The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) and its certification program called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) are part of the sustainability movement that became very vocal in the early 1990s. Concern over the effects of global warming had grown to the point that governments were passing laws requiring action from industry, government, and individuals. With these laws came the need for measurable standards. Professionals in multiple fields volunteered in the drafting of the first green building standard. The USGBC and LEED are the result of work performed by individuals in industry and government.
The USGBC is a non-profit 501(3)(c) corporation whose purpose is to educate the public and fellow builders about the need for and methods of designing and constructing buildings that minimize the environmental impact on the Earth. As part of that effort, the USGBC administers LEED. Buildings receive certification at various levels of LEED achievement.
LEED developed in 1994 from volunteer efforts of a few professionals drawn together by the belief that the environmental impact of building and the building process could be managed and minimized. Original funding came from environmental groups and a project within the US Environmental Protection Agency. The USGBC, formed in 1993, stepped in when it was recognized that standard development and implementation needed a formal management effort.
The LEED rating system consists of a tally of points. Points are received as environmentally friendly features are added, such as the use of low-flow toilets or motion sensors to control room lights. Critics claimed this approach to be gadget-driven rather than system-driven, but LEED has worked to ensure that all building systems are addressed. Surveys of certified buildings have shown improved interior environments and lower energy consumption.
Another entity, the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), established in 2008, runs an examination and registry service based on the USGBC and LEED approach to building. The GBCI operates independently from USBGC and LEED to help establish its credibility as a certifying organization. The institute offers three levels of certification, with the middle level split into five specialties.
Vendors of products specific to green building efforts may seek membership and exposure to potential customers within the USGBC, but not a USGBC and LEED endorsement. USGBC welcomes participation from vendors to inform the building community of new environment-friendly materials and products. An annual expo has highlighted vendors’ offerings.
The USGBC and LEED have benefited from government patronage. Many US agencies have required new buildings and renovations of existing buildings to meet certain minimum LEED levels. In 2009 and 2010, federal stimulus money went into research and standards development under the USGBC and LEED umbrellas.