What's up with all those green building certification schemes?

Many green building or certification schemes have cropped up internationally over the past couple decades as environmental awareness continues to grow. People have come to realize that buildings contribute a very substantial amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and are trying to decrease building impacts on the environment through various green standards that address different aspects of a building’s ecological footprint. Among them are the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), Build It Green’s GreenPoint Rated (GPR) scheme, the German Passivhaus system (or Passive House in English), and the California Green Building Code (CALGreen). The following table compares and contrasts these schemes.

Comparing and contrasting different green building schemesComparing and contrasting different green building schemes

GPR and LEED are similar in many ways. Both contain requirements for sustainable sites and materials, energy and water efficiency, but they approach the certification process from different places. LEED requirements for the most part specify a desired result but does not specify means to reaching, for example, a 30% reduction in energy use, whereas GPR outlines many specific requirements like having Energy Star appliances or using specific materials. GPR also has a unique Community Design and Planning category that incorporates attention to the surrounding community, safety, accessibility, and the environment. One potential con of GPR is that it is designed for California, so it might not be appropriate to implement in other locales. Passive House can be implemented alone or in conjunction with other certification schemes. The name reveals the essence of the scheme and its specific focus, unlike the other building schemes or code.

CALGreen, which took effect in 2011, incorporates green building science into state law. Although there has been some criticism of the new building code, such as clashing with LEED, most applaud California’s pioneering step towards better buildings. I think CALGreen is an extremely important step in reducing the carbon footprint of buildings, which emit a significant amount of greenhouse gases. I also think that all of these different efforts to push for green buildings will need to start working together in the very near future or risk more clashes that will hinder rather than help green building.

Additionally, all of these green building certification schemes are so young that there has not been enough time to fully research their actual environmental effects. Continued research and revision of these schemes are critical for ensuring that green building is actually reducing the environmental impact of buildings.

PHIUS+ Project Certification. Passive House Institute US. http://www.passivehouse.us/passiveHouse/PHIUSServicesPHIUSPlusCertificat...
Wood, Daniel B. California adopts first statewide green building code. The Christian Science Monitor. http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/0115/California-adopts-first-statewide...
The CALGreen Story. California Department of General Services. http://www.documents.dgs.ca.gov/bsc/CALGreen/The-CALGreen-Story.pdf
Maintaining Passive House Quality. Passive House Institute US. http://www.passivehouse.us/passiveHouse/PHIUSServicesPHIUSPlusCertificat...
US Green Building Council. http://www.usgbc.org