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February 18, 2010

There’s more than one way to certify a green building

  • LEED is king in the U.S., but competing systems like Green Globes have their advantages.
    PSF Mechanical


    For sustainable design and construction, the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification program has been the dominant rating system for a number of years.

    LEED has gone through various iterations but remains synonymous with green building. There is no question that when someone mentions LEED it is immediately recognized and accepted as the de facto standard for sustainable design and energy efficient construction.

    The USGBC must be given credit for helping move sustainable design and construction forward. There are literally thousands of projects currently registered and making their way through the LEED certification program.

    LEED alternatives

    Are you aware that there are alternatives to the LEED rating system? There are many different rating systems available, each uniquely tailored to the geopolitical importances of their specific area or region. For example, Australia, where water is scarce, identifies water conservation as a major priority and therefore weights innovative water solutions much more heavily than energy usage, as we do in the United States.

    Photo by John Edwards Photography [enlarge]
    The St. Thomas School in Medina earned a LEED for Schools gold rating. The LEED system is synonymous with green building but costly compared with Green Globes.

    Some alternate certification programs you may already be familiar with are BRE Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), Minnesota Sustainable Building Guidelines, SBTool and Green Globes. BREEAM started out in the United Kingdom and expanded into Canada. The Green Building Initiative implements the program in the U.S. under the name Green Globes. SBTool is employed by the International Initiative for a Sustainable Built Environment, an international nonprofit organization with board members and chapters all over the world.

    It is important to have these varied ratings systems available. There is no perfect system that fits every building scenario. Competition amongst the various programs spurs innovations, upgrades and efficiencies, benefitting everyone and the environment.

    This article will concentrate on the similarities and differences between Green Globes and LEED.

    Comparing systems

    Both LEED and Green Globes are Web-based programs. When a building owner submits an application to certify a project, the project is posted online, where all its forms can be completed. Following this step, the two programs begin to vary in many ways.

    LEED has many requirements that must be satisfied in order to qualify for its program. First, a LEED-accredited professional, or LEED AP, must be involved. Next, the current version of LEED has nine prerequisites that must be met. If any single prerequisite is not met, the project cannot qualify for LEED certification.

    Credits are given on a point-by-point basis, with quantity of points as the criterion for the different levels of achievement: certified, silver, gold and platinum. A maximum of 114 points are available. According to the USGBC’s most recent published data, approximately 10 percent of the projects that begin the LEED certification process actually follow through to completion.

    With Green Globes, any individual can lead the process; there are no special training requirements to implement the program. Secondly, there are no prerequisites. Green Globes gives credits on a percentage basis, with quantity of points as the criterion for the various levels of achievement: one, two, three or four globes. A maximum of 1,000 points are available.

    This is a stark contrast between the two systems. One excludes on the basis of certain priorities while the other embraces all opportunities to improve the sustainability of any project.

    On-site assessors

    During the design and construction of any project there is interaction between the project team and the certification entity of the rating system in use. Again, there are differences between LEED and Green Globes in this regard.

    LEED handles all correspondence online via form submittals, review comments and credit-interpretation requests. The LEED rating review system is set up to take place after the fact and verifies all credits via the Web.

    Reports are generated and submitted back to the project team. If there is a disagreement the project team has the option of submitting an appeal for a fee. This can go back and forth numerous times, and does on occasion.

    Green Globes assigns an assessor to the project. Conversations and exchange of information between the project team and the assessor are encouraged. At each of the design phases the assessor reviews the documents, provides suggestions, answers questions and works as a collaborative team member.

    Green Globes sends the assessor to the site to verify the credits that had been applied for. Already familiar with the project and its intended goals, the assessor meets with the design and construction team and walks the project to verify that all credits submitted are part of the finished design. If there is a disagreement it is worked out on the spot.

    Cost is always an issue in construction and it is no different when it comes to sustainable construction rating systems. Each system charges a fee for registration and a fee for verification. LEED charges $900 to register a project. For a 250,000-square-foot building LEED charges an additional $11,250 fee for verification. The cost for a LEED AP to run the process is approximately $25,000.

    Green Globes charges $500 for registration and typically costs around $6,500 for the assessor site visit and project certification.

    Tallying scorecards

    I have used the LEED rating system on eight projects and Green Globes on two. One of these was dual-certified. This became a perfect case study for comparing the two rating systems.

    The project is a high rise of approximately 500,000 square feet in a major metropolitan area. The dual certification process confirmed how similar Green Globes and LEED are.

    Each system includes categories for site, energy, water, resources, emissions/effluents and indoor environment. LEED has additional credits for innovations, while Green Globes offers credits for collaborative project management. Using the same design and construction information the building received a LEED gold rating and three of four Green Globes.

    The differences between the systems did not reveal themselves until we neared the final scorecards. With LEED certification, the process begins with the selection of the points to be pursued and then working toward those goals.

    What is unknown is which and how many of the credits will be either challenged or denied during the review period, so total count and rating is never a sure thing. Some points are easy to assure, while others are subject to interpretation. The standard operating procedure is to identify more costly credits that would be initiated if other credits were rejected because one or two credit points can mean the difference between gold and silver, or between certification and non-certification.

    With Green Globes there are three questionnaires, one each for pre-design, schematic design and construction documents. At each stage the questionnaire tracks the project score based upon the design concepts that were retained and/or added during each phase.

    Since the scoring for Green Globes is a percentage of points available, the certainty of the final rating is much higher with this system. Again, the assessor is apprised of progress and reviews the project at these stages.

    So there you have it. Two systems of similar yet differing approaches to building green. Each has its place in the green building movement. Each verifies, in its own way, that a project has taken on the accountability of its intentions to produce an energy efficient, sustainable building with an excellent indoor environment for the occupants.

    Robert Willis is the director of sustainable design at PSF Mechanical. He has over 30 years of industry experience and has been involved with energy efficiency and sustainability since the late 1980s.

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