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LEED Fellow Yudelson to Lead Rival Green Globes

Green building consultant Jerry Yudelson aims to “push the reset button” at the Green Building Initiative (GBI).
Paula Melton
January 8, 2014

A new force will be making Green Globes go ’round.

Jerry Yudelson, P.E., a LEED Fellow and a prominent green building advocate, has joined the Green Building Initiative (GBI) as president. “It’s a new beginning,” Yudelson told LEEDuser. “We pushed the reset button.”

GBI’s relationship with its former—and controversial—president, timber lobbyist Ward Hubbell, along with lobbying and public relations firm Hubbell Communications, “has been severed,” Yudelson confirmed, and the group has moved from the Hubbell building to a new location in southwest Portland, Oregon.

Yudelson said he will be a much-needed “public face” for the organization, “kind of in the same way Rick Fedrizzi does for USGBC” (the U.S. Green Building Council, where Fedrizzi is president, CEO, and founding chairman). “I’ll also set up a strategic planning process and take them to the next level of development,” Yudelson added.

‘Not anti-LEED’

Despite GBI’s history of an adversarial relationship with LEED and USGBC, Yudelson asserts he’s “not saying anything negative about LEED.” Instead, he points out that “LEED does not meet everyone’s needs” and says there’s demand in the marketplace for a low-cost, user-friendly system that can make buildings greener than they would be without any certification at all.

“My goal is to be in the marketplace with a good product, a good approach, and to get more people to do green building,” he explained. “I don’t really see us getting engaged in anti-LEED activity as an organization.”

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Yudelson does fault LEED’s bureaucracy for increasing the cost and slowing the uptake of green building, comparing credit interpretations to “religious fatwas” and arguing that LEED’s complexity creates “the need for highly specialized consultants” who understand “the latest rulings from the ‘mullahs.’” But he views GBI’s role as that of “a friendly competitor” rather than a nemesis.

Competition, he argues, “forces you to continue to respond to the marketplace,” and he points to the Living Building Challenge (LBC) as a model of friendly competition. “There’s always an engine on the train and a caboose and a bunch of cars in the middle,” he said (apparently hinting that LBC is the engine, LEED the cars, and Green Globes the caboose). “But everyone wants to go in the right direction.”

Better, faster, or cheaper: Pick two

In an SSp1, MRp1, and EAp3—that are generally considered easy to document on U.S. projects, where they are standard measures, but more of a push on non-U.S. projects.)

Maybe just faster?

Robert Phinney, AIA, director of sustainable design and energy services at HDR Architecture, challenged the idea that Green Globes is less expensive.

“I am constantly hearing that one of the major benefits of Green Globes over LEED is the perception of lower costs. I find this to be misleading, and in many cases, simply incorrect,” he told LEEDuser. “On one recent project, we were asked to look at the cost of pursuing minimum LEED certification and minimum Green Globes certification,” and the results surprised him.

Phinney found that registration costs would be more than twice as much for Green Globes as for LEED ($17,000 vs. $8,150). This meant that although “the LEED process required more effort on the consulting side,” that cost premium “about equalled the difference in admin costs, while the level of effort for the design disciplines throughout each process remained consistent.”

That said, continued Phinney, “From a technical standpoint, both LEED and Green Globes have their pros and cons, and this cost assessment does not reflect a judgment on the choice of one system or another. Each has their place in the industry.”

“About time” or a betrayal?

On social media and in private exchanges, green building professionals expressed a variety of reactions to Yudelson’s move, ranging from “It’s about time LEED had some real competition” to surprise that a long-time LEED advocate would join an organization that has sought to undermine LEED.

Green pundit Eric Corey Freed stated simply, “This should be great for Green Globes,” while LEED consultant and faculty member Rob Hink tweeted, “Why does Benedict Arnold come to mind?”

“Just picked myself up off the carpet after learning that Jerry Yudelson has become head of GBI/Green Globes,” added Treehugger managing editor Lloyd Alter, who’s been a scathing critic of Green Globes and Hubbell Communications continually since the group’s inception.

Beyond the wood wars

Asked whether GBI’s close ties with the timber and chemical industries gave him pause, Yudelson said he planned to expand the reach of Green Globes to a much broader group of stakeholders.

“Clearly there was a history of wanting another form of wood certification,” Yudelson concedes (see our investigative blog series on the “wood wars”). “I’m not going to look at the history and say it wasn’t what it was.”

But the membership base and board of directors—which currently have outsized representation from mainstream timber and plastics groups—are already diversifying, he claims, and he intends to build on that by doubling the number of members and “build[ing] a membership much more strongly in the area of users and the area of professional services. If you look at the board twelve months from now,” he hopes, “you would say, ‘Gee that looks a lot like USGBC.’” Another goal for the coming year, he told LEEDuser, is to increase Green Globes’ market share in the green building certification world to 10% (from an estimated 2%–4% currently).


