A Quick Guide to Sustainable Building Certifications - Public Goods

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A Quick Guide to Sustainable Building Certifications

With an impressive anticipated 10.26% compound annual growth rate, the global green buildings market will likely reach $254 billion after 2020.

sustainable glass building with garden

Green buildings are designed to reduce carbon emissions by 34% and consume 25% less energy than the conventional building. They also have higher resale values, and their rising demand allows property owners to charge higher rents. These facts, in addition to the intensifying threat of climate change and growing emphasis on sustainability, have fueled the growing demand for green building construction.

These metrics from Market Research Future (MRFR) use obtaining a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification as an identifying characteristic of what is considered to be a “green building.”

Across the board, LEED seems to be the best known third-party sustainable building certification program. It’s run by the United States Green Building Council and started rating buildings in the 1990s. LEED rates and certifies buildings based on their greenhouse emissions output, how their design and systems impact energy and water efficiency, how they minimize waste production and other sustainability performance metrics.

Being the most widely used, LEED has set the standard for what it means to be an environmentally-friendly building. It’s available for virtually all building project types and is globally recognized.

Becoming LEED-certified costs around $3,500 to $5,000 on average. According to a 2015 study, the certification allows buildings to charge about 3% more for rent. Since demand for “green” is up, this trend has also made it profitable to become certified as sustainable by a third-party organization.

As such, the market for third-party certification has also grown substantially.

As such, the market for third-party certification has also grown substantially. This commercialization has cast doubt on the reliability and necessity of these certifications.

Two other well-known certification programs are Energy Star from the EPA and the Green Globes from the Green Building Initiative. Though LEED has 37 times the number of certified projects Green Globes has, interest in the latter has grown due to frustration with LEED’s costs and complications.

Other organizations such as the International Living Future Institute have more stringent certifications, including the Net Zero Energy Building certification within their Living Building Challenge program. Architecture 2030 has also developed a zero net carbon certification called The Zero Code in response to increasing global urbanization. These initiatives are more rigorous than LEED and focus more on the energy efficiency element of sustainability.

Other types of certifications have popped up in light of the success of sustainable building certifications. The WELL Certification from Delos and Fitwel has been developed for measuring a building’s health and well-being experience. Also, WiredScore has entered the market for measuring the quality of a building’s digital infrastructure.

All of these certifications measure things that we want to see implemented in today’s buildings. But which ones should we look for if we’re not planning on reading up on every member of the top fifty list?

When it comes to energy efficiency, LEED’s methodology and reliability has been controversial due to inconsistencies in local, regional or national energy policies and data reporting. However, LEED also focuses on five other sustainability categories that decrease the use of natural resources and address a building’s overall environmental impact.

Another consideration is — there are likely many non-LEED certified buildings that are more energy efficient and environmentally friendly than LEED certified ones. So LEED isn’t the end-all-be-all of green building construction.

Still, despite the healthy skepticism about the necessity of LEED certification, it continues to play a significant role in ushering sustainable building design. The program has also been able to help catalyze various initiatives in partnership with governments and school districts. Currently there are over 94,000 participating LEED projects in more than 165 countries and territories.

So it seems that the answer is, while there is room for improvement for LEED, it’s had a positive impact on creating a roadmap to building sustainability and on making sustainable building design desirable. Additionally, newer certification programs entering the market will have a positive impact because they push LEED to improve in areas that lack clarity or are not ambitious enough.

For the casual sustainable building enthusiast, following LEED certifications is enough because it marks achievable and beneficial aims. For those who want more ambitious sustainable building goals, following the efforts of more intense certification programs aiming to eliminate carbon emissions and waste production may feel more appropriate.

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