As green building and sustainable design become part of the overarching climate discussion, disagreement exists within the green building community on how to certify a building as "green". The U.S. Green Building Council and the Green Building Initiative each have their own green building certification programs. How are they different? Which one has more government and industry support? During today's OnPoint, Ward Hubbell, president of the Green Building Initiative, gives his take on the competition between his organization and the USGBC. He highlights the main distinctions between the two programs and discusses his organization's push to become the first green building certification program recognized by the American National Standards Institute. Hubbell discusses the main hurdles that exist for the green building movement and addresses the effects of the housing crisis on sustainable design.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Ward Hubbell, president of the Green Building Initiative. Ward, thanks for coming on the show.
Ward Hubbell: You bet, thanks for inviting me.
Monica Trauzzi: Ward, there's been a lot of speculation about a heated competition existing between the Green Building Initiative and also the U.S. Green Building Council, essentially, vying to be the top green building certification program. And there seems to be this battle going down between your organization's Green Globes and USGBC's lead program. Would you consider the USGBC to be a competitor? Is the speculation true?
Ward Hubbell: Well, sure. I mean, we compete in that we sell similar products to similar groups of customers. But I'd like to think, Monica, that this competition is a constructive competition. I think, in the end, what the U.S. Green Building Council is trying to do and what the Green Building Initiative is trying to do and others are trying to do is to get buildings greener and more sustainable moving into the future. And so, to the extent that they're successful with their constituency and we're successful with our constituency, we all win.
Monica Trauzzi: But do you think what you offer is a better option? What are the main differences there?
Ward Hubbell: Well, of course, we think our product is very compelling. The main differences are that the Green Globe's platform is a web-based platform. So, because of that, it's a lot easier to use and it's a lot less expensive. So, we think that we get you to the same place as other rating systems with much less time and much less cost associated with it.
Monica Trauzzi: You guys are certainly proud of yourselves ...
Ward Hubbell: We are.
Monica Trauzzi: ... when states sign on, when different organizations sign on. I get press releases from you guys all the time. So you don't hesitate to tout the fact that someone is choosing GBI over USGBC.
Ward Hubbell: Right. And I would never sit here and tell you or anybody else they should always use Green Globes or they should always use LEED or they should always use something else. There are a lot of building types out there. There are a lot of different types of projects, a lot of different types of builders. In some cases, our rating system is going to be more appropriate. In some cases the LEED rating system may be more appropriate, in some cases there may be another rating system more appropriate. The point is, if we have multiple credible options out there to reflect the diversity in the building stock, we're going to get more people building green.
Monica Trauzzi: So, what kind of people should be using Green Globes then?
Ward Hubbell: People who are doing multiple buildings for example, some of these corporations who build a building a day, that are out there looking to get the best possible design and some credibility associated with that, lower budget projects. We've done a lot of projects that might not otherwise have gone green were it not for the fact that there was an affordable option. So, we've done light industrial, we've done schools, we've done fertility clinics, we did a presidential library down in Arkansas. So we've done a variety of buildings. I think the market has something to do with it, I think the budget has something to do with it, and just the preferences of the design team and the building owners.
Monica Trauzzi: You say affordable option. I just want to make clear you're not talking about actually building the green building, but the certification behind it.
Ward Hubbell: The cost of certification. Our belief, Monica, is that the investment should go in the building, not in the plaque on the wall. We do a very good job of looking very comprehensively at the design, at the features within the building, but we do it in a very efficient manner so that you're not spending six figures to get a plaque on the wall. You're putting that money in the building and you're spending as much as you need to to have a very comprehensive, close, and credible look at this building and being able to say that it's certified.
Monica Trauzzi: So, you don't think that you're hurting the Green Building movement by having this competition? You're putting more options in front of people.
Ward Hubbell: Oh, Lord yes, I mean I can't think of an industry where competition has not shown some benefits. Competition tends to make players in the market faster, leaner, more inventive. It tends to drive costs down and quality up. I've not known of monopolies that do that, so I think we've had a very positive affect on the Green Building movement. And we benefit from it as well. We're certainly not opposed to stealing a good idea here and there, but that's what competition is all about, isn't it?
Monica Trauzzi: But the majority of the country does use LEED at this point as the standard for green building certification. Do you guys want to become that gold standard?
