Are the Green Building Initiative's (GBI) marketing claims around its Green Globes rating system misleading? Yes, says Greenwash Action, a new nonprofit that is a joint initiative of Sierra Club and Greenpeace and a program of the Earth Island Institute. Today the organization released a report that critiques the stringency of Green Globes—which states "Green Globes is greenwash"—and issued an open letter to GBI's board of directors asking them to stop marketing Green Globes as an equivalent green building rating system to LEED and the Living Building Challenge, and to cease its underwriting of negative attacks on LEED and the USGBC.

The letter came one day after GBI released a study from Drexel University that states that Green Globes is significantly cheaper and faster to use than LEED, and roughly two months after the launch of  LEED Exposed, a website from a group called the Environmental Policy Alliance that claims that LEED is a failed rating system. LEED Exposed is not directly related to GBI.

Greenwash Action asserts that GBI is misleading the building industry. "To date, the GBI and its allies have taken actions that create confusion in the marketplace and suggest that Green Globes is equivalent to stronger green building rating systems," the letter states, asserting that Green Globes is less stringent than LEED in all of its categories, and that the organization has solid basis for its criticisms of Green Globes and anti-LEED actions of industries that support the rating system. With this in mind, the letter writers "urge you either to improve Green Globes where it is currently weak, or to reposition it as a streamlined system that does not seek or claim equivalence with higher standards like LEED and Living Building Challenge."

The letter also touches on the long-contested question surrounding the inclusion of wood in both Green Globes and LEED, the first of which allows certifications from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the latter which only recognizes certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Siding with FSC proponents who argue that SFI certification is not on par with FSC standards, the letter encourages the SFI "to either improve its standards so it is truly equivalent to FSC, or to rebrand itself and cease claiming or seeking equivalence to FSC."

The Greenwash Action letter alleges that the timber industry is also behind a range of state-level campaigns seeking to ban LEED in state construction. "Those of you who represent the conventional timber industry and the chemical and plastics industries created the GBI," the letter says. "Your industries dominate its governance and control its funding. If you are sincere about promoting high-performance building, you must cease attacking leadership standards like LEED and FSC and stop using your lobbying power to create market drivers for Green Globes by force."

When contacted for comment regarding the Greenwash Action launch and letter, SFI released the following statement: "The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) is dedicated to healthy, thriving, well-managed forests for today and for future generations. A wide variety of stakeholders support and constructively engage with SFI including representatives of environmental, conservation, professional and academic groups, as well as forestry professionals who understand that the future of our forests depends on the actions we take today. SFI program participants include landowners and managers, manufacturers, public agencies, First Nation and Tribes, conservation groups, and academic institutions. SFI program participants have invested more than $1.3 billion in conservation research since 1995, and SFI’s independent, rigorous and science-based standard is improving conditions in forests across North America every day." GBI president Jerry Yudelson could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.

While Greenwash Action advocates for LEED, the USGBC is not directly involved. "The U.S. Green Building Council is supportive of Greenwash Action’s mission of bringing clarity to green building leadership standards. In fact, USGBC was born out of the need to define the then-loose idea of green building into the respected industry standard it is today," the organization said in a statement when contacted for comment on Greenwash Action's letter. "We continue to advance green building by convening a large and diverse group of stakeholders. Transparency and access is core to our mission, just as it is to Greenwash Action."

The original version of this article mistakenly identified the Green Building Initiative as an institute. We apologize for the error.