A self-proclaimed “energy efficiency maven” filed a class action against the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), which governs LEED certification, in which he alleges that the Council engaged in false advertising and fraud, and committed antitrust and RICO violations.

Henry Gifford, a mechanical systems designer and the owner of Gifford Fuel Saving, contends that the USGBC falsely claimed that its LEED rating system saves buildings energy, and that consumers have spent unnecessary sums to have their buildings certified with the meaningless LEED credentials.

Gifford’s suit claims that the USGBC’s product line – including its certification system, courses and workshops for professional accreditation, annual conference and exposition – “is supplanting building codes in many jurisdictions, undermining marketplace competition and obscuring other building standards that are proven – unlike LEED – to reduce energy use and carbon emissions.”

The suit seeks to include “millions” of plaintiffs in various subclasses, which include taxpayers whose tax dollars were spent for LEED certification of publicly commissioned buildings, persons who paid for LEED certification, and persons who designed energy-efficient buildings whose livelihoods were injured by the USGBC’s “monopolization.”

A 2008 study commissioned by the USGBC analyzed data from 121 newly constructed LEED-certified buildings across the country and formed the basis for the USGBC’s claim that new buildings certified under its system are 25-30% more energy-efficient than non-LEED-certified buildings. The complaint alleges that this claim omits material information because the study comprised just a fraction of LEED-certified buildings.

The complaint also takes issue with the USGBC’s method of comparing energy use and calculating energy efficiency, arguing that it falsely inflates its own results in promotional materials. “When compared using objective scientific criteria, e.g., before- and-after comparisons, life-cycle analysis, or energy use data (rather than projections and models), LEED buildings perform worse than conventionally built buildings.”

Gifford’s suit seeks $100 million in compensatory damages, punitive awards, and an injunction halting the USGBC from making claims that LEED-certified buildings perform better than non-LEED-certified buildings.

To read the complaint in Gifford v. U.S. Green Building Council, click here.

Why it matters: Gifford is a well-known public critic of the USGBC and the LEED certification system. His suit, which made a splash in the world of green building, faces some legal obstacles, including the definition of class members and the legal causes of action he has pursued. Gifford’s suit also illustrates – along with the recently released revisions to the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides – the increasing focus on and economic importance of environmentally friendly marketing claims.