Green Building:

USGBC, GBI discuss differences in green building certification programs

As Washington, D.C., becomes the first major city to mandate developers to adhere to green building standards, the push to build green is becoming more and more evident throughout the country. During today's OnPoint, Michelle Moore, vice president of community at the U.S. Green Building Council, and Vicki Worden, head of commercial programs at the Green Building Initiative, outline the differences between their organizations' green building certification systems. They discuss why they believe Congress should incentivize the design and construction of green buildings and fund research associated with building green. Moore and Worden also address controversy surrounding the inclusion of wood in the green building certification process.

Transcript

Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today are Michelle Moore, vice president of Community at the U.S. Green Building Council, and Vicki Worden, the head of the Green Building Initiative's commercial programs. Ladies, thank you for joining me.

Vicki Worden: Thank you.

Michelle Moore: Thank you very much.

Monica Trauzzi: I wanted to first start off by giving our viewers a sense of what the U.S. GBC's LEED certification program is and what GBI's Green Globes program is. Michelle, in a nutshell, what is LEED?

Michelle Moore: LEED, the LEED Green Building rating system was launched by U.S. Green Building Council about seven years ago to recognize leadership in energy and environmental design. The program today addresses the full lifecycle of the commercial built environment. We have programs in place for new construction, for existing buildings, operations and maintenance, for commercial interiors, for core-and-shell developments, which addresses speculative developments. And we have programs that are in pilot today for homes, for residential single-family, and also for neighborhood developments. To date, there are about 6000 projects who have registered using the LEED Green Building rating system totaling more than half a billion dollars in commercial square footage. And as our CEO announced at our Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, just a few weeks ago now, we're going for a million projects by 2010.

Monica Trauzzi: Vicki, what is Green Globes and why was it created when LEED was already around?

Vicki Worden: Sure. Green Globes is a system that originated in Canada and so there's a difference there, in where the two systems originated. It's actually used in Canada by the Canadian federal government, by VOMA Canada of the private sector. It also evolved over time in an iterative process. And so we brought it down here to the U.S. because it really is North America's first web-based interactive system. And so not only does it provide assessments and ratings through the system, it allows people to get an early feedback on how their building looks on seven key areas of assessment. We really help feel that it could help bridge the gap between early adopters and the rest of the mainstream builders and architects who are just joining this movement now.

Monica Trauzzi: Michelle, there's been quite a bit of talk about the U.S. GBC's choices regarding the inclusion of timber in the LEED certification program. And the timber industry would like the SFI, Sustainable Forest Tree Initiative, to be recognized by LEED. Explain where the U.S. GBC stands right now as far as timber goes and why this has been such a battle.

Michelle Moore: One thing that's tremendously important to understand at the outset, for the discussion of the way that the LEED rating system recognizes certified wood, just as the way it recognizes any programs that might relate to materials and resources, energy and atmosphere, indoor air quality or the other attributes that are addressed by LEED, is that it's a consensus development process. So you mentioned GBC as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit member organization and it's volunteer leadership from among U.S. GBC's membership that actually creates and iterates the LEED rating system over time. So in the second version of LEED that was introduced at the marketplace is the first time that wood certification was addressed as a credit in the materials and resources section. And LEED today, as then, recognizes FFC certified wood in MR credit 7, without getting too terribly technically detailed about the rating system. And in recent years there's been a tremendous amount of debate about that. FFC is a third-party certification program. And the timber industry launched its own rating system called FFI, which has been spun off and has become independent since that time. And there's been a tremendous amount of interest on the part of the timber industry and on FFI itself to gain some level of recognition as it relates to the LEED rating system, particularly since we're moving from just a commercial rating system, which is what LEED began as into the homes marketplace where wood, obviously, is a much more important component of the built environment, if you look at how much timber is used in residential construction, the U.S. versus commercial construction. This is an issue that our board recognized earlier this year and determined that the organization needed to take a hard look at the way that we're recognizing wood certification systems in the context of LEED. And the question posed by the board kicked off our consensus process, of which we're in the throes of right now. So we have a LEED steering committee that's staffed by our volunteers. And reporting to the LEED steering committee is another volunteer committee. There are 27 volunteer committees who work on the LEED program, so I could have a chart as big as your studio here to point out the way all of them work. But they were charged with addressing not just the way that wood certification is looked at by the LEED rating system, but how bio-based materials are addressed over all. So that encompasses not only wood, but the question of rapidly renewable resources, bamboo flooring, that sort of thing. And they recently engaged the Yale School of Forestry as a consultant to help them through this process. And early in 2007 we anticipate that the MR CAG will have credit language proposed that responds to the question of how LEED should look at bio-based materials, inclusive of the question of timber certification programs as relates to LEED.

