Green Globes Challenging LEED For Certification Program Supremacy

By Scott Kriner, Green Metal Consulting

Today worldwide there are over 600 green product certification programs and approximately 200 green building rating programs. Two of the more notable and familiar green building rating programs are BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology) and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Here in the US, the US Green Building Council (USGBC) introduced their first version of the LEED green building rating program in 2000. Over the next decade LEED underwent several changes to the program. Over that time, LEED became the 800 pound gorilla in the corner of the room of green rating programs. Building owners, designers and architects considered LEED the pre-eminent green building rating program to pursue.

However there were other green rating programs in place at that same time. One was the Green Building Initiative’s (GBI) Green Globes program. GBI introduced their web-based, interactive learning tool that was first developed in Canada, to the United States in 2004. In the US, the Green Globes building rating program struggled to gain traction and to compete with LEED. Few states recognized the program. Even fewer federal agencies referenced it as an acceptable building rating program. This was despite the streamlined, user-friendly, and lower cost approach compared to LEED.

Today, it is estimated that there are 37 times more LEED-certified building projects than Green Globes certified buildings. LEED has been used on over three billion square feet of space. The USGBC has registered over 200,000 LEED accredited professionals compared to Green Globes’ comparable accreditation of less than 1000 individuals. Based on these statistics, one might think that the Green Globes program is down and out for the count.

But over the past two years the winds have been shifting. The GBI announced new organizational leadership and a more aggressive promotional program. Over that time frame, Green Globes was recognized by the US General Services Administration as an acceptable green building rating program for federal buildings. In addition, studies of Green Globes vs. LEED found that Green Globes was quicker and easier to complete than LEED. These advancements were taking place while a growing number of users of LEED were grumbling about the cost, complexity, and process used by the USGBC. Some communities were allowing for LEED “certifiable” building construction rather than requiring buildings to go through the entire cost and review process to achieve actual LEED Certification. This was aimed at keeping down the costs while keeping the bar high to distinguish the building project as being green. As a result of these types of activities going on simultaneously, the level of acceptance for Green Globes has increased to where it is now recognized in 31 states.

Another outgrowth of the market dynamics between LEED and Green Globes, was the scrutiny about the importance of green building programs being developed through a voluntary consensus process such as, but not limited to, ANSI processes. The Green Globes program is an ANSI program, whereas LEED is not. The USGBC insists that the development of LEED programs is done through consensus and cites the thousands of industry comments that are received whenever a new version of LEED is being balloted. However, critics point out that the USGBC definition of “consensus” is not similar at all to the voluntary consensus processes used by groups such as ANSI or the International Code Council. In fact, several trade associations have appealed the new LEED version 4 program on the grounds that it was not developed using a voluntary consensus process.

This controversy over what is and what is not consensus actually led to the formation of the American High Performance Building Coalition (AHPBC) who’s stated mission is “to support and promote green building codes, standards, rating systems and credits that are developed in conformance with full ANSI or ISO-type consensus processes, are data-driven, supported by science, and performance-based”. The AHPBC has lobbied several state and federal legislative bodies to introduce language to require that green building rating programs used for public buildings must be consensus based. Recently, legislators in the State of Ohio voted for in essence to ban the use of LEED in that state.  Similar language is currently in the Shaheen-Portman energy bill making its way through the US Congress.

Yet another difference between LEED and Green Globes that is somewhat controversial is related to the recognition of timber standards. Currently. LEED only recognizes the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in their program, whereas Green Globes acknowledges several timber standards such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the American Tree Farm System.

Recent studies, using actual building projects have shown that the Green Globes program can be less costly than the LEED program. A study by Dr. Jeffrey Beard, an associate professor in the Department of Construction Management at Drexel University’s College of Engineering, covered hard costs, soft costs and optional costs applied to a five-story 130,000 square foot laboratory and classroom building that was built on the campus and opened in 2011. The comparison of using the Green Globes program vs. the LEED program was a savings with the Green Globes approach in the order of $1.00 per square foot.

Another study, supported by GSA, finds that the Green Globes program is aligned better than LEED for new federal building construction. GSA also found that the LEED rating program  is more compatible for existing buildings.

If this battle of the green building rating titans was analogous to a heavyweight boxing match, we’d have LEED winning the first 6 rounds, Green Globes showing new life in the next 4 rounds, and the final outcome being far from sure. It would appear that the winner would not win by a knockout. So the battle rages on head to head, as well as from outside influences.

One could argue that despite the differences between LEED and Green Globes, and their battles to be the top program in the marketplace, both have helped to transform the building construction market. Our vocabulary when describing new components and materials used in buildings is totally different today than 20 years ago. The design considerations are totally different today. Looking at everything through the lens of sustainability has become paramount. And fortunately, for the most part today’s buildings are better in energy efficiency, water conservation, environmental impact, and interior air, thermal and health conditions than those built in the 20th century.

Scott Kriner is the president and founder of Green Metal Consulting Inc. He is a LEED Accredited Professional who began his career in the metal construction industry in 1981. His company is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, the California Association of Building Energy Consultants and the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET).

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