Green Building Initiative
From Portland Afoot
The Green Building Initiative, or the GBI, is a Portland-based nonprofit corporation that holds the U.S. license to administer Green Globes, a green building rating system that is the primary competitor to the dominant LEED building standard.
Green Globes is described by its critics as a "greenwash" operation and by its defenders as a lower-cost alternative to LEED. The GBI has been managed since 2004 by president Ward Hubbell, whose small firm Hubbell Communications manages the nonprofit on contract.
 Perceived need
In an October 2011 interview, Hubbell said he launched his own public affairs firm in June 2002 because his employer, timber company Louisiana Pacific, was preparing to leave Portland. (Though LP did not announce its decision until late 2003, Hubbell wrote in an email that he "was on the senior management team so I knew what they were going to do well before the public announcement.")
While looking for projects for his firm, Hubbell said, he identified green building as a possible area for public affairs work. LEED had begun with pilot projects in 1998 and was emerging as the dominant green building standard, but its embrace of the Forest Stewardship Council standard for green timber conflicted with the business practices of major timber companies, including Louisiana Pacific.
Further raising the stakes for the building materials industry, some states (including Oregon) were considering requirements that government buildings, or even other new buildings, meet green-building guidelines.
Hubbell said he learned of the Green Globes, a rival green building system which had been founded in Canada and did not restrict itself to FSC-certified wood. He then approached executives in the timber industry and other building trades with a proposal: He would launch a nonprofit that would license Green Globes for U.S. use.
Corporations and trade associations could join his board by becoming paying contributors to the nonprofit (as of 2011, a seat on the GBI's board was listed as costing $15,000 to $50,000 a year, depending on annual gross sales). Hubbell's efforts over the next few years focused on getting state legislatures to recognize Green Globes as an alternative to LEED.
As of October 2011, Hubbell said, "23 states have written us into law, Oregon being the latest" in its 2011 legislative session.
 Growth and decline
Green Globes revenue grew rapidly with the building boom, peaking at $5.7 million in calendar year 2007. (See below for a list of the GBI's sponsors.) But the end of the boom brought a rapid decline for GBI.
Hubbell said the firm had certified "about 400" buildings by October 2011, "more than half" of which had not also been certified LEED. At the time, LEED reported 7,674 projects in the United States.
Notable GBI clients include Whole Foods, various government and academic projects around the country and the Portland development firm Melvin Mark.
"LEED appears to be the defacto standard," said Clark Brockman, director of sustainability at Portland-based SERA Architects. "If we had clients seeking Green Globes certification, we would look into it, but that has not happened to date."
Hubbell described Green Globes as having improved LEED and the green building market in general.
"Monopolies tend to benefit the monopolist only," said Hubbell. "Competition drives down prices, it improves product quality, it facilitates innovation. ... Our entrance into the marketplace has done that. We have stolen good ideas from them; they have stolen good ideas from us. We have had to work harder to differentiate ourselves, and I think the beneficiary at the end is going to be the consumer and the environment."
 Accusations of 'greenwashing'
 Criticism of GBI
In an October 2011 interview, Jay Coalson, president of Portland-based firm Green Building Services and an early supporter of the LEED standard, called GBI's president, Hubbell, "a professional lobbyist who is fronting a green building association as part of his work for his industry clients."
"We've never done a Green Globes project, and we won't," Coalson said. "That said, it hasn't been a big problem, because very few of our clients have even inquired about Green Globes."
Coalson said GBI advocates "work through the political process to try and get themselves included as a policy fixture" but lack major support in the green building marketplace.
Coalson accused Hubbell of cynically attempting to confuse the green building market and slow the progress of LEED and the standards it promotes.
"This is not a group of people who are tangibly pursuing the goals of this nonprofit," Coalson said. "It's a slowdown. Because the more you can slow it down, the longer people can go without having to actually change the way they do their business."
Daniel Hall, the Portland-based director of market solutions development for the environmental group Forest Ethics, said the GBI "gave full credit and recognition to forest certification schemes that endorsed and greenwashed some of the most destructive logging practices in North America."
Hall said the GBI's acceptance of the timber industry's SFI standard was a "noteworthy" improvement on traditional logging, because it forbids logging of small buffer zones near streams, but "not a fundamental change in how industrial forestry is initiated." SFI's rules require landowners to "have a plan" to protect the environment on their property, Hall said, but "there's no requirement to actually achieve anything in the forest."
Jason Grant, a green forestry consultant and LEED advocate based in Northern California, agreed that GBI is a greenwash operation.
"From where I sit, Green Globes was backed by folks like the timber lobby and the PVC lobby who did not like the direction that LEED was taking," Grant said. "For me, it's part of a pattern of very significant vested interests. When they can't control or dominate something that doesn't serve their vested interests, they invent their own."
As for GBI's description of itself as more industry-friendly, Coalson said companies that build their business on environmentally destructive practices are doomed to eventually vanish.
"It comes down to a simple fact: If you believe that the transition to a sustainabie economy is necessary ... then those jobs can never be sustainable," Coalson said.
The U.S. Green Building Council, a private nonprofit that administers LEED, did not respond to a request for comment about Green Globes.
 GBI response
Hubbell, GBI's founder, describes Green Globes as cheaper than LEED and comparable in environmental benefit.
"We look at what they look at," he said. "We're about as rigorous as they are."
