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Class Accuses Green Building Council of Fraud

MANHATTAN (CN) - A federal class action claims the U.S. Green Building Council misleads consumers by misrepresenting the energy performance of buildings certified under its LEED ratings system. Henry Gifford, founder of Gifford Fuel Saving, claims the LEED "green" construction standards actually harm the environment by leading consumers away from proven energy-saving strategies.

The Council has not yet filed a response. But its spokeswoman Ashley Katz said it was investigating Gifford's claims and would respond "in due course."

Gifford claims the U.S. Green Building Council's proprietary line of products, including its LEED green building certification program, courses and workshops and annual Greenbuild conference, have supplanted building codes in many jurisdictions, undermined competition, and obscured other building standards that "are proven - unlike LEED - to reduce energy use and carbon emission."

These standards include U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Star program, ASHRAE standards (the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditions), Passivhaus/Passive House USA standards, and standards of the Air Barrier Association of America, according to the complaint.

In seeking class-certification, Gifford asked the judge to consider consumers who paid to have their properties certified green by the U.S. Green Building Council, taxpayers whose municipalities spent public money on green buildings, and building designers working outside the council's purview, as the parties injured by the Building Council's "monopolization of the market through fraudulent and intentionally misleading representation in the marketing and promotion of LEED product."

Gifford claims the U.S. Green Building Council distorted data about the effectiveness of its standards - which assert that LEED buildings are generally 25 percent to 50 percent more energy-efficient than non-LEED standard buildings - by failing to follow generally accepted standards for statistical analysis.

The U.S. Green Building Council "claims that the LEED system is 'providing third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most: energy savings,'" according to the complaint.

But Gifford claims, "This claim is false on its face in several ways: 1) LEED certification does not require any verification of the data submitted in certification applications and does not require actual energy use data at any stage; 2) LEED certification is not based on actual building performance data but rather on projected energy use; and 3) [U.S. Green Building Council] does not have the staff or expertise to evaluate these applications.

"Far from providing 'verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance,' USGBC essentially allows applicants to self-certify," the complaint states.

Gifford wants the USGBC enjoined to "cease and desist its deceptive practices," and compensatory and punitive damages for RICO fraud, false advertising, deceptive trade unfair competition and unjust enrichment.

He is represented by Norah Hart.

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