Tuesday, February 25, 2014

An Alternative to LEED: Green Globes

By: Allison Smith

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating systems have brought objective standards to the understanding of sustainable and regenerative design projects. But as the leading rating system in the US market, it’s easy to forget that LEED isn’t the only tool to create effective sustainable and regenerative designs, and “going for LEED” isn’t the only way to be “green”. Green Globes is increasingly in the news lately with support from the Government Services Association (GSA) and the change in Green Globes’ leadership: Jerry Yudelson.

Green Globes is an evolution of the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology (BREEAM) the international leader in sustainable building certification and the standard for all new UK non-residential buildings. Green Globes was established in 2004 and is administered by the Green Building Initiative (GBI) in the U.S. and Building Owners & Managers Association (BOMA) in Canada.

Complaints of the LEED rating system range from cost to bureaucratic headaches to lack of flexibility to frustrations with LEED online, their online documentation and submittal submission format. Any LEED practitioner will admit the certification program is far from perfect, but still laud the system for promoting sustainable building and encouraging a whole systems approach to design. The US Federal Government, as well as many state and local governments, require sustainable building certification and since most people are only familiar with LEED they believe that is the only option. On the contrary, the GSA recommends either LEED or Green Globes for federal projects based on a recent research project studying the robustness of both rating systems. Many states and local governments allow other sustainable building certifications than LEED, however confirm the requirements of the presiding legislation.

Advantages to the Green Globes rating system are that there are no prerequisites, partial credit is allowed, there is flexibility for non-applicable criteria, it incorporates an ANSI-Accredited Standards Developing Organization (ANSI-GBI)Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA), and certification hinges on a third-party on-site assessment. A Green Globes project is assessed on a 1000-point scale, however, since some credits can be marked “non-applicable,” projects typically are assessed on fewer points. The program has four certification levels, similar to LEED, but is based on the percentage of points granted as opposed to points available. Furthermore, when evaluating a project’s energy performance, Green Globes uses regional performance data as the benchmark, rather than LEED’s use of a hypothetical building model.
Perhaps most exciting is the inclusion of a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) process, an assessment that LEED lacks. LCA’s are a research-based evaluation of cradle-to-grave resource use and environmental impacts of materials, systems, and buildings.  Green Globes allows a prescriptive or performance path option for meeting this requirement. The prescriptive path is based on Environmental Product Declarations, third-party certifications, and upon ISO 14040 and 14044 Standards.  To meet the performance path, design teams use Athena Impact Estimator for Buildings software to compare alternate design scenarios. LCA’s are a foundation for sustainable building, yet this assessment remains excluded from LEED v4.

Criticism of Green Globes range from a perception of not being rigorous enough, a perception of Forest Certification bias, industry representation on the GBI board, and no required minimum performance. Furthermore, Green Globes certification criteria is not as transparent as LEED’s criteria.

A quick count of sustainable rating systems in the US returns a list of six alternates to LEED. When starting your next project, evaluate Green Globes and the other applicable sustainable buildings systems to select the one that best aligns with the projects’ goals and principles. LEED has its place in sustainable building certification systems, however keep in mind that it’s not the only option.

Now through April 15, GBI is offering “Green Globes Professional Training”, an online self-paced course for free. Completion of the course can count towards American Institute of Architects (AIA) Continuing Education Units (CEUs). Though Green Globes does not offer professional accreditation, this is an opportunity to learn more about Green Globes certification.

Bibliography and citations:

Kibert, C. J. Switching from LEED to Green Globes: A User’s Perspective (PDF).  Green Building Initiative. Retrieved February 7, 2014 from http://www.thegbi.org/assets/pdfs/Switching-from-LEED.pdf
Green Building Initiative. Retrieved February 7, 2014 from http://www.thegbi.org/
LEED User. Retrieved February 7, 2014 from http://www.leeduser.com/

Photo credit:
Life Cycle Assessment: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_Cycle_Assessment
Green Globes icon: http://www.thegbi.org/