The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED standard, long synonymous with environmentally conscious construction in the U.S., is being forced to share some of its limelight, first with the Living Building Challenge, which has only certified a handful of buildings since its 2006 launch but is steadily gaining momentum since its 2006 launch, and now with Green Globes.

Photo © Jill Richards
Jerry Yudelson, president of Green Globes

The rating system, which advertises cheaper and faster certification, is winning some important backers. In October the U.S. Government Services Administration (GSA) recommended, for the first time, that federal agencies consider Green Globes in addition to LEED. And last month the organization that controls Green Globes certification in the U.S., the Portland-based Green Building Institute (GBI), recruited a new president with significant street cred: Tucson-based green-building consultant Jerry Yudelson, who the USGBC included in its first round of LEED Fellows.

USGBC expects LEED Fellows to advance “the vision of green building for all within a generation.” According to Yudelson, Green Globes can help deliver on that vision. He says it is just as stringent as LEED, yet cheaper and faster than LEED certification, making Green Globes viable for smaller projects. “There’s an awful lot of the world of building design, construction, and operations that LEED simply isn’t reaching,” he says.

One of Yudelson’s first jobs will be proving GBI’s claim. He says a new study shows that GBI’s process requires half as much staff time for the applicant, saving about $50,000 on average. He acknowledges, however, that Green Globes needs more than better marketing. One substantive priority is updating its six-year-old certification program for existing buildings, which Yudelson hopes to complete this year. (GBI updated Green Globes’ program for new buildings last year.)

Then there is GBI’s leadership and member base, which he says must grow and broaden. One third of GBI’s board members hail from timber and chemicals interests, such as the Vinyl Institute. Last month USGBC senior vice president Roger Platt bluntly referred to GBI as an “institution charged with the perpetuation of the status quo for the plastics and timber industries.”

Denis Hayes, who runs Seattle’s Bullitt Foundation and developed their new headquarters for certification under the Living Building Challenge, says Yudelson has been a friend for over three decades and “a consistent voice for integrity in sustainable building.” But he predicts a rough six months ahead for Yudelson as he seeks to make changes at GBI.

GBI chairman Ray Tonjes, a custom-home builder, says, “It’s no secret that GBI was founded mostly by the wood industry.” But he says Green Globes is a strong system. And, while he feels the GBI board is balanced, he says they are ready to diversify further—a balance Yudelson will help achieve: “Bringing in somebody of Jerry’s immense credibility, knowledge, background, and practical experience is a giant leap forward.”