Ward Hubbell: We want to be as good as we can be. We are very happy with the progress we've made. We've got 16 states now that have, through some expression of their public policy, either tax incentives or mandates or expedited permits, have chosen to list Green Globes by name in statute. We have several insurance companies that have offered premium discounts for people who get third-party certified using the Green Globes system. We have shown up in federal legislation. So we're real happy with the acceptance level that we've had. We have only been in the marketplace a little less than four years now.
Monica Trauzzi: Has never been any discussion about merging these two certification systems?
Ward Hubbell: No, no discussion that I've been a party to. And I don't think that, frankly, that's a real good idea. I think that having multiple competitors out there, and frankly, if others in the marketplace, if they've got a compelling offering that can appeal to a constituency of the building community, then we're all for that too. You know, the point of it is is that with all of the attention towards green building, and a lot of that is due to the good work of the U.S. Green Building Council, the federal government, and a lot of other folks. The vast majority of the building stock in this country, residential and commercial, is not certified using any kind of recognized certification. I mean 99 percent of the buildings in this country are not certified using any recognized certification. So there's plenty of room for different approaches in the marketplace, provided they're credible and rigorous as ours is.
Monica Trauzzi: And Green Globes is trying to become the first ANSI certified commercial, green building standard. Do you think that getting that certification will sort of help legitimize your certification process and be a good PR boost as well?
Ward Hubbell: Well, it's more than PR. It is, for those of your viewers who may not be familiar with it, the American National Standards Institute is an internationally recognized organization that ensures a balanced, transparent consensus process in the development of a standard. We were the first green building organization to engage that process and to put our rating system through the rigors of ANSI and we expect to be the first green building organization to have a tool that is an American national standard for commercial green building. What that buys you is that ensures that all effected parties are at the table, that the process is transparent, it is public, and that, importantly, the organization that I represent is disassociated from the development and maintenance of the standard. It's a very important separation that we believe is important for us and others in this space.
Monica Trauzzi: Considering the current housing slump that we're seeing, is the Green Building movement being impacted by that as well? Are people less likely to put additional funds into making a building green since things are so bad economically?
Ward Hubbelll: Yeah, I don't have any data, but I can tell you, anecdotally, it's a two-edged sword. Yes, there is a lot more price sensitivity out there for reasons we all know. But, because green building in particular our approach to green building, is so heavily dependent upon energy performance, it does create much more of an incentive and much more interesting people to make sure that they're building in the most energy-efficient way possible.
Monica Trauzzi: What are the biggest hurdles do you think that are still facing the Green Building movement in the U.S.?
Ward Hubbell: You know, I think one of the biggest hurdles was cleared in the last 18 months as energy prices have gone through the roof. I will tell you that four dollars at the pump has done more to turn us all into conservationists and to make us all more mindful of the energy we consume than anything that any of us could have done. The fact of the matter is that when the economics make an option very attractive people will go to it. So I think that hurdle has been cleared and, fortunately and unfortunately, it's going to continue to be a driver for green building. I think that the concerns about global warming, global climate change have certainly raised this issue, particularly in the public sector. In terms of remaining hurdles, I think the majority of consumers out there are waiting just to see an economic case be built and there are plenty of economic cases out there. But like I say, I think that the macroeconomics that we deal in right now are helping to make that case.
Monica Trauzzi: There are efforts on Capitol Hill to mandate green construction and in terms of congressional knowledge about Green Globes, how would you gauge that? You're in town talking to staffers, does everybody know the Green Globes name like they know the LEED name?
Ward Hubbell: Probably not like they do know the LEED name, quite honestly, but more and more of them do. I'm told that there are a couple of pieces of federal legislation that specifically mention Green Globes. I know that there are a couple of federal agencies that are using Green Globes now on federal buildings. We have a partnership with the Energy Star program. Eventually we will want to hardwire our system with Energy Star so that you're achieving both as you go through the same motions. So we've got a lot of connections and a lot of touch points in the federal sector, so we're much more known now than we were a year ago and I think we'll be much greater known a year from now.
Monica Trauzzi: All right. Thank you for coming on the show.
Ward Hubbell: You're welcome.
Monica Trauzzi: This is very interesting.
Ward Hubbell: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: This is OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Thanks for watching.
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