Friday, September 26, 2008

Which Green Certification System?

Today there are three green building certification systems. The recognized leader, and one we are all familiar with, is the U.S. Green Building Council's signature Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, applicable to both new and existing buildings. An alternative to the LEED standard is Green Building Initiative's Green Globes certification. Green Globes' roots go back to Canada in 1996 when the Canadian Standards Association published the Building Research Establishment's Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) as a guideline for existing buildings in Canada. It became an online assessment and rating tool for existing buildings under the Green Globes brand in 2000. At about this same time, they expanded their footprint into the development of standards for new building design. Practically, it is clear to me that Green Globes is more of a Web-based assessment tool than a standard. Amazingly, Jones Lang LaSalle acquired the business this past July, presumably because they saw the marketplace begging for a tool that could enable a quick, less expensive assessment of a building's overall performance. Jones Lang LaSalle believed that this would be particularly attractive to owners of large portfolios of existing buildings, such as themselves.
Finally, there is the National Association of Home Builders' National Green Building Standards. However, these focus principally on single-family residential construction and remodeling and multi-family construction.
In my opinion, the likelihood that a single certification will overwhelmingly dominate the market is low. Rather, competition among certification systems will accelerate over the next few years. In fact, it is much more likely that each certification system will find its own niche in the market. For example, LEED certification is not cheap and can be prohibitively expensive for small commercial buildings, portfolios of existing commercial buildings and low-price-point residential properties. But working through all this will take time.
Where does this leave the owner or manager of an existing building or a portfolio of existing buildings, particularly in the tough real estate market we are living in today? In my view, the most important element of establishing a "green" building is reducing energy consumption. This is a winner no matter what the economic climate and the place to start. There are things that can be done that are relatively inexpensive (refer to an earlier blog of mine) and things that require a capital investment. I believe the spiraling cost of energy in all its forms and government tax incentives and credits will continue to support at least moderate capital investment levels with excellent ROIs. Lower energy cost will also mean a greater NOI and therefore, enhance a property's value. No matter what "green" certification you may ultimately choose at some point in the future (probably following market drivers), the investment in reducing energy will never go to waste!
Would anyone like to share with our community their experience with "green" certification of existing buildings? I am sure we would all be interested.


Kim said...

BREEAM is also used in the UK. Neither LEED nor Green Globes is a standard. They are both rating systems. It is hard to say one is better than the other as both have their pros and cons. It seems to me, being in the building industry, that LEED has dominated the market. There are other criteria that promote green building like Energy Star, ASHRAE 189.1 (is that the right number?)....there are more... You are right that certification is expensive, regardless of which system you choose to use. If you truly wanted to do good by the environment, would you use the money that you'd spend on green building certification for certification or for further 'greening' your building (because we all know eco friendly alternatives do not typically come cheap up front)? I would hope the latter, but unfortunately LEED has become a marketing/PR gold mine and big developers like it for that reason.

yopo said...

I question the integrity of the Green Globes system, knowing that the Green Building Initiative (parent organization of Green Globes)was funded by the vinyl industry only after the USGBC/LEED took a position on vinyl products that was interpreted negatively by the same industry. Green Globes is also a "rate yourself" system, with no independent third party verification. LEED certification requires a rigorous, independent review by the USGBC. Sustainable and fundamental changes in our built environment requires a system that includes third party verification to avoid green washing.

Fjtruslow2 said...

I venture to suggest that a single brand that accommodates both differing project types, and varying grades of performance is capable of dominating the market.
The public wants confidence that they are comparing apples to apples or oranges to oranges, and currently LEED is the only system that does this. The USGBC also provides positive brand recognition.
I admit that I am not familiar with the National Association of Home Builders' standard. Is it more than a standard? It does not take a college graduate to figure out that a standard emitted by an industry group, by definition, can not provide third party certification.
Third party certification is a tool used to convince others of your own sincerity. The cost is bourne when considered commensurate to the value.
And lastly, the only reason 'low price point' is low price point, is because performance characteristics are compromized in order to achive a low delivery price. This method functions where customers can be counted on to overlook life cycle costs, or environmental/social factors. Without entering into their reasons for doing this, I This is incompatible with the principles and values that lead people to desire sustainable design and green construction.

Fred Truslow

Mark said...

Great article, Tony. Thanks for shedding some light on the various options which are available to those seeking to go green today. The Green Building Initiative (GBI) regularly hears these types of concerns and I think it’s safe to say we are all in agreement about the importance of reducing energy consumption. Additionally, at the GBI we believe that the continued environmental performance of a building is just as important as building a ‘green’ building. After all, achieving a high certification level under LEED or Green Globes means nothing if we aren’t seeing measurable results in regards to energy efficiency throughout the building’s life span.
To date, the bulk of the green building movement has centered around newly constructed buildings, which is understandable because it’s relatively easy to follow the guidelines set forth by a rating tool, get a verified rating and move on to the next project. Unfortunately, as this NBI study points out, merely securing a rating does not guarantee that the building will be energy efficient. Only through benchmarking, frequent monitoring and continual improvement can we ensure that our buildings are achieving meaningful, lasting results.
GBI recently launched Green Globes for Continual Improvement of Existing Buildings (CIEB)—an online system designed to give building owners and facility managers a practical and cost-effective way to assess and improve the performance of commercial and institutional buildings. Known as Green Globes-CIEB, this unique green asset management tool allows users to assess and benchmark building performance, develop comprehensive action plans for improvement and evaluate and compare multiple buildings within a portfolio. Green Globes-CIEB also helps foster an increased environmental consciousness when training operational staff to reduce costs and improve tenant relations by demonstrating a commitment both to the environment and occupant health and comfort.
I also want to point out that we’ve recently taken steps to address some of the concerns raised about energy through the process to establish Green Globes as the first American National Standard, as recognized by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), for commercial green buildings. As part of the standard development process, the new version of Green Globes (available here) requires the achievement of a minimum number of points in each of the system’s seven areas of assessment, including energy. The system’s energy section also features a CO2 equivalency which is used as the basis for calculating the energy performance path. In addition, the Standard, which we hope to finalize in the first quarter of 2009, will feature new calculators for both life cycle assessment and water consumption.
At the GBI, we always look for opportunities to improve so please know that feedback like yours is taken very seriously as we continue our efforts to offer the best green building resources available. Please check out our Green Globes for Continual Improvement of Existing Building and New Construction modules at

Mark Rossolo
Director, State and Local Outreach
Green Building Initiative