October 14, 2010
USGBC, LEED Targeted by Class-Action Suit
By Tristan Roberts, Environmental Building News
The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and its founders have been named as defendants in a class action lawsuit filed in federal court. Filed on behalf of mechanical systems designer Henry Gifford, owner of Gifford Fuel Saving,was stamped on October 8, 2010 at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Among other allegations, the suit argues that USGBC is fraudulently misleading consumers and fraudulently misrepresenting energy performance of buildings certified under its LEED rating systems, and that LEED is harming the environment by leading consumers away from using proven energy-saving strategies.
The suit alleges that USGBC’s claim that it verifies efficient design and construction is “false and intended to mislead the consumer and monopolize the market for energy-efficient building design.” To support this allegation Gifford relies heavily on his critique ofthat is, to date, the most comprehensive look at the actual energy performance of buildings certified under LEED for New Construction and Major Renovations (LEED-NC). While the NBI study makes the case that LEED buildings are, on average, 25%–30% more efficient than the national average, Gifford concluding that LEED buildings are, on average, 29% less efficient. A subsequent by National Research Council Canada supported NBI’s findings, if not its methods. (Commentary questioning the respective statistical approaches of both the original study and Gifford’s analysis appears in , president of EBN’s publisher BuildingGreen.)
Using that study and USGBC’s promotion of it, the suit alleges fraud under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, among other statutes. Gifford’s suit demands that USGBC cease deceptive practices and pay $100 million in compensation to victims, in addition to legal fees. Under the Lanham Act, the suit repeats the same concerns in alleging deceptive marketing and unfair competition. Other allegations include deceptive business practices and false advertising under New York State law, as well as wire fraud and unjust enrichment.
By having his lawyer, Norah Hart of Treuhaft and Zakarin, file a class-action lawsuit, Gifford is not only claiming that he has been harmed by USGBC, but that he is one of a class of plaintiffs that have been harmed. According to the suit, those plaintiffs include owners who paid for LEED certification on false premises, professionals like Gifford whose livelihoods have allegedly been harmed by LEED, and taxpayers whose money has subsidized LEED buildings.