Yudelson was not prepared to address directly the recent controversy over discrepancies between the Green Globes tool and GBI’s ANSI standard—a controversy that led to the resignation of longtime GBI board member Harvey Bryan, Ph.D., FAIA (see “Green Globes Board Member Quits Over ANSI Claims“)—but he told LEEDuser he planned to “find out what [Bryan’s] critique is in some detail” and to address that critique, adding that “we’re committed to being an ANSI standards organization, whatever that ends up meaning in practice.”

Although claiming to build bridges, Yudelson took a dig at USGBC for not achieving unanimous support for LEED version 4 (LEED v4). “One in seven people voted against it,” he pointed out. “Some people had genuine concerns about workability and so forth. That’s a fact.” In apparent contrast, GBI will “continue to go down the path” of a “consensus standards approach,” he added.

Although GBI has often attempted to paint LEED as lacking full support and industry representation, consensus standards almost never require a unanimous vote. Like many consensus-based systems, USGBC’s own rules require a two-thirds majority for approval of the standard, and the LEED v4 vote was a historic landslide, with 86% approval. (Contrary to Yudelson’s statistics, only 1 in 10 voters voted against, with 4% abstaining. See “LEED v4 Overwhelmingly Approved by USGBC Members.”)

More tools

Yudelson insists he’s trying to fortify sustainability, however, rather than tear down LEED.

“Ultimately, most buildings are built without attention to any standards other than the building code,” Yudelson told LEEDuser. “Our goal has been to get every building to up its game in terms of environmental performance. We need more—rather than fewer—tools to do that. If this thing can work, it’s going to help everybody.”

[Disclaimer: BuildingGreen, Inc. owns LEEDuser, a virtual LEED help desk, and some BuildingGreen staff members have worked with USGBC as volunteers and contractors.]

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June 17, 2014 - 5:53 pm

BuildingGreen (publisher of LEEDuser) has conducted a deeper analysis of Green Globes, seeing how it compares and contrasts with LEED on cost, rigor, user-friendliness, and other issues. You can get the full report here: LEED vs. Green Globes: A Definitive Analysis.

January 9, 2014 - 1:41 pm

From the various challenges we have in the industry, I am very impressed someone took the task of strategically changing Green Globes.

Clearly a case for marketing segmentation. There are topics that GG can address such as social change, business transparency, anti-corruption and education. There are markets that GG can address such as transportation, telecom, urban development. Bold statements that GG can pursue and audacious goals that GG can set to the design and construction industry, that don't need to imitate what LEED has been doing for 20 years.

January 9, 2014 - 11:40 am

Very interesting to hear about your new endeavor Jerry. Hopefully GG can become a positive force in the green building market. It certainly has some very positive features. I look forward to seeing how its positioning in the market takes shape under your leadership. Best of luck to you.

I am compelled to say that the Muslim analogy could be offensive to some and is at best a straw man fallacy. There may be a better way to state that the LEED system has some rigidity to it that is often not desirable or even necessary.

January 8, 2014 - 4:59 pm

I would take issue with Mr Phinney's implied estimate that you can do all the LEED consulting and meet all the requirements for less than $10,000 on a large project. We will be releasing a study soon of an actual university project that used both standards, with side by side cost comparisons of facilities staff time that shows a significant disparity in time required for compliance with the two standards, with Green Globes cheaper by 60% in terms of staff time. On a major project, that will add up to a lot more than the disparity in registration costs.

June 17, 2014 - 6:00 pm

Jerry, I completed a thorough analysis of green rating systems around the world in response to your comment that "most rating systems around the world have dispensed with prerequisites."

I checked 19 major green building rating systems used around the world—from Living Building Challenge to Miljöbyggnad in Sweden—and found that 13 (including LEED) have prerequisites, while 6 have the kind of category achievement thresholds that Green Globes features.

With respect to the datedness of prerequisites, in my analysis, 5 of the 12 LEED v4 prereqs represent common market practice in the U.S., while 7 of the 12 are a meaningful step up over common practice.

To its credit, Green Globes allows easier entry for projects that don't want to worry about prereqs, but I wouldn't confuse that with offering stronger performance.

May 5, 2014 - 3:34 pm

Jerry, when you say, "Most rating systems around the world have dispensed with prerequisites, as it turns out," can you be more specific?

Notable rating systems that include prerequisites are BREEAM (to which Green Globe can trace some lineage, I believe), HQE (France), Pearl Estidama (Abu Dhabi), CASBEE (Japan), and Green Star (Australia). 

Notable rating systems that do not are DGNB (Germany) and Green Globes.

There are a few other reasonably prominent systems that I'd like to check with, but so far that's quite different than your assessment.

Update: This comment was modified to move Green Star to the "includes" prereqs list, after further confirmation.

