LEED and GreenGlobes

The tide seems to be turning for sustainable building. Government projects require it, private clients are increasingly demanding it, and the popular press is spreading the word (see USAToday, CNN, SF Chronicle). Discussion continues, however, as to how best to encourage green building and assess the sustainability of projects.

The most-used system is the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System®, a “voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings,” developed by the US Green Building Council (USGBC). Here is how the USGBC describes the program:

LEED provides a complete framework for assessing building performance and meeting sustainability goals. Based on well-founded scientific standards, LEED emphasizes state of the art strategies for sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality. LEED recognizes achievements and promotes expertise in green building through a comprehensive system offering project certification, professional accreditation, training and practical resources.

The USGBC has developed rating systems for new construction, existing building operations, commercial interiors, core and shell projects, homes, and neighborhood development. Standards for retail are in development. Projects that accumulate a certain number of points under the LEED standards can apply for LEED certification.

Some believe that LEED is too expensive, too cumbersome, and unfairly favors certain industries over others. Take a look at Auden Schendler and Randy Udall’s November 2005 article in Grist Magazine entitled LEED is Broken: Let’s Fix It.

In response, alternative rating systems for green building are springing up. The Green Building Initiative‘s Green Globes program is an example. Originating in Canada, the system is billed as “an interactive, flexible and affordable approach to environmental design” and includes an “assessment protocol, rating system and guide for integrating environmentally friendly design into commercial buildings.” Here’s how GBI describes its rating system:

The Green Globes™ system is questionnaire-driven. At each stage of the design process, users are walked through a logical sequence of questions that guide their next steps and provide guidance for integrating important elements of sustainability.

Builders complete the questionnaires to collect points for their projects. Points are verified by a third party before a final Green Globes rating is granted. Ratings are based on the percentage of points achieved, not on a point count as with LEED. Proponents of Green Globes say the system is cheaper, more flexible, and easier to manage.

Green Globes is not without its critics, however – some aver that it is less credible than LEED (for one perspective, see Forest Ethic‘s article Green Buildings Standards Factsheet: Green Globes’ Lack of Environmental Credibility), so the controversy continues. Here is a factsheet from the Wood Promotion Network comparing some aspects of the two standards.

Whether LEED or Green Globes is the better standard is beyond the scope of this post, but having standards and rating systems in place plays a big part in bringing sustainability into the public eye. Competing standards may be confusing, but in the long run the competition will force all standards to be improved – and that is a good thing for the environment.

A few of the many other websites that help builders and designers understand and meet green standards:

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