There are several green building certification systems in the market to help designers, architects, engineers and building owners. Deciding which certification to utilize or deciding if you should certify your project can be challenging.
The purpose of this article is to summarize four of the major certification systems used in the U.S. and provide some guidance and an alternative to certification. The green building systems are similar in mission but vary widely in execution. This article’s focus is on LEED®, LBC, Passive House and Green Globes. All certification systems have associated costs that are paid to the certification organizations and costs paid to consultants for managing and administering the process during design and construction.
The Certification Systems
The USGBC (United States Green Building Council), ILFI (International Living Future Institute), Passive House and Green Building Initiative have several different types and levels of certifications.
All organizations are focused on how buildings can be more efficient and less reliant on fossil fuels and focus on conserving other finite and at risk environmental resources. All have missions influenced by global climate change and are holistic voluntary third-party green building certifications. Each provide measurable strategies and tactics to improve the design, construction, maintenance and operation of the built environment.
U.S. Green Building Council: LEED Certification
The USGBC’s vision is that “buildings and communities will regenerate and sustain the health and vitality of all life within a generation.” USGBC’s Mission, “to transform the way buildings and communities are designed, built and operated, enabling an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy, and prosperous environment that improves the quality of life” builds on this vision through the development and improvement of the LEED rating system.
LEED v4 is the current active version of the certification and it is in beta for LEED v4.1 O +M. LEED is further categorized in the following systems with reference guides:
- Building Design + Construction
- Neighborhood Development
- Interior Design + Construction
- Building Operations + Maintenance
- Cities and Communities
All LEED certifications have cost associated with registering, certifying, plaques, and certificates. LEED has also spawned a professional accreditation system that requires testing and continuous education and in some cases active participation in projects. All LEED systems, except for LEED Homes, rely on professionals to document the project through drawings, reports, specifications, energy model reports and online templates. LEED Homes requires an owner to hire a Green Rater to verify the project.
The International Living Future Institute: Living Building Challenge
ILFI operates with a mission, “To lead and support the transformation toward communities that are socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative.” Founded by green building experts and thought leaders, ILFI is built on, “The belief that providing a compelling vision for the future is a fundamental requirement for reconciling humanity’s relationship with the natural world.”
The ILFI has created five different types of certification for buildings and communities to pursue:
- Living Building Challenge
- Zero Energy
- Zero Carbon
- Living Product Challenge
- Living Community Challenge
The Living Building Challenge 3.1 is organized into seven performance areas called Petals. Petals are derived from ILFI’s idea that a flower is the ideal symbol for the built environment. Each Petal is further sub-divided into Imperatives, which address specific issues through detailed requirements.
The Living Building Challenge webpage serves as a great resource for the certification process. There you will find all standard documents and resources needed throughout the certification process including fee schedules for certification, case studies of past certified projects, and more. Additional resources are available to officially registered project teams. A person on the project team must be a member of ILFI – there are different levels of membership, but Premium Membership is $150.00 per year. Fees required for LBC certifications vary on project size.
The advantage of the ILFI certification is that ILFI will audit the project information through an independent auditor. ILFI also has a professional accreditation called the Living Future Accreditation (LFA) that requires continuing education.
The 2016 Annual Report for ILFI highlights include 74 Certified Living Buildings and 390 Projects pursuing LBC certification. These are not big numbers but they continue to grow around the world and the projects vary in size and function. Their architectural designs are beautifully integrated and in harmony with nature.
Passive House looks at efficient building design as a key contributor to curbing our total greenhouse gas emissions. Their goal is to create efficient, comfortable buildings with very low energy consumption. This is achieved through quality design and craftsmanship paired with superior quality windows, insulation, and heat recovery ventilation. Passive House is a performance standard, not a construction standard, so designers are free to create unique, yet efficient, spaces.
Over the last two decades Passive House has gained popularity and enjoyed rapid growth. As of 2013 there are over 50,000 Passive House units worldwide. To certify a unit under the Passive House standard, the project team must have one of the over 40 Passive House Building Certifiers inspect their building. Becoming a certifier can cost up to $400 and requires continued education courses. In order to advance the Passive House Standard as well as the quality for which it stands worldwide, the Passive House Institute founded iPHA, the International Passive House Association.
