energy and air quality issues are not addressed or do not specifically apply. Many of these buildings do not use the same level of mechanical systems that many commercial buildings are required to utilize. The specific ventilation and energy requirements are not addressed adequately and the requirements under the LEED system make the process unnecessarily problematic and nebulous. This is a gap that should be closed as multi-unit residential buildings are not an insignificant percentage of US housing stock nor are they an insignificant percentage of LEED certified buildings nationally and internationally.

  4. Rob Moody | | #4

    Thanks MM
    Are you talking about 4-6 story, mid-rise homes, or multi-family projects over 6 stories? Have you seen the mid-rise info for LEED for Homes (

  5. MM Riberdy | | #5

    Multi-unit Residential Buildings
    I was referring to high-rise residential buildings.

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