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Published May 28, 2008 08:33 AM

USGBC to Outsource LEED Certification

In a move that will likely have far-reaching ramifications for the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and its influential LEED rating systems, the organization has announced that as of January 2009 it will no longer certify buildings. That responsibility will pass to independent, accredited certifiers overseen by USGBC’s sister nonprofit corporation, the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI). GBCI has administered the LEED Accredited Professional (LEED-AP) program since January 2008.

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“We believe in third-party certification,” noted Michelle Moore, senior vice president for policy and public affairs at USGBC, “so moving certification to GBCI is the right thing to do from a market perspective. We’ll be able to deliver high-quality, auditable third-party certification.” Separating the standard-setting organization from the certification process will bring LEED into alignment with norms established by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for certification programs, Moore said.

This move is also necessary to meet the growing demand for LEED certification, according to Moore. USGBC is now working with GBCI to train a cadre of “certification bodies,” firms that are registered through ISO to certify products and services, on how LEED certification works. These certification bodies will manage the process, but for technical reviews of LEED applications, they, in turn, will contract with GBCI-approved assessors.

Initially, these assessors are likely to be many of the same people who currently review LEED applications under contract to USGBC. LEED applications under the new regime will still all be submitted through USGBC’s LEED Online software, which is being rebuilt to better serve both LEED users and the certifiers.

While this change aligns LEED with ISO rules, it does not affect the committee process USGBC uses to develop and manage LEED rating systems. USGBC is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) as a standards developer; the LEED-AP program is ANSI-compliant, but LEED rating systems are not, even though ANSI approval would make it easier for some government agencies to adopt LEED. “We haven’t made that decision yet for LEED,” said Moore.

USGBC is participating in related ANSI-compliant efforts such as Standard 189 (see EBN Vol. 15, No. 3) and the National Association of Home Builders National Green Building Standard (see EBN Vol. 16, No. 3), which Moore describes as “a good learning opportunity” for USGBC as it considers adopting an ANSI-compliant process. LEED for Homes certifications are already handled by outside providers, and that program is not, for now, included in this transition to GBCI.

While USGBC is providing GBCI with an exclusive license to oversee LEED certification, GBCI is not restricted from also taking on other certification programs in related markets. Although USGBC and GBCI are legally distinct and have separate boards of directors, they share- at least for now- senior management in Rick Fedrizzi and Chris Smith. USGBC has struggled over the years with customer service for LEED users, and this change should be welcome news on that front, in spite of the likelihood of some hiccups during transition. This outsourcing of LEED certification is a clear signal that LEED is maturing along with the market it has helped to create.

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