The following article was written by Alex Jones, a summer associate with Kohrman Jackson and Krantz.
Green building has been a growing industry for the past few decades, and the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, also known as LEED, remains a dominant force. As of the beginning of 2015, there were more than 3.6 billion square feet of building space that were LEED certified and more than 69,000 LEED building projects in 150 countries. All federal buildings are required to be LEED certified, and LEED is referenced in project specifications for 71% of projects valued at $50 million and over. Even with its dominance though, many in the industry are questioning LEED’s efficacy and eager for an alternative.
Builders and contractors are, at times, frustrated with LEED’s rigid standards. For example, LEED emphasizes air tight buildings to enhance energy efficiency, but achieving that when building a new warehouse, for example, does not make much sense when most such facilities have dock doors that are open all day. Critics of LEED also complain it does not take into consideration innovative building designs, but instead, awards points for minor low-cost steps that have little environmental impact, such as adding a bike rack. LEED projects also require highly specialized consultants that increase the upfront costs of new building projects. It is estimated LEED consulting fees can increase the price of a project by 4-13%.
These pitfalls have led many in the construction industry to look for an alternative, such as Green Globes. Green Globes is a relatively newer green building certification, and the U.S. General Services Administration recently approved the Green Globes’ certification as an alternative to LEED. Green Globes bills itself as a more streamlined and affordable alternative to LEED. It uses an online system that purports to be cheaper, faster, and much more user-friendly as compared to LEED, which is notorious for being overly complicated. A significant advantage of Green Globes is it automatically sends out an assessor to each Green Globes building site to work with the project teams and owners, which allows for a fluid and efficient building process. LEED requires builders to actually seek out a LEED consultant in order to get certified.
However, Green Globes is not without its critics. Environmentalists disfavor Green Globes because they consider its standards to be less stringent and disapprove of its greater leniency when it comes to building materials. LEED only gives credit for wood products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, while Green Globes gives equal credit to the timber industry’s Sustainable Forest Initiative, which permits larger clear cuts, as well as the use of herbicides. Generally speaking, Green Globes is considered to be more industry friendly. Many of its members and board of directors are connected with the plastic, chemical, and timber industry, which has given rise to accusations that some standards are meant to benefit those industries rather than the environment.
Furthermore, Green Globes suffers from the same problem as LEED by focusing on a pre-set list of designs that earn points, while awarding no points for innovative designs that could be just as, if not more, environmentally friendly.
There is also some dispute as to whether Green Globes truly is cheaper than LEED. A 2011 study by Drexel University ran a hypothetical implementation of both LEED and Green Globes and found that attaining a Green Globes certification would be less expensive and faster. However, a different study looked at attaining LEED’s and Green Globes’ minimum certifications, and it found that Green Globes’ certification would cost almost twice as much as LEED’s.
As it stands, LEED remains the main player in green building certification. There are 37 times more LEED certified project than Green Globes, and LEED has 200,000 accredited professionals compared to Green Globes’ 1,000. Nevertheless, Green Globes is growing and offering an alternative to LEED in green building. Whether you should choose LEED or Green Globes for your project is a fact specific question. While LEED is still the industry leader, for certain projects Green Globes might offer a more user friendly and less expensive alternative.