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A Council Of Councils

Green building pursues a voice on the world stage


By Nadav Malin

In 2002 David Gottfried, a co-founder of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), created the World Green Building Council (WGBC) to spread the remarkable success of USGBC and its LEED rating system. What began as an all-volunteer organization with participants from eight countries and three member councils, now has a staff and secretariat based in Ontario, Canada, 14 full-fledged member green-building councils, and 23 more in the works. Its mission has shifted from spreading the LEED gospel to supporting the creation of independent GBCs and giving the green-building movement “a voice on the international stage,” according to WGBC executive director Andrew Bowerbank.

A Council of Councils
Image © Brian Stauffer
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Looking initially to internationalize the successes of USGBC, “LEED seemed like an obvious choice,” says Bowerbank. But the group soon changed its approach. “To its credit, I think that WGBC accepted the fact that different countries and regions have very different conditions, and that other systems have been developed that work quite well in their own regions,” says Nils Larsson, executive director of the International Institute for a Sustainable Built Environment (iiSBE), which has at times clashed with WGBC on policy and approach. “Our understanding is that applicant organizations are now quite free to select or develop their own system, which is a very desirable situation,” notes Larsson. Indeed, while GBCs in Canada and India are using LEED, others have their own pre-existing rating systems. BREEAM in the U.K., Australia’s Green Star, and Japan’s CASBEE are all rating systems that existed before their champions in those countries chose to affiliate with the WGBC. In January 2009 the German chapter launched its own new rating system, dubbed the German Certification for Sustainable Buildings.

While it doesn’t promote any single rating system, WGBC is committed to screening those used by its members to ensure that they serve the goals of the broader community. This screening policy gives the group a means by which to protect the interest of its members who are, in some markets, competing with other organizations and other rating systems. In North America, for example, WGBC won’t endorse Green Globes because it is actively competing with LEED, but prefers to remain above the fray. “We’re not going to bash it, either,” says Bowerbank.

A quiver of approved rating systems is key to one of WGBC’s emerging agendas, which is to benchmark green-building performance and aggregate carbon reductions and other benefits for policymakers. “Rating tools give us a way to pool data to give the United Nations a reliable common metric,” Bowerbank points out. In support of this goal, WGBC members in the U.S., U.K., and Australia signed a memorandum on March 3, 2009, pledging to “map and develop common metrics to measure emissions of CO2 equivalents from new homes and buildings.”

As it finds its voice representing green building in international policy settings, WGBC hasn’t lost sight of its core purpose, which is to nurture the growing network of national green-building councils. One of the trickiest jobs in that regard is identifying the best people in each country to lead their national effort. After seeing some of its members fail to flourish, WGBC now has a rigorous screening process for groups seeking to create their own national council. This process includes reviews by staff before an “Expression of Interest” is formally accepted, and scrutiny by a membership committee made up of volunteers from WGBC member councils before the group is recognized as an “emerging member.” “Achieving emerging member status is probably the largest step,” Bowerbank explains, differentiating among groups that participate in WGBC activities on a provisional basis and full members. “Once we accept them as an emerging member, they are really part of our membership.”

Within some countries tensions persist between groups seeking to form a GBC chapter and members of other networks. One such network is iiSBE, which emerged from a series of workshops and conferences in the 1990s that focused on the creation of a comprehensive green-building assessment tool. At the secretariat level relations are cordial, with an acknowledgement that iiSBE’s base in the academic and research communities doesn’t really conflict with WGBC’s industry focus. “iiSBE is good at R&D. We need to support them in sharing that,” notes Bowerbank. Conversely, Larsson notes that “iiSBE has recommended to our local groups that they should also join WGBC if they plan to do labeling.” iiSBE’s chapter in Spain is now an “emerging member” of WGBC.

As interest spreads to more and more countries, WGBC is creating regional representatives to better serve its established and prospective members. There will soon be a dedicated person to support the WGBC European Network, most likely from an office provided by the Germany GBC, and a member of GBC Australia staff has been assigned to the Asia-Pacific region.

WGBC is also actively seeking corporate partners, both for financial support and for help in promoting the mission of global market transformation. Early partners in this campaign include Colliers International, Philips International, and GreenSource’s publisher, The McGraw-Hill Companies. While governments can mandate green practices and academics are needed to research the solutions, nothing will change, says Bowerbank, without reaching the members of the building industry who “put the bricks and mortar in the ground.”

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This article appeared in the May 2009 print issue of GreenSource Magazine.

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