Monica Trauzzi: I want to have GBI jump in here for a moment. Some environmentalists believe that Green Globes was created to put pressure on LEED and the U.S. GBC to include timber. Your organization was started off by a former timber industry executive. The timber industry has also given money to your organization. Does this diminish the credibility of your certification program at all?

Vicki Worden: No, I don't believe it does at all. I think that there has been a lot of noise out there about the timber issue, because there is a lot of concern about rating systems that are getting implemented on state and local levels and how those rating systems were created and whether or not they were done through a third-party codified consensus process. And so for Green Globes I think the important thing to remember is that wood is just one product that is addressed in the whole system. And, in fact, there's one percent of a thousand points that address the wood issue in Green Globes. What GBI has done by becoming an alternative in the market, and we maybe are the first alternative, but certainly not the last to the LEED system, is bring in another opportunity to have debate and discussion about how we get to the endpoint, which is that high performing building. And so what we are able to do a little differently is take a different look at how rating systems can be put together. And our resources committee, which we're six months into an ANC review process, a technical review process of Green Globes, is going to be taking a look at GBI commissioned research on lifecycle assessment. And we are actually leading the way, we feel, in developing lifecycle assessment research on building assemblies that could allow architects to evaluate how building products are used together and what they're total global climate impact is. What is their embodied energy and what is their impact as a whole throughout the lifecycle of the building? And so I think there's more of a movement of getting away from these individual credits that are almost a substitute for the real science and the research that we need to use to base our decisions on building products.

Monica Trauzzi: GBI promotes credible and practical Green Building approaches for residential and commercial construction. Compared to LEED is it more stringent, less stringent? What are the guidelines like?

Vicki Worden: I think there is a difference in the approach that our rating system takes versus LEED and that is, in a large part, due to the way they were developed. Green Globes originated in Canada based on a system called BREEAM from the United Kingdom and that was started in 1996, published as a standard through CSA Americas and then eventually evolved into a much more user-friendly system. In fact, once the standard became question based we were able to put it on the web site. So Green Globes is much more carrot oriented versus stick oriented. It's much more than just a report card. It has design guidance built into it. It walks users through all the steps. It provides recommendations, supplementary info, hot links. It really takes advantage of the technology that's available today. But we feel that it is just as credible, just as stringent. And a third-party certification ensures that the buildings will indeed measure up to the highest standard.

Monica Trauzzi: And Green Globes is now being accepted as an alternative to LEED in several states. What's the U.S. GBC's reaction to that?