Hubbell said its critics are threatened by the fact that unlike LEED, Green Globes doesn't require them to be hired as consultants.
"We're probably 20 to 30 percent of the cost of LEED, all in, because we don't give Jay Coalson a job," Hubbell said. Hubbell said developers have the option to apply those savings to additional energy-saving features for their building, citing an example of a Melvin Mark project that had done just that.
In a 2008 radio interview, Hubbell described Green Globes as designed for "corporations who build a building a day, that are out there looking to get the best possible design and some credibility associated with ... lower budget projects. We've done a lot of projects that might not otherwise have gone green were it not for the fact that there was an affordable option."
"The Green Globes platform is a web-based platform," Hubbell said. "Because of that, it's a lot easier to use and it's a lot less expensive. ... The investment should go in the building, not in the plaque on the wall."
Timothy Buckley, the Vancouver-based green architect, agreed with Hubbell that it's good to have competition in the market for green building standards, but did not embrace Green Globes in particular.
"Obviously we want to have a good competitive environment," Buckley said. "I think it's healthy to have multiple different options."
Buckley described Green Globes's SFI standard for timber as "certainly better than no standard. It's not the most stringent standard."
 Executive compensation
According to Guidestar.org, the GBI paid Hubbell Communications $2.9 million over four years from 2006 to 2009, the most recent year records were available, peaking at $814,462 in 2007 for what the documents described as 30 hours of work a week by Hubbell. In 2009, the most recent year public records were available, the sum was $629,733.
Hubbell said the 2007 figure included parts of five employees' salaries, overhead and travel expenses as well as rent for the converted home, 2104 SE Morrison, owned by Hubbell and used as the Green Building Initiative's headquarters.
According to the Portland Business Journal, the state's top 10 nonprofit executives made an average of $288,740 annually in 2009. The 10th highest paid, Ron Morgan of Dove Lewis Emergency Animal Hospital, managed a budget six times the size of the GBI's. He earned $199,000 in 2009.
Because he is paid by way of a management contract, Hubbell's compensation could not be included in the Portland Business Journal's report.
The nonprofit's revenue shrank rapidly with the building industry's 2008 crash: it fell 74 percent from $5.7 million in 2007 to $1.5 million in 2009, according to IRS records released by Guidestar.org. Hubbell's firm's compensation, meanwhile, fell just 23 percent. By 2009, the Hubbell contract was taking up 42 percent of the nonprofit's revenue.
In an October 2011 interview, Hubbell declined to comment on his own salary, calling it private.
"I've never sat down and figured it out," he said, adding that he earned more at the time than he had as a vice president of corporate affairs at Louisiana Pacific.
 Lawyer: Rent practice "really fishy"
IRS rules require tax-exempt nonprofits to offer "reasonable compensation" to their executives, defined as "the value that would ordinarily be paid for like services by like enterprises under like circumstances."
Ross Day, a lawyer based in Portland who specializes in nonprofit law but said he was not familiar with the specifics of Hubbell's firm, said there's nothing unusual about the GBI's use of a management contract to pay Hubbell -- he called the practice "fairly common" -- unless it conceals an extraordinarily high salary.
"If I were an executive director and that was my only position and I was getting paid $180,000 a year, that's about what an executive director gets paid," Day said. "If instead I'm getting paid $500,000 a year in Oregon, that would not pass the smell test."
Day added that the GBI's practice of paying rent to operate in a building owned by its own executive director would raise red flags.
"The one thing that does look really fishy is if the owner of the PR firm and the guy who owns the building is charging rent to the nonprofit," said Day. "That practice, while legal, is frowned upon by--well, it's not what the IRS likes to see."
In 2011, the GBI's website listed its "members and supporters" as including:
- Ainsworth Engineered
- the American Chemistry Council
- the American Gas Association
- the American Wood Council
- A/Z Corporation
- Blue Ridge Fiberboard
- Boise Cascade
- Continental Automated Buildings Associaton
- the Canadian Wood Council
- Capital One
- the Carpet and Rug Institute
- the Chemical Fabrics and Film Association
- Dow Chemical
- Dunkley Lumber
- Excel Dryer
- Fitzpatrick Drywall
- the Forest Products Associaton of Canada
- Great Forest, the only explicitly environmental company on the list (which, as of 2011, advertises its U.S. Green Building Council affiliation on its website but not its GBI affiliation))
- Green Diamond Resource Company
- Hampton Affiliates
- the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials
- the Irrigation Assocation
- JELD-WEN Windows and Doors
- the Louisiana Forestry Association
- Louisiana Pacific
- the Maritime Lumber Bureau
- the North Carolina Forestry Associaton
- the Plastic, Pipe and Fittings Assocation
- Plum Creek Administrative Corporation
- QA Graphics
- the Resilient Floor Covering Institute
- Scott and Goble Architects
- the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors National Association
- Siemens USA
- Sika Corporation
- the Steel Recycling Institute
- Suffolk Construction Company
- the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, a green timber standard founded by the American Forest and Paper Association and not recognized by mainstream environmental groups such as the Sierra Club.
- The Vinyl Institute
- the Washington Forestry Protection Association, an "association of major private forest landowners" founded "with the goal of improving the forest products industry’s image in the state"
- West Fraser
- official website
- profile on Guidestar.org
- criticism from Treehugger.com
- registration with Oregon secretary of state
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