Disrupting LEED

One of the things I learned doing our latest industry sustainability benchmark (on the medical equipment industry), was that there is a compelling alternative to LEED as a green building standard in North America.

Many of the leading manufacturers of medical equipment have certified one or more of their buildings using the LEED system. Medtronic is among those that have used LEED. But it also piloted another standard, called Green Globes, and it liked it so much it will be using the system again for new and existing construction.

Green Globes, developed and promoted by The Green Building Initiative (GBI), is a LEED competitor. The GBI says the Green Globes  certification criteria overlap with LEED criteria by about 90%. Medtronic itself identified an 85 percent overlap in its initial Green Globes pilot.

They key advantagesof Green Globe: reduced time and reduced cost. GBI and Medtronic both say the cost of obtaining a Green Globes certification is significantly lower than for LEED. GBI says it’s 30 percent of the cost of LEED certification. And it’s much less time consuming. Rather than painstakingly compiling documentation, submitting to the U.S. Green Building Council and waiting for a verdict on certification, Green Globes provides an online interactive tool that captures key information and guides users through the process, showing you in real time how you are scoring and suggesting opportunities to improve your rating. When you are ready, GBI sends a certified Green Globes auditor to walk through your facility, check your work, and sign off on your certification.

LEED supporters could make the case that it may be easier to falsify information using the Green Globes approach than the LEED approach. But if a building owner is really interested in improving operational efficiency, they’d have little reason to do so.

Green Globes has already been used to certify hundreds of buildings in the government, commercial, residential and hospital sectors, and has been recognized as a green building standard by 22 states so far, according to GBI. Nonetheless, it doesn’t have anywhere near the name recognition as LEED does, and that fact will doubtless be crucial in some projects.

In the way that Green Globes is challenging LEED I see a parallel with how web-based software changed traditional enterprise software. The only way to acquire enterprise software used to be to install costly packaged software and undergo the time and expense of implementing and integrating it on site. Web-based hosted alternatives disrupted this model, lowering costs and speeding implementations. This feels like what is happening with Green Globes.

I think there is room for another standard here. What do you think?

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Disrupting LEED

  1. The green building market has shown resilience throughout the recession and will continue to gain momentum as the greater construction market heals. As a result, I’m sure this is not the only new third party certification trying to grab a piece of an expanding pie and it won’t be the last. I consider it best practice to approach every one of these with healthy skepticism as the baseline. If anything, these new models have to earn their equality with systems like LEED, BREEAM or Passive Haus. They do not get the benefit of the doubt.

    This strikes me as the same issue as the national industry debate of wood products between FSC and SFI. The Forest Stewardship Council is recognized for their practices and accepted by LEED for certification. The Sustainable Forest Initiative is a certification created by the American wood and paper industry to provide a cheaper alternative to FSC. It is cheaper because it is a gimmick. I have to wonder if Green Globes is the same things.

    As an architect, I am currently working on a LEED Silver building and have worked on other LEED projects in the past. In looking through the Green Globes checklist of criteria, I find it thin and unconvincing. Some criteria give points for things that are unable to be confirmed or validated:

    “Was an integrated design process used in Design Development?”

    This has no place in earning people points. If the process was integrated the product speaks for itself for those that know what to look for.

    “Does the thermal resistance of the exterior wall meet Federal and State energy codes?”

    Why would this possibly be on there? Meeting the code is not the responsibility of a 3rd party green certification. That’s done by local building inspectors. Meeting code is law, so the answer should never be “no”. A sustainable building should be exceeding the code, not meeting the code. If the existing codes were good enough to create sustainable buildings we wouldn’t need 3rd party certification in the first place.

    I could go on through the entire list, but the point is this seems like a cheaper product due to its lack of quality. An online form and a 3-5 hour inspection simply can’t cover the issues at hand with the rigor that it needs in order to actually produce better buildings–which is why LEED takes more time, and yes, more money. You get what you pay for.

    * As a note, I’m not saying LEED is a perfect system without flaw, but Green Globes does not look like it is on the same level.

  2. David Schatsky

    Good feedback, Tyler. As I hope was apparent, I haven’t done an in depth comparison of the two systems. It might well be useful exercise to go through. I do think that a little competition for LEED is in principle not a bad thing.

  3. I think it makes sense to have different types of green building rating systems for different property types and desired outcomes. LEED’s rigorous third-party verification and documentation requirements may be more difficult to comply with, but I would argue that those same requirements make up the inherent value proposition of LEED. It would be interesting to see a study of how the market values LEED Certified buildings versus Green Globes and other less stringent rating systems.

    After all, if LEED were easy, everyone would do it.

    • Good point, Craig. I think that valuation comparison would be good data to have. Different vintages of certification methods could certainly be okay, as long as the difference in relative sustainability value is acknowledged.

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