January 10, 2014 - 11:33 pm

Michael, what is outdated in my view, is that we have to make "best practices" for green building into prerequisites, in order to make sure that a green building is actually better for the environment. If that's the case, then let's make all of the best practices embodied in LEED into prerequisites instead of points. (This would be going the route taken by the Living Building Challenge). What's antiquated in my view is an assessment structure that served a useful purpose 15 or even 10 years ago, but today is just another unnecessary hurdle in terms of documentation. Most rating systems around the world have dispensed with prerequisites, as it turns out.

January 10, 2014 - 11:29 pm

As you indicate, Thomas, the so-called "soft" costs (only soft until someone has to pay them) are where the difference if any must lie. We have both hard evidence (an academic study to be published soon with a side by side comparison for both rating systems on the same project) and many anecdotes from practitioners that indicate that Green Globes could easily cost only about half the total cost of a LEED certification, when all costs are considered.

January 10, 2014 - 12:18 pm

Excellent article. I agree with Robert -- people are always arguing that Green Globes is cheaper, but when you look at the hard costs/fees it is more expensive. (And I understand the argument that soft costs may end up being lower -- I also look forward to that comparison)

Let’s keep things simple for an apples/apples comparison and assume New Construction and 100,000 SF.

Here is the pricing for LEED: http://www.gbci.org/utility-nav/Fees.aspx

Here is the pricing for Green Globes: http://www.thegbi.org/assets/pdfs/Green-Globes-NC-Price-List.pdf

So for LEED, we have:
$900 Registration + $4,500 Combined Review (0.045 $/sf X 100,000 sf) = $5,400 total minimum

And for Green Globes we have:
$1,000 Software + $9,500 Combined Certification + $1,500 GBI Assessor travel expenses = $12,000 total minimum

January 10, 2014 - 11:09 am

“LEED is really out of touch with today’s realities,” he argued, citing requirements he views as outdated due to regulatory changes—such as sedimentation control, ... "

Jerry, what do you feel is outdated in regards erosion and sediment control? LEED requires that all projects meet or exceed the 2012 EPA Construction General Permit requirements.

January 9, 2014 - 2:25 pm

I support variety in the market place and competition is healthy.
My personal concern (possibly because of my ignorance) is the funding and influence of chemical companies and associations. I understand the BOD is going to become more balanced and diverse but I would like to understand the funding related to those interests and - if that still exists- what is the future of that model? I know that is a major concern among many.
The bars are being raised across the industry, whether its towards NZE, social justice or health and eliminating toxicity - the more ships rowing in the direction of the future we all want, the better.

January 9, 2014 - 11:58 am

I thought this was a well-written and well-balanced article, Paula, thanks very much.

Although I didn't quite pick myself up off the floor when I read about Jerry taking over leadership of GBI a couple of days ago as Lloyd Alter did, I do have to say my jaw almost hit the floor.

As an active LEED practitioner, it is difficult to say that many of the comments made about the costs, slowness, difficulty in getting someone to answer the telephone at USGBC or GBCI and amount of paperwork associated with obtaining LEED certification do not exist.

Hopefully this will help to make some additional much-needed changes within all three organizations - GBI, USGBC and GBCI.
As they say in France, "Vive la difference!" And as we say in the good old USA, "Hurray for competition!" At least I hope we still say that...

January 9, 2014 - 11:31 am


I recently did an internal comparison of two projects, one that went through the Green Globes process and another that went through LEED. The common factor between two projects was scope, size, budget, project type and I personally lead the documentation process. I found the upfront costs (regirstation and certification) to be more costly in Green Globes than LEED. However, the Green Globes process and timeline saved the Owner and project team in the long-run. Perhaps Green Globes focuses on other aspects than cost. I think the on-site walk with the Owner and Project Team is extremely beneficial to all parties involved.

As both a GGP and LEED AP BD+C, I personally find more value in the Green Globes system. Although, I do support both systems and believe in the 3rd party verification process. Best of luck in your new position.

January 9, 2014 - 11:03 am


I never said that you could consult a LEED project through certification for less than $10,000. I said 1) that the hard costs (fees) were not comparable, and that the differential between consulting costs for a GG project and a LEED project (for the most minimum amount of effort) was about $10k. Our projected costs were not expressed - just the difference in costs.

I do not disagree that there certainly are cases where the difference may be higher depending on project conditions and the goals that are targeted, but what I am saying is that the constant statement and primary argument that Green Globes is cheaper is only true some of the time. This is not a technical assessment of either system, just an assessment of a misguided argument to sell it that you inherited.

I speak for many in that we look forward to seeing how you can bring GG forward and have high hopes - just stop using cost as an argument.

January 9, 2014 - 1:41 pm

Jerry, cost estimates are likely to change on a project-by-project basis, and Robert didn't suggest that every project would shake out the same way. Looking forward to seeing the study! When will it be out?