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Green Building Rating Systems, Standards, & Guidelines

0 1912 RSMeans

A building can be considered green without a single standard actually applied to it. In fact, to reduce costs, green buildings are often built using a rating system strictly as a guide without ever formally registering the building. Rating systems, however, do offer a way to measure how green a building is and can supply recognition and validation of that level of commitment.

A building can be considered green without a single standard actually applied to it. In fact, to reduce costs, green buildings are often built using a rating system strictly as a guide without ever formally registering the building. Rating systems, however, do offer a way to measure how green a building is and can supply recognition and validation of that level of commitment.

Rating systems, standards, and guidelines can be classified into two groups: those that relate to specific building components, and those that relate to the building as a whole entity. They range from those that assess specific properties of individual building materials and systems, to those that assess the entire buildings’ overall environmental performance. The broader the assessment, the unavoidably more subjective it is. As one architect active in sustainable design put it, “You can have a building that is zero carbon, the greenest, most energy conserving, and not be LEED® rated because you don’t have the other stuff.”

The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and ENERGY STAR®, a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, are probably the two most recognized whole building rating systems. LEED, which considers many green attributes, is an example of a multiple attribute rating system, whereas ENERGY STAR is generally limited to energy efficiency, would be considered a single attribute rating system.

Federal, state, and municipal agencies across the country such as the General Services Administration, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency, have taken an early lead in incorporating energy efficiency and sustainability by developing their own green building guidelines into the design and construction of new facilities. In addition most states and many major cities have incorporated green into their internal building requirements for new construction. These green guidelines can be used as benchmarks for green building incentive programs can build the green infrastructure necessary to mainstream green building practices.

Regardless of what rating, standard, or guideline system is used, one should always ask who the organization is that is making the assessment. Is it being done by a first-party, second-party, or third-party? A first-party assessment is one that comes directly from an organization that is associated with the entity making or may benefit from the claim.

A second-party assessment is not performed by an interested party. It might be done by a trade association, for example, and thus provides a level of independence from those who would directly benefit from a positive assessment. A third-party assessment is one that is done by an independent party that has no financial interest in the outcome of the assessment. There can be no direct payments, shares, loans, grants, or ties to members of the product or service being assessed.

There are four principles that should be used when evaluating an assessment system:

  • Science-based — Results/decisions must be reproducible by others using the same standard.
  • Transparent — The standards and process for awarding the certification should be transparent and open for examination.
  • Objective — The certification body should be free of conflict.
  • Progressive — The standard should advance industry practices, not simply reward business as usual.

by Joseph Macaluso

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