by Maggie Fitzgerald
We’ve all seen buildings with huge metallic plaques near the door boasting an environmental performance award of some kind. But to the average person, these awards mean little when we do not know what they represent and what standards were met to achieve them. Here, I will provide you the basic facts of the major certifications so you can know just what it takes to get that shiny plaque.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)
LEED is the longest-running and one of the most recognizable certifications. Started by the U.S. Green Building Council in 1992, LEED uses a point scale to assess a building’s greenness. Based on the points achieved through the six main credit categories for evaluation (sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design) an approved building can be either simply certified, or receive a Silver, Gold, or the coveted Platinum certification level.
While LEED is an internationally recognized and respected certification, the high cost of certification is a deterrent to many builders and building owners (numbers vary, but estimates range from $2,500 to $25,000 for registration and assessment) as is the amount of paperwork involved. So why do it? Being LEED certified is a significant honor achievement that will draw attention (and perhaps esteemed higher-paying tenants) to a building. It is an expensive investment, but one that many owners feel will pay off in the long run due to improved recognition and overall cost savings from environmental efficiency, specifically energy savings.
Most people recognize the blue Energy Star label, which began with the Environmental Protection Agency in 1992 as a voluntary labeling program for energy-efficient products. A few years later Energy Star certification became available for new homes, and in the years since it has expanded to include commercial buildings as well. As one may gather from the initial use of the Energy Star label, the main qualification as applied to buildings is energy savings; a building must be in the top 25% for energy efficiency nationally among similar buildings in order to qualify. This energy-only based approach not only makes Energy Star unique, but also compatible with other certifications. It is not uncommon to see a building boasting both an Energy Star and a LEED certification.
Green Globes, a relative newcomer into the U.S. building certification market, was launched in Canada and came to the US in 2004. Green Globes rates buildings on a 1,000-point scale in the areas of energy, indoor environment, site, water, resources, emissions, and project/environmental management. In order to be qualified, a building must achieve at least 35% of a possible 1,000 points, and from there will receive a rating from one to four globes. While Green Globes has not reached the popularity and recognition that LEED and Energy Star enjoy in the US, it is becoming more popular due to its affordable price—$500 for a 5-year subscription per building.
As you can see, the major certification programs have the same goal: recognize buildings that go above and beyond to reduce their environmental impact. Though there are perks and downfalls to each, these programs deserve applause for drawing attention and bringing prestige to green buildings.
Maggie Fitzgerald is a volunteer with Green-e Marketplace researching green building certifications. She graduated from Santa Clara University in 2010 and can be reached at maggie [at] resource-solutions.org.