USGBC governance is changing. What will it mean?

Robert J. Kobet, AIA, LEED Faculty

USGBC was founded 22 years ago with a governance structure appropriate for a U.S.-based start-up NGO with a transformational mission.  Given the myriad of changes in the global green building movement, the USGBC now recognizes the need for a governance structure that will service its global growth, increase influence, and bring diverse, multi-disciplined, high-level business skills to bear on what it considers its “sophisticated business model.”

Beginning in 2016, the USGBC will seat two leadership bodies: an Advisory Council and a Board of Directors.  They say this will allow two things:

  1. Leverage the deep technical expertise and broad community engagement that exists in the diverse USGBC membership through the Advisory Council.
  2. Recruit key players to the Board of Directors who have deep leadership experience and expertise in fiscal management, technology, public policy and marketing, standard development and assessment, law and human resources, and post-secondary education leadership.

The Advisory Council will allegedly provide visionary leadership and perspectives that will build authenticity, credibility and relevance.  Advisory Council members will connect with key stakeholder groups across the sustainability movement and identify emerging opportunities and needs.  It will recommend policy and initiatives to the Board.  The Board will retain the legal authority to make policy and direct staff.  And, the Board of Directors will retain fiduciary responsibility and liability for the advancement of USGBC’s business and mission.


At the end of 2015 the currently serving members of the USGBC Board of Directors will transition to seats on the Advisory Council.  Six seats will be up for election in this process because the term of the Board Member holding that seat will expire at the end of 2015.  Those seats will be filled as they have been in the past, elected by the membership in a process overseen by the 2015 Board.  The Advisory Council can have up to 23 seats that represent specific perspectives of the global green building movement.  As ambassadors for the global sustainability movement, individuals on the Advisory Council may be tapped to carry out specific initiatives and lend their “acknowledged prestige and community clout” to fundraising and advocacy campaigns.

Beginning in 2016, the USGBC Board of Directors will consist of nine directors, one of whom will be the USGBC CEO serving in an ex-officio capacity.  The 2015 Board will recruit candidates for these positions who have the specific, high-level business skills and the influential networks needed to address emerging opportunities for USGBC.

What I sense is lacking in all of this is any representation of small business interests.  The Board of Directors and, via its evolution, members of the Advisory Board, will be elected based on their stature in major firms, industry connections and the ability to raise money.  This may be the inevitable result of the asymptotic growth of the USGBC and its myopic focus on growth at the highest levels globally.  The situation resonates with the reality of national politics, where only the most well connected and financially capable are elected and who, in turn, reap the benefits of the elected position.

Moving forward I would like to see the USGBC Board of Director’s fiduciary responsibility include full disclosure and complete transparency of all fiscal issues.  Publishing a very detailed, line item listing of all salaries, administrative costs, overhead and travel expenses, legal fees, chapter costs, etc., is in order.  The USGBC has said many times it depends on the efforts of thousands of unpaid volunteers, membership dues and donated services.  I am one of these people.  With the governance changing I think it’s a perfect time for a deep dive into how the USGBC really works, who benefits and how.  An open forum session at Greenbuild to solicit USGBC member response to USGBC finances would be ideal.  Perhaps a few members of the new Advisory Board can take up the “USGBC Fiscal Transparency” initiative.  For that, I will happily pay my dues.


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