How to Choose the Right Sustainable Certification Program for Your Construction Project
For some building owners, local laws might require following one sustainability certification program or another for construction projects. But for the majority, it’s up to the owner’s discretion whether or not they want to pursue certification. And for those who do, it becomes a question of which one to choose. Owners often ask us which program is best. I’d like to offer some advice on how to make a good, informed decision between the available, nationally-recognized options: Green Globes, LEED, or the Living Building Challenge (LBC).
First, understand that achieving certification is about your aspirations.
Many people think that certification is entirely about design and construction. It’s not. It’s about who you want to be, and how you will use the building.
Our number one job as architects is to understand your culture and goals, and to then work with you to design sustainable solutions that align with them. While we often help clients define sustainability goals, it’s up to each owner to wholly own them. Many sustainable choices made during design and construction will be linked to how you use the building long after construction is complete. These might include changes to your M&O standards, or educating your people in new ways of using spaces, and owners should be committed to making any such changes successful into the future.
Second, ask yourself what I’ll call “the total net-zero question”: are you committed to going all in to achieve net-zero energy, net-zero water, and net-zero waste?
If you answer "yes," then you might consider the Living Building Challenge. The LBC program is regarded as the most rigorous label to achieve. At the time of writing this article, only five buildings in the world have achieved full LBC certification. It requires achieving all three net-zero criteria as well as using building materials that meet LBC’s specific criteria. This program is for owners who are ready to embrace the highest levels of sustainable construction and operations, such as the visionary educators at The Muse School with whom DLR Group worked on a recent campus renovation program.
If your answer to the total net-zero question is “no,” then you’ll be looking at either LEED or Green Globes.
Third, know your scope, and compare how it aligns with a rating system's requirements
LEED entails meeting standard prerequisite criteria for achieving any kind of certification, whereas Green Globes entails no prerequisites but asks you to really strategize your scope. Specifics of your scope (such as project location, goals, budget, timeline, decision-making processes, and project delivery method) will help inform which certification program is a better choice. For example, your renovation project scope might not touch anything having to do with water conservation or quality. LEED still requires certain water-related credits for which you’d need to add water-related scope to your project, whereas Green Globes doesn’t require that of you.
Generally speaking, Green Globes offers more flexibility and opportunities for renovation projects than LEED, but I still wouldn’t necessarily recommend one program over another without knowing more about the specific scope of work.
And fourth, compare the credit opportunities of both rating systems to where you intend to spend your construction dollars.
Certification in both systems relies on achieving a certain number of points in distinct categories. Each category makes up a certain percentage of total available points. Most differences between the two are relatively small. The biggest differences are: Green Globes offers more weight within their system on “energy and atmosphere” credits, while LEED offers more credit opportunities in “site.” So if your project entails a lot of site work, LEED might be the appropriate choice. Depending on where the emphasis of your scope lies, one rating system may reward that emphasis more than the other.