What is Your Opinion of the US Green Building Council’s LEED Certification Program?

USGBC LEED greenThe federal government wants to know by April 8th.  According to the US General Services Administration, “federal agencies have been using green building certification systems since such systems were pilot tested in the late 1990s.” In 2006, five different green rating systems were evaluated by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory for the US General Services Administration, resulting in the selection of the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system for new construction and major renovations. But as Bryan Steverson writes, “Section 436(h) of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) requires GSA to evaluate green building certification systems every five years to identify a system and certification level “deem(ed) to be most likely to encourage a comprehensive and environmentally sound approach to certification of green buildings.” The new Green Building Certification System Review was completed in March 2012, and now the GSA’s Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings wants to know what you think.

The 2012 review looked at three rating systems: Green Building Initiative’s Green Globes (2010), U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (2009), and the International Living Building Institute’s Living Building Challenge (2011).

The review summary provides an excellent tutorial for anyone interested in green building practices and goals:

Each of the certification systems in this review has the stated goal of improving the design and operations of buildings so that they operate in a more sustainable manner. Each system approaches this challenge differently. Each addresses what the buildings industry has identified as the major aspects of green buildings (i.e., siting, energy, water, materials, indoor environment). All of the systems offer a set of on-line tools to assist the users.

Green building certification systems offer a framework for teams to identify high performance opportunities and to document and track design and operational performance. Certification by any third-party system does not guarantee that a building will achieve continued optimum performance. Every building is unique and there is high variability in performance when examining individual buildings. The experience of the design, construction, and operations teams play a significant role in the ability of a building to meet its performance goals.

Although none of the certification systems are identical to the Federal requirements, users have expressed that systems offer a useful framework for tracking and/or documenting progress toward meeting the requirements. If an agency chooses to use a certification system, then specific documentation to demonstrate the building met the Guiding Principles may need to be prepared in addition to certification system documentation.

The systems align well with the EISA-defined review criteria, were Green Globes for new construction and LEED for existing buildings aligning most closely (25 and 27 respectively out of 27 and 28). Green Globes and LEED have a points system offering multiple certification levels, whereas the Living Building Challenge is an “all-or-nothing” system. The Living Building Challenge certification system is designed to incorporate the results of at least the first year of a building’s operations into the certification, which means this system has the greatest emphasis on measured performance. Green Globes and Living Building Challenge feature on-site verification of the user submitted documentation, whereas LEED uses on-line documentation alone. LEED and Living Building Challenge have specific minimum requirements that must be met for certification to be achieved, whereas Green Globes defines a
minimum number of points within each area with flexibility as to how those points would be met. LEED is the dominant tool in the market, with thousands more users than the other two systems, however, they are all generally recognized by building professionals.

An “apples-to-apples” comparison of the certification systems is challenging because the development basis is different for each system. Green Globes uses a questionnaire-driven approach to guide the users through the design. LEED uses building codes and standards, and a minimum program requirements approach as its base. The Living Building Challenge uses a philosophy-based approach pushing for advanced building design and operations. Additionally, the certification systems have different strategies for achieving similar goals. In some cases there are multiple paths or approaches for achieving a goal within a certification. An example of the different options is energy use for new construction. Green Globes and LEED have performance and prescriptive path options, where Living Building Challenge requires 12 months of measured energy use data.

Selecting a certification system requires users to clearly understand their purpose for using a system. Innovation, market recognition, ease of use, assistance with meeting requirements, and a performance emphasis are some of the reasons a system might be selected. The Federal sustainable design and high performance operations requirements steer agencies toward the use of green building certification tools to help buildings professionals meet these energy, water, materials, waste, recycling and indoor environmental quality requirements. As commercially available tools they have been useful in connecting the Federal sector with the current private sector standards.

The certification systems also include elements that fall outside those identified by EISA or the Guiding Principles. For example, Green Globes has points that address clean diesel practices, bird collisions, and asbestos management. LEED has credits that address light pollution, priorities that vary by geographic region, and purchasing of sustainable food. Living Building Challenge has a materials “red list” (prohibiting use of some materials) and requires the building address beauty and inspiration.

To meet Federal sustainable design and high-performance operations requirements, agencies need to focus on the existing Federal building stock. Quality, integrated design may make it easier for buildings to meet the Federal requirements, but in the end, there is a need for quality building operations professionals to achieve long term, high-performing buildings. The building occupants also need to be committed to contributing in a positive manner to optimize building operations.

As a long-standing member of the US Green Building Council – Miami Chapter, I’d like to see the GSA’s Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings continue to use the LEED certification system, though I like the idea of there being “a mechanism to transfer the certification of a new building to an existing building over time” – something the Living Building Challenge programs has but LEED does not. What do you think? Talk to me here, but be sure to let Bryan Steverson, the Sustainability Green Buildings Program Advisor at the US General Services Administration know too.

Published byMelanieDawn

Melanie Dawn Molina Wood is a Miami native currently living in the historic downtown district. She has earned her LEED Green Associate accreditation, the NAR GREEN designation, and an Eco-broker credential. She is also a proud member of the US Green Building Council, and a member of the Sierra Club. For more information about sustainability in Miami, or to connect with a real estate agent anywhere in the world, contact Melanie Dawn by text/phone at 305.801.3133, or by email at MelanieDawn@MelanieinMiami.com

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