Choosing a Sustainable Certification Program for Your Project: Cost and Schedule Considerations
Assessing certification costs
I’m often asked which program costs more, LEED or Green Globes. While I wouldn’t recommend letting this be a primary factor in deciding which program is best for your project, there are two costing basics that you can assess along with other criteria: first-costs in program fees, and submittal process costs in A/E fees.
First costs vary depending on scope and timing, but are largely negligible (generally less than $10k). First costs tend to be higher for Green Globes (by anywhere from 25 – 50%), but Green Globes offers value in what those costs cover: free customer service over the phone for any type of question (vs. LEED’s charge of $200 per question for credit clarifications or rulings), and on-site assessment visits by Green Globes representatives that can really streamline project finalization and certification submittals (vs. LEED, which is done entirely through online software).
Submittal-related costs in A/E fees are predominantly tied to the work of tracking project information, and then completion and submittal of all required documentation. In a nutshell: more documentation = more hours = more submittal process costs.
In my experience, LEED submittal often requires additional documentation beyond what is required during baseline design and construction processes. Also, each LEED credit has the potential to require its own specialty exhibits. Green Globes differs from LEED here in that certification submittal allows us to rely on documents that were already created for construction, which can save quite a bit of time. I recently compared two similar renovation projects that we completed, and estimated that the LEED submittal entailed seven times as many hours as the Green Globes submittal. So depending on your contract, you might see savings in A/E fees if you pursue Green Globes instead of LEED.
First, I should specify that pursuing certification generally won’t affect your construction schedule. Instead, I’m talking about how long it will take to receive certification itself after project close-out. If you're not sure how much that matters to you, consider: speedy certification offers value in enabling an owner to close out contracts sooner, and to share the achievement with the public in closer timing with construction completion.
To minimize the amount of time it takes to achieve certification, the single most important scheduling recommendation I can offer is this: don’t wait to make your decision to pursue certification.
By deciding on certification at the start of your project, you enable the team to track credits as design and construction progresses, which is the most efficient and effective way to proceed. While it’s possible to decide after the project has begun, waiting compounds the time it takes to track credits and submit because your team will have to back-track through the process and play catch-up with credit tracking and documentation. In addition to potentially delaying certification, this can mean additional hours in assebling the submittal (and time is money, as I pointed out in the cost discussion above).
Two examples come to mind that illustrate what I'm talking about (and I'm leaving out identifying specifics for the sake of the clients' privacy):
In a recent renovation project, the owner made the decision to pursue LEED certification after construction had already started. The late decision as well as LEED’s documentation requirements led to a full year of submittal processing and review after construction completion before the project was finally certified.
By contrast, in another recent renovation project, the owner decided before design began to pursue Green Globes. That early decision coupled with Green Globes’ allowances to use standard design and construction documentation in submittal and the program’s on-site assessment steps led to certification one month after construction completion.
I cite these examples only to give you an idea of the range of potential depending on the circumstances, and not to indicate that one might be better than the other. Personally, I do like certain aspects of how Green Globes works over LEED. But I'd never make a blanket recommendation of one program over another. Choosing the right certification program very much entails thoughtful consideration of how program criteria align with your project scope and needs, and I hope that this article and my previous one help!