Earning a green building certification is a significant achievement for a project as it represents a strong commitment to sustainability principles. When pursuing certification, it is essential to select the rating system best suited to your project type and performance goals.
In this blog piece, we will examine the anatomy of five popular green building rating systems, including their applicability to building type and a brief summation of typical advantages and challenges faced by clients pursuing certification.
Administered by: US Green Building Council (USGBC®)
Building Types: Residential, Multifamily, Commercial, Retail, Healthcare, and Schools
Versatility of application – In LEED®, or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, there’s a wide-range of rating system groups available to accommodate all project types.
Reputable brand with global awareness – The prestigious certification has the potential to increase property marketability to prospective occupants.
Depth of industry establishment – As the first widely-recognized green building program, LEED has a strong industry support system and wealth of available resources.
Continuously updated guidelines – The USGBC is receptive to, and actively encourages stakeholder feedback. The latest version of rating system reflects popular industry trends
The guideline criteria can be limiting for alternative sustainability measures, and can be complex to navigate; a specialized consultant is recommended.
The processing fees are typically higher than other rating systems; federal and state tax incentives are available, but they are generally not as high as with other programs. However, the long-term financial benefits (higher-occupancy rates, better re-sale value) associated with brand recognition outweigh these fees.
Administered by: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Building Types: Residential, Multifamily, Commercial, and Industrial
Availability of utility-sponsored incentives – ENERGY STAR® has a well-established reputation for energy efficient consumer products and building programs which has contributed to a large number of utility-sponsored energy efficiency programs that reference or require ENERGY STAR certification in order to receive incentives.
Availability of preferred financing/funding – Similar to above, many financial agencies offer preferred financing to ENERGY STAR certified projects, since these projects typically have lower utility expenses. For residential and multifamily, ENERGY STAR certification is often a minimum requirement for competitive low-income financing and/or tax credits.
No participation fees – While achieving ENERGY STAR performance may have associated costs, there are no registration or certification fees. For existing Multifamily, Commercial, and Industrial buildings, certification is simply entering a years worth of building utility data to determine if you achieve the ENERGY STAR score and a straightforward site visit to ensure proper IAQ and lighting levels.
Interfaces with other rating systems – It’s common practice to use ENERGY STAR certification in other whole building rating systems, such as LEED or EGC, to satisfy their energy performance requirements. ENERGY STAR also tends to be one step ahead of code, which prepares builders and developers for future code cycles.
Depending on your current standard practice, ENERGY STAR certification can require significant increases in hard and soft costs to achieve above energy-code performance, including contracting a mandatory third-party verifier. For new construction Residential and Multifamily, there are many minimum requirements to meet, performance tests to pass, and site inspections to incorporate into the construction schedule.
For existing Multifamily, Commercial, and Industrial building certification, the EPA requires utility bills to be submitted annually, which must include all individual and common areas in the building. Depending on the metering structure of the building, this can be challenging to collect.
Administered by: Home Innovation Research Labs (HIRL)
Building Types: Multifamily, Residential, Neighborhood
Tailored to suit demands of residential buildings – The NGBS, or National Green Building Standard™, holistically addresses a full spectrum of residential and multifamily building needs.
Voluntary and affordable certification – Participation in this certification program is typically determined by owner/developer. The program is also incorporated as a pathway under the International Green Building Code for certain housing types. Processing fees are marginal, and buildings are not required to undergo ongoing performance testing. Certification is administered by Home Innovation Research Labs, an independent third party.
Outside of the home builder arena, NGBS is not as well recognized or established as other green building standards. Some jurisdictions do not acknowledge NGBS as an option to meet local green building mandates, or the process to get approved is rigorous. The program’s tiers vary significantly in rigor, particularly from the basic Bronze tier to the Silver and higher levels above. NGBS can not be used to certify non-residential buildings.
Administered by: The Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) – Climate Specific Standard for the US / The Passive House Academy (PHA) – International Standard
Building Types: Residential, Multifamily, Commercial
Structured for deep energy savings – Heating and cooling energy savings as high as 90% and whole building energy savings as high as 70% above baseline.
Flexibility in design method/component choice – Passive House standard takes a performance approach, allowing project teams to craft the construction path they see fit to achieve that standard.
Improved comfort and indoor air quality – Strict attention to surface temperatures and balanced mechanical ventilation result in the reduction of indoor contaminants such as mold, carbon dioxide, and high humidity.
Distinguished participation in a fledgling rating system – Unparalleled potential for marketability, as Passive House in the US is still a coveted niche market.
Passive House’s extreme energy performance requirements can exclude certain buildings as non-viable candidates for the system if guidance is not provided early on in the design process. Certification requires extensive guidance by a team of energy efficiency professionals and an unparalleled commitment to high sustainability goals by the project team as a whole.
Building Types: Multifamily (Affordable Housing), Homes
Financially accessible to affordable and low-income communities – Enterprise Green Communities® is available for any housing project that includes affordable dwelling units. The relatively low fees and straightforward criteria checklist lessen the costs of certification.
Broad threshold for certification – Depending on development type, the rating system rewards even slight improvements over performance baseline, encouraging green building inclusiveness by steering away from overly stringent performance guidelines.
Encourages pairing with other rating systems – Utilizes similar testing & verification protocols used in LEED and ENERGY STAR certification, contributing to a holistic understanding of green rating systems and the possibility of multiple green program certifications.
While Enterprise Green Communities encourages projects to pursue ambitious sustainability measures during the design and planning phase, follow through in construction is not always uniform due to minimal as-built verification. This trend translates to a front heavy certification process.
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