In the quest to create more sustainable buildings, it has become important to have an organized framework and standardized metrics for performance. Rating systems provide these benefits. While the sustainable building industry has come a long way in the past decade, three primary reasons to use a rating system still hold true:
- As a framework to guide the design, construction, and/or operation of a green building.
- As a metric to validate and compare the performance of buildings.
- As a market differentiation tool to communicate the value of a green building in simple terms.
The first item can be accomplished using almost any comprehensive and applicable rating system from around the world. The other two objectives require the use of a recognized and credible rating system that offers third-party certification. In the United States, LEED (the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) has become the de facto standard. To date, LEED remains the only comprehensive and credible rating system in the nation that is both publicly recognized and applicable to all building types. However, the emergence of project type-specific rating systems and international rating systems offer interested parties another take on creating sustainable places to work, live, learn, and heal.
BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) is one of the oldest green building rating systems. The framework originated in the United Kingdom from the Building Research Establishment (BRE) while it was still a government entity. The BRE subsequently changed to a privately held organization. BREEAM rates a building’s comprehensive environmental performance and includes metrics for carbon emission reduction. Based on a straightforward scoring system with ratings from one to five stars, BREEAM has certified more than 110,000 buildings.
BREEAM now has adaptations for projects in continental Europe and the Persian Gulf, as well as a new adaptation in development for Russia.
Developed by the Green Building Council of Australia, Green Star is another point-based system that covers nine environmental impact categories, including management, transport, and emissions. An environmental and geographic weighting determined through scientific and stakeholder input is applied to each category score. Primary certification comes after the building is in operation, so Green Star requires validation of performance as well as documentation that the design and construction adhered to sustainable targets.
The Green Building Council of South Africa has adopted the system and develops its own Green Star SA rating tools, and New Zealand also utilizes the Green Star system. To become certified, projects must follow a specific process, but the Green Star tools are available for free download to those interested in using them as sustainable guidelines.
CHPS and STARS
Education facilities in the United States have several rating options. CHPS (the Collaborative for High Performance Schools) is geared toward K-12 facilities. It seeks to increase student performance through buildings that combine energy and resource efficiency with a healthy, comfortable, well-lit atmosphere. Although anyone can utilize CHPS tools, the organization offers an independent project review entitled CHPS Verified for new construction and major modernizations in California, Colorado, Texas, and Massachusetts using the CHPS criteria. Projects in California, Texas, New York, Washington, and the Northeast can also partake in a separate self-certification process under the CHPS Designed program.
The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education created STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System), which is a self-reporting framework for colleges and universities. Launched in September 2009, STARS is more than a guideline for sustainable buildings, as it examines best practices for campuses, including integration with curriculum and operations.
Created to address the specific issues of patient care environments, GGHC (Green Guide for Health Care) applies to the design, construction, and operation of medical and dental clinics and healthcare facilities. The self-certifying system is point based and contains no thresholds. GGHC criteria hone in on aspects unique to patient well being. For example, daylight and views is quantified in terms of specific patient and staff areas rather than an overall percentage of the space. Many points are allocated toward indoor air quality measures, and other points are directed to the proper disposal of medical waste and the provision of organic, hormone/antibiotic-free, and locally sourced foods.
The Living Building Challenge
The Living Building Challenge, administered by the International Living Building Institute, takes a new tack at rating systems. Rather than seeking to improve current practices, the LBC starts with a vision of restorative and regenerative buildings and encourages the building community to reach for this ideal. A new version 2.0 was recently released, and it now applies to four project types: renovation, landscaping and infrastructure, buildings, and neighborhoods. The certification of a project is based on 1 year of actual performance. Site, water, energy, health, materials, equity, and beauty comprise the seven performance areas called “petals.” Petals are subdivided into a total of twenty imperatives (formerly referred to as prerequisites). New imperatives under LBC v2.0 include car-free living, urban agriculture, biophilia, and social equity.
Most of the current rating systems were born in collaboration with existing frameworks, and new ones will continue to arise as the worldwide demand for sustainable tools increases. As important as it is to choose the appropriate rating tools in the creation of sustainable buildings, the good intentions and imagination of those using the tools is what will really take the industry in new directions.
Alan Scott, AIA, LEED Faculty, is a principal at Green Building Services Inc., one of the most comprehensive sustainable consulting firms in the nation. He provides environmental leadership and practical applications for green building projects in the United States and around the world. Alan can be reached at 866-743-4277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.