Michelle Moore: Well, I want to respond a little bit to the question that you had posed to Vicki earlier as it relates to the LEED program. U.S. GBC, as a nonprofit membership organization, has a tremendous range of resources that we offer to create incentives for users in the marketplace, to embrace LEED and to embrace green building practices overall. Because ultimately U.S. GBC is a mission oriented organization. Our vision is the transformation of the built environment to sustainability. So we not only have the LEED rating system, but we also have a host of educational programs, including our annual conference at Greenbuild, reference guides that give users guidance about how to apply LEED in practice, what works, what doesn't, an online system that allows people to very easily and in a paperless fashion report, document their projects, communicate with project teams. And that was done through a partnership with Adobe Systems. And we were very excited this past Greenbuild to be able to announce a new partnership with Autodesk to pioneer methodologies for incorporating sustainable design practices directly into the architect's desktop. And, ultimately, as it relates to your specific question, U.S. GBC is mission oriented. So we see the marketplace, we see the community that we serve as becoming greener. If you look at any of the available research that's available in the marketplace today this is something that the consensus says is not just a trend, this is the way that the industry is moving and it's been a transformation that's been led from the inside out. And that there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of individuals who are involved in architecture and construction and building management, including many leaders in Washington, at GSA for instance, who were some of the early pioneers in this who have helped to make this happen. There are lots of organizations in the industry, like AIA and BOMA and ASHRA, who are increasingly embracing green building practices and we're actually partnered with AIA and ASHRA, as well as IESNA, on the creation of standard 189, which will be a code base standard, written in code language for green buildings. So this is something that I think that we'll see many additional methodologies for measuring, not just green building achievements, but building's carbon footprint, for instance. Because, of course, buildings account for 48 percent of CO2 emissions and are one of the leading contributors to climate change, so anything that we can do to bio that building. Energy consumption, look differently at the way that materials are incorporated into the building, including LCA. We're doing something that's going to be wonderful, not only for the bottom line and for the people who work and live and go to school in those buildings, but also for our planet.

Monica Trauzzi: So specifically is there something that your organizations need from Congress to aid in the certification process and also getting green buildings spread throughout the country?

Vicki Worden: I definitely think that Congress has a role to play. I think one of the most important considerations, as we look at public policy going forward, is that we need to be incentivizing actual measured building performance. And so a lot of what is happening out there is incentivizing the design and the construction end. And we're hopeful that Congress and state and federal agencies, if they're going to be looking at public policy, can find ways to incentivize measured actual building performance and really reward folks to work toward meeting those environmental goals like the zero carbon neutral goals from the Architecture 2030 challenge.

Monica Trauzzi: Do you want to jump in?

Michelle Moore: Absolutely. U.S. GBC believes in market-based transformation. And there are many incentives that governments have offered, not only at the federal level, like the Energy Act last year. They've created incentives for not only commercial buildings, but also for homes to become more energy-efficient, but at the local level. Even with no cost governmental solutions like fast track permitting for green buildings, so measures that government can take that help to speed the market's adoption. And where there may be additional costs for a green building related to new technology adoption or just related to helping people get through the learning curve, because when you're dealing with an industry that bills based on the hours that they put into a project that is an issue that has to be confronted. And they have an important role to play. I think another one, and something that we always mention we're talking to folks on the Hill, is the importance of research. As you pointed out in raising the question of wood certification, and as Vicki raised in talking about LCA, you know, these are issues of fundamental science related to the built environment that are not always well understood. And there's not consensus in the scientific community at this point even about how to approach them. So where it's practicable government funding for primary research about the built environment is tremendously important. And, after all, as Americans we spend 90 percent of our time indoor. These buildings are human habitat. They have a huge impact on our health and well-being and they're places we need to understand better.

Monica Trauzzi: We're going to ...

Vicki Worden: I think ...

Monica Trauzzi: Go ahead.

Vicki Worden: I was just going to say, I think there's one other important point about what governments can do, and that is really work to keep the marketplace open and keep, this is such a fast evolving industry that if we are too stringent in our regulations then we're going to inhibit innovation. And this movement is growing. GBI may be the first alternative to LEED, but we feel we're complementary. And like Michelle said, there are all sorts of organizations that are getting into the high-performance game. NIBS, National Institute of Building Sciences has just announced that they're going to be developing a high-performance building standard. ASHRA, ASTM, and so GBI is really just one of many in a maturing green building movement.

Monica Trauzzi: We'll have to end it on that note. Thanks for joining me.

Vicki Worden: Thank you.

Michelle Moore: Thank you so much Monica. It was a pleasure.

Monica Trauzzi: This is OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Thanks for watching.

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