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The Age of Certification: Green Building Design, Digital Infrastructure, and More

Brent Thomas

July 16, 2019

In today's day and age, it seems as if sustainably designed buildings are expected, certification or not. For years, developers and landlords have been seeking green certification to achieve a level of sustainability that will make their buildings more efficient and cheaper to maintain. As an added benefit, green certification often allows building owners to ask for higher rents and achieve higher occupancy rates at the same time.


When it comes to certifying a space, there are many options to choose from and a great deal of information about each. Green building certification rating systems have a number of options alone, and there are many others in additional categories like digital infrastructure and human wellness. Trying to figure out what certification is the right option for your wants and needs can be stressful, but we will try to make things a little less complicated.

LEED Certification

One of the best-known green certification programs to date is run by the United States Green Building Council. This organization started rating the sustainability of buildings in the 1990s with a program called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, known as LEED. The program rates buildings on how their design and systems affect energy and water efficiency, carbon dioxide emissions, and other “green” performance measures. There are around 100,000 commercial properties from all around the world that are either LEED certified or going through the process, according to the council. A few notable LEED-certified buildings include the Empire State Building, Soldier Field, Shanghai Tower, Facebook HQ, and Vancouver Convention Center.

Although LEED is the most dominant rating system in the United States, there is growing competition in the field. Many outsiders have come to view the success of the LEED program as an opportunity to create or heighten their own verification programs. With deep examination of the way LEED works, competitors have been able to find areas of the system that can be improved upon, allowing them to differentiate themselves with alternative systems. Because of this, the field for third-party verification has skyrocketed, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down. It has been reported that the market is expected to reach $254 billion by 2020.

Green Globes: The Competing Green Building Rating System

Another top sustainability program in the United States is the Green Globes from the Green Building Initiative. Green Globes is viewed by many as a streamlined and affordable alternative to LEED. For the most part, these two systems are very similar, but a few key differences exist. Like LEED, Green Globes incorporates a rating system that takes into consideration a number of green performance measures. Buildings that achieve 35% of more of the 1,000 points possible are eligible for certification of one, two, three, or four Green Globes. The higher the level of achievement, the greater number of globes acquired. For example, an ms ALDI project received three Green Globes for its sustainable design.


LEED is based on nine different measures while Green Globes is based off of seven. Both were based off of a system that started in the UK in 1990, called BREEAM, the world’s longest established method of assessing, rating, and certifying the sustainability of buildings.


With that said, the major difference between the two systems is that Green Globes sends out a third-party to provide an onsite assessment of the facility. Each assessor has the expertise in green building design, engineering, construction, and facility operations and they interact with project reams and building owners to conduct building tours and review documentation. These assessors have met minimum qualifications set by the Green Building Initiative (GBI) and have successfully completed the Green Globes Assessor (GGA) Program training and testing. For a full one-on-one comparison of the two systems, check out our previous blog post, Green Globes vs. LEED.

New Entrants to a Growing Industry

Since the industry for independent review in continuing to grow so rapidly, a number of organizations have begun offering verification in realms outside of green building, such as digital infrastructure, landscaping, and human wellness. Correspondingly, office leasing in the U.S. has been swarmed by technology companies in recent years. Because of this, many property owners have turned to a technology rating company called WiredScore to validate the technological proficiency of their buildings.

WiredScore: What's the Deal?

WiredScore grades a building’s digital infrastructure in several categories, including its ability to provide uninterrupted internet connectivity throughout the building an its capacity to integrate future technologies. Like other certification programs, WiredScore gives property owners another opportunity to differentiate themselves and gain a competitive edge. In less than six years, the company has certified more than 1,800 properties, accounting for about 500 million square feet in the United States, Canada, and Europe.


A typical WiredScore certification contract lasts two years and costs $12,000 to $15,000, which includes a digital assessment and road map for improvements and so far, undergoing a WiredScore rating appears to be well worth the cost.


Rental rates for WiredScore office buildings in Manhattan have increased an average of almost 7 percent with each level of certification. In comparison to WiredScore, the cost for LEED certification is much less, averaging around $3,500 to $5,000, with the average premium rent still being found to be around 3 percent higher than buildings without the certification. Again, the return on investment for these certification systems can be huge.

Questioned Legitimacy - Is Certification Worth the Time and Money?

The crowded field of independent review along with the complicated and confusing nature of these certifications has left some people to wonder which certifications are necessary and which ones are marketing gimmicks. In this case, green certification is being questioned.


Mahesh Ramnujam, president and chief executive of the Green Building Council is steadily standing by his organization’s claim that LEED buildings save energy, and he wants to make it clear that he believes sustainability goes far beyond a single component. With that said, his organization has begun a number of initiatives to better highlight the program’s performance, which has included data collection from LEED building owners and the placing of emphasis on the recertification of older projects. 


Nonetheless, John Scofield, a professor of physics at Oberlin College in Ohio, is still a doubter. For almost a decade, he has been challenging claims that LEED buildings typically used 25 percent to 30 percent less energy. In doing so, he has conducted a number of studies, including one in which he has compared the electricity consumption of properties in New York and Chicago. In this study, Scofield arrived to a conclusion that little to no real difference exists in LEED and non-LEED office buildings.


In response to the continued doubt from people like Professor Scofield, Mr. Ramanujam has made it his goal to put “soul into sustainability” by unearthing stories of how the program has had positive impacts on the environment, economic prosperity, and health. He wants to make it known that his organization is no longer focused on strategies and tactics only, but also on performance and data.

Benefits of an Energy-Efficient Building

When it is all said and done, a truly energy-efficient space brings about extraordinary long-term benefits. A few of these benefits include reductions in energy costs, water usage, operating and maintenance costs, and environmental impact.


If you are considering a green building certification or you want to learn more information about green building, ms has multiple sustainable design experts on staff that you can talk to. Contact us and our green building experts can help you with your next project.