The First Council Meeting
60 firms attended that founding organizational council meeting in April 1993, thanks to a full court press of letters, faxes and phone calls from Gottfried, Fedrizzi and Italiano. The presence of nonprofits such as the Rocky Mountain Institute and the Environmental Defense Fund in attendance was legitimizing.
Nervous and clammy, Gottfried and Italiano read their four white papers and then proposed that the USGBC become an open and balanced coalition of the entire building industry, that it manage its own green building rating system (which later became known as LEED), and that it become the leading national resource on green building. Membership would be companies and organizations, not individuals, and membership fees would be $10,000 for the large product manufacturers with sales of over $1 billion, and a $15,000 initiation fee.
Much of this was revolutionary. It was clear that USGBC was not a typical trade association, but rather a broad group of community leaders involving all 13 sectors that comprise the building industry — including architects, bankers, educators, builders and trades people. LEED was still an idea (England’s BREEAM had launched only a year earlier) and the emotions behind the intent were huge, even spiritual. Everyone felt it was the right thing to do, Berkebile recalls. “The diverse collaboration and potential of USGBC gave us new energy and direction. When it was unanimously agreed that the council would form, men from Middle America who had never before hugged another man in public did so unabashedly. This was very moving stuff and very profound.”
The group named Fedrizzi USGBC’s founding chairman, acknowledging the value his 25 years of corporate expertise and intuitive marketing savvy would provide the fledgling non-profit. In 2004, Fedrizzi became the organization’s president and CEO, and today USGBC’s finances, membership, chapters and LEED registration are all growing at better than 50% per year.
But early on Gottfried nearly bankrupted himself, covering the start-up’s expenses, and it wasn’t until the first four to five companies paid $25,000 each as dues that things felt secure. This wasn’t enough to get the LEED pilot program off the ground, however, and had Mark Ginsberg, the Deputy Assistant Secretary, Building Technology, State and Community Programs at the Department of Energy (DOE), not given the Council its first $100,000 and then another $200,000 in 2000, LEED would not have evolved. Few government folk understood sustainable building then or saw the need for a council, Ginsberg says. “I convinced my colleagues at DOE that this was pivotal.” And it worked. Once the DOE funds legitimized the USGBC, it became clear the effort needed to grow. EPA and others followed suit. Rob Watson was named founding chair of the LEED Steering Committee, and the development of LEED took off, involving some 2,000 building industry leaders who donated their time to get the first rating system into pilot.
Ginsberg’s life had a consistent theme of green strategies and LEED, which is organized into six defined environmental categories, seemed to him pragmatic and logical. As a boy in ’50s Marion, Indiana, (population 30,000) he enjoyed an innocent, pre-TV time, lying on the grass with friends, creating epic adventures under the clouds. He became involved in student government and added energy and climate issues to student politics with the sponsorship of the first Earth Day at the University of Arizona. But his first active professional role was in 1979, directing Arizona’s Energy Office. Ginsberg loved Arizona, one of the first states leading solar energy in the ’50s, home to John Yellot, a pioneer of the cause. “We were beginning to despoil this beautiful setting and I wanted to try to stop this. I loved the Native American tradition of ‘leave a place better than you found it.’”
Ginsberg thrived as a result, creating multiple programs including the Energy Conscious Community program for cities and schools and helped found the Conference of Local Energy Officials linking states with cities. In 1993, his first proudest moment (before helping fund LEED, he says) was helping lead the Greening of the White House, which was where he first met Fedrizzi and Gottfried. Ginsberg also helped create the National Association of State Energy Officials, which remains one of the leading energy efficiency advocacy organizations in the country.