Green Building Initiative: Green Globes
Green Globes is an online green building rating and certification tool used throughout the U.S. and Canada. There are Green Globes modules for:
- New Construction
- Core and Shell
- Existing Buildings
- Sustainable Interiors
These modules can be used for a wide range of commercial, institutional and multi-residential building types including retail spaces, schools, hotels, healthcare facilities, sports facilities, and many more.
Green Globes is a science-based building rating system which can be applied to a wide range of project and building types. With a goal to improve building operations, increase occupant comfort, and positively affect the climate Green Globes has tailorable solutions to best fit your building. Projects may be awarded one to four Green Globes based on the percentage of the 1,000 possible points: one GG – 35% to 54%, two GG – 55% to 69%, three GG – 70% to 84% and four GG – 85% to 100%.
With Green Globes’ cloud-based program, project team members can personally access and upload information. This minimizes coordination time and distributes documentation tasks among the project team.
Green Globes also provides an expert dedicated to your project. These experts are considered third-party assessors. The experts, or assessors, interact with project teams and building owners in real-time to create powerful partnerships. Skilled in green building design best practices, engineering, construction and facility operations, the assessors review documentation, answer questions, conduct on-site building assessments, and offer insightful suggestions to enhance sustainable practices.
Summary of all Green Building Systems
Each green building system takes hundreds of hours of preparation, documentation, administration, design and engineering. Most of this time can be integrated into the standard project phases but much of this time adds to the project schedule and budget. The added time is minor when compared to the overall planning, design, documentation, bidding, and permitting and construction time. The cost is a very small fraction of the overall cost of a project, and the return on the investment can be large to the building owner. More importantly, implementing these strategies can reduce the strain on natural resources and fossil fuel energy sources.
In 2014, our firm had enough data on our LEED retail bank projects that we were able to find that the added cost averaged out to 2.5% in design and 2.5% in construction. At current count ms consultants has worked on 86 LEED projects. Of the 86 – 41 are LEED Certified at various levels and 3 are active under LEED v4. We are also working on a Green Globes project for Wittenberg University and have one ALDI project in Alexandria, VA that is certified 3 Green Globes.
- LEED is the most used and prolific green building certification in the U.S.
- Green Globes is similar but adds an on-site and project assessor that visits the project site to confirm the construction.
- Living Building Challenge focuses on healing of people and environment. Regeneration, net-zero and net-positive impact are focuses of the certification. The certification is the most comprehensive and forces stakeholders to evaluate all aspects of green building design.
- Passive House is focused on a buildings’ energy efficiency and energy sources.
All four certifications are very good at helping guide a project team to meet green building goals.
The Living Building Challenge and Green Globes are better at verification and assessment. LEED v4.1 is working to solve this by utilizing an online data gathering system that building owners will provide inputs throughout a building’s life cycle.
Alternate Path - Not Certifying a Building Project
Not certifying a green building project is sometimes an option and can be just as successful as seeking certification. I say “sometimes” because many universities and governments are now requiring certification (LEED or Green Globes). Green building strategies are not proprietary. In some ways, not certifying, frees the building owner and design team to explore many alternatives without chasing points and criteria. Our team at ms can apply the desired green building strategies of any of the building certifications. A list of just a few strategies include: water conservation, whole-building energy simulation, renewable energy systems, daylighting, building site strategies to take advantage of passive solar, site connectivity to existing infrastructure and natural habitat regeneration. We also utilize energy-modeling and building information modeling to test and verify design and engineering strategies.
Whether a project team decides to certify a building or forgo certification, there are many reasons why green building strategies should be discussed with a building client. The three most important reasons are People, Profit, and Planet. There is a balancing act with most clients to make sure the upfront costs, life-cycle, and operational costs are in agreement with budgets.
There are many studies on productivity gains in green buildings, energy savings (equals financial savings), water savings (equals financial savings) to name just a few. Taking the emotion out of the green building discussions is important for A/E firms. Clients respond best to proven innovation and can be reassured that a consultant is advising the client with the client’s best interest in mind. It is a balancing act as well when the public’s interest is on the minds of an A/E consultant. A consultant may feel the need to address some of the effects that a building project may have on the local and global environment.
I encourage my colleagues to have these discussions with clients in a factual and non-emotional manner. Your clients will likely respect you for sharing your knowledge and it will help them see a bigger picture of how their building fits into the environment.
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Want to learn more about green building certifications? Want to certify your building? Contact Eric Elizondo at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
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