Rick Fedrizzi, USGBC President, CEO & Founding Chairman Discusses Trade Associations and the USGBC

Bill Walsh - September 21, 2005

Rick FedrizziOn Thursday August 4, 2005 the US Green Building Council (USGBC) Board of Directors unanimously approved new bylaws that allow trade associations to become members of the organization, reversing last year's "No" vote on the same question.[1] USGBC President, CEO and Founding Chairman Rick Fedrizzi championed what he called "a historic motion" that "benefits us in many ways." [2]

HBN: You helped found the USGBC with bylaws that barred trade association membership. Over the past year you put a lot of energy into convincing the organization to change its bylaws and allow trade association membership. Why?

RF: USGBC's core values state a commitment to an open, participatory and rigorous process. Opening our doors to associations is being true to those core values. Mostly, it seemed to me almost like a box that we needed to check off in order to move forward. One reason we excluded association membership 12 years ago was because as a new and small organization we wanted to engage their member companies directly. Now that we have nearly 6,000 of our own member companies and organizations that dynamic has changed. Many associations actually play an important role in educating their membership about the growing importance of the green building movement and sustainability to their individual businesses. Some associations, such as ASLA[3], ASID[4] or IIDA[5], represent a profession, not companies, and have already been working in partnership with the USGBC.

Over time a perception evolved in some quarters that their exclusion from USGBC membership preempted a full partnership, even though from our point of view that was not the case. It became like a small tear in the fabric of our core values that some of our critics were using to distract us from our mission of market transformation towards sustainability. The federal government is an important customer for us, and they began to question the exclusion as well. These concerns are now removed.

HBN: Is that the real significance of this change, taking away the most effective argument of your critics?

RF: What's truly significant and what I most want to emphasize most about this change is that it came about because of the leadership of USGBC chapters. The Board took up the issue only after a lengthy dialogue with the Chapters. I clearly articulated the current scenario, but felt that final direction to the Board had to come from our local leaders. Chapters are our organization's future, and success depends upon cooperation and collaboration with them. This is a milestone in the evolution of our organization.

HBN: In a letter to Chapter Leaders you wrote that the decision "underscores our deep commitment to openness...balance...and transparency in assessment and decision-making." Can you reconcile that belief with the phenomenon of "cigarette science," well documented trade association strategies for distorting and corrupting science?

RF: That's not my experience with all trade associations. Our organization is now large enough, mature enough and increasingly improving its operations such that honest dissent can be addressed as we move forward. It's not in the interest of the vast majority of our members to condone conduct that can be perceived as detrimental to the organization.

HBN: You also wrote that "admitting trade associations that represent different communities will only strengthen our ability to lead..." Diversity is welcome, but what about redundant voices, multiple votes? A vinyl flooring manufacturer's perspective might be amplified by the Resilient Floor Covering Institute, the Vinyl Institute, the American Plastics Council, perhaps the Chlorine Institute, the American Chemistry Council, maybe even the Vinyl Siding Institute and the Carpet and Rug Institute, each themselves representing other corporate members of the USGBC. How many trade associations advocate for bamboo at the USGBC? There may not even be one.

RF: Associations always have had access to our process through their members who were also USGBC members. That's one reason I maintain that our process has always been open, transparent, and consensus-based. A few voting interests may now be duplicated in a pool of thousands. Those overlaps will be transparent to the USGBC membership. A condition of membership is that associations disclose their own members. Changes to the bylaws will also ensure balance in the committee structure, and establish a code of conduct for all. This is being developed at the same time we are working out the membership fee structure for associations.

HBN: At the recent AIA Sustainability Summit, the American Plastics Council argued that all plastics are environmentally sound, a position they advance before the USGBC as well. Today I learned that coal is cleaner than ever[6] from an ad on the Metro. The Nuclear Energy Institute maintains that nuclear power is the clean energy.[7] Exxon-Mobil funds more than a dozen groups that dispute the science of global warming.[8] Would the USGBC consider revising LEED's energy credits to reward the purchase of coal burning and nuclear energy if these groups join the council with a Let's Talk About Clean Energy agenda?

RF: USGBC's mission is to transform the market to sustainability, and LEED is our chief tool in that effort. So, such a proposal would be taken as seriously as any other and go into the committee process. There I believe we have very good stewards of our mission minding the store. They are being aided by increasingly better processes to ensure that serious proposals move forward and that grandstanding or stonewalling is discouraged. Ultimately what members of the organization share is an interest in ensuring the integrity and authenticity of LEED. I know from my time in business, you have one chance to do it right, or you run the risk of losing it forever.

HBN: That's a great thought to hold as we conclude.


OTHER NEWS

USGBC PVC Task Force: Some Submissions Not Registered
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Due to technical problems, a number of submissions from the February public comment period were not registered. Click here if you submitted comments to confirm your comments made it into the TSAC database.

HBN's Guide to Plastic Lumber Now Available
HBN's guide is the first to rate plastic lumber strictly on environmental and public health priorities. Download the full report or the chart at http://www.healthybuilding.net/plastic_lumber.html.


HEALTHY BUILDING NEWS SOURCES

[1] Healthy Building News, June 1, 2004, "Trade Associations: The Good News & The Same Old Story"

[2] Letter to USGBC Chapter Leaders, August 8, 2004.

[3] ASLA - American Society of Landscape Architects, http://www.asla.org

[4] ASID - American Society of Interior Designers, http://www.asid.org

[5] IIDA - International Interior Design Association, http://www.iida.org

[6] Americans For Balanced Energy Choices, http://www.abec.org

[8] See Harper's Index, Harper's Magazine, July 2005, and Chris Mooney, "Some Like It Hot," Mother Jones, May/June 2005.


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