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Get Caught Up on Green Building Rating Systems

By Wanda Lau, Senior Editor, ARCHITECT

Certifying buildings at the rate of 1.6 million square feet per day, the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED rating system is unquestionably a juggernaut. But it's just one of the many certification programs in the United States that are continually raising the bar of sustainable design. Here's a look at the latest developments from the other major players.

The Joseph Arnold Lofts is the first residential high-rish building in Seattle to achieve Green Globes certification. Courtesy the Schuster Group The Joseph Arnold Lofts is the first residential high-rish building in Seattle to achieve Green Globes certification.

Green Globes

Launched in the U.S. in 2004 by the nonprofit Green Building Initiative (GBI), Green Globes is a web-based guidance and certification program that requires an on-site evaluation by the GBI's pool of roughly 30 third-party-certified assessors. The program offers different tracks for new and existing buildings. Projects that achieve at least 35 percent of the 1,000 possible Green Globes points can earn certification at one of four levels. Because the progress is tracked online, “you know where [your project stands] at any time,” says Sharene Rekow, the GBI's vice president for business development.

In June, the GBI released the current version of Green Globes for New Construction, which is based on ANSI/GBI 01-2010: Green Building Assessment Protocol for Commercial Buildings and developed by the GBI using an ANSI-approved consensus process (though that last point has faced recent controversy). The update includes stricter requirements in the program's seven environmental assessment areas, particularly in its Energy and Materials and Resources categories. It also added two pathways for projects to ascertain its energy standards for a total of four options. Along with comparing performance with the Energy Star Target Finder and ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard 90.1-2010, projects can use ASHRAE Building Energy Quotient (see below) or follow ANSI/GBI 01-2010 Energy Performance Building CO2e Emissions, which is based on the absolute metric of a project's reduction in carbon dioxide equivalent emissions.

To date, Rekow says, about 850 projects have been certified in the Green Globes program and an additional 250 projects are registered to achieve certification. In October, the program also experienced a status bump when the U.S. General Services Administration recommended Green Globes 2010 along with LEED 2009 as the third-party building certification programs for federal conversation and renovation projects to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Living Building Challenge

Launched in 2006 and administered by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), the Living Building Challenge (LBC) mandates projects to demonstrate one year of post-occupancy compliance with its strict requirements, which include net-zero energy, waste, and water, and the exclusion of materials that pose health risks to humans. Just say "red list" and some manufacturers will shudder.

Version 2.1 is the current standard. ILFI vice president and LBC program director Amanda Sturgeon, FAIA, LEED Fellow, says version 3 of the standard will likely launch in spring 2014. The update will "continue to raise the bar of the program and add depth to the imperatives" based on community feedback, she says. To date, 12 projects have been verified as certified, with four projects pre-certified or in the process of pre-certification, and 160 more projects are registered.

ILFI is also working with other organizations that promote net-zero energy and material transparency to "help people navigate the different programs" and "clarify the marketplace," Sturgeon says. In May, ILFI and the Health Product Declaration (HPD) Collaborative partnered to allow manufacturers with documentation meeting ILFI's Declare program standards or HPD's open-standard language to satisfy each other's reporting requirements. The first 30 products to file for Declare using an HPD can be submitted for free; 10 slots have been filled as of late October.

As the health and welfare of the workers in manufacturing plants become a larger issue in sustainability, ILFI also announced a pilot social justice program in September. The Just label promotes corporate transparency on social and equity indicators in categories such as diversity, safety, worker benefit, local benefit, and stewardship.

ASHRAE Building Energy Quotient

Though it launched in 2012, ASHRAE's Building Energy Quotient (BEQ) rating system has been brewing in the minds of industry professionals for years. Designed to be driven by market forces, the rating system normalizes commercial buildings based on their occupation, operations, and location to score their operation and performance. As a result, owners can theoretically compare buildings on a level playing field. BEQ offers an In Operation rating, which requires at least one year's worth of performance data, and an As Designed rating, which is based on the projected energy use of a building under design or construction.

Rather than comparing building performance to that of a baseline building, BEQ uses the ratio of the energy use intensity (EUI) of the candidate building to the median EUI of the specific building type in the local region; the latter data is attained from the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS). Though a building owner may initiate the process, an ASHRAE-certified Building Energy Assessment Professional (BEAP) must review in person and complete the submission for projects pursuing the In Operation label. A certified assessor must model a building seeking the As Designed rating. ASHRAE then assigns the building a grade from an A+, which would indicate a building is net zero energy, to an F.

ASHRAE encourages buildings to pursue ratings both in the design and operation stages. "If you have a building with a great asset [As Designed] rating, but not such a great operational rating, you would know one of two things," says Dan Nall, FAIA, LEED Fellow, who served on the BEQ committee. "You're really working the hell out of the building … or you're not doing a good job of operating it." ASHRAE recommends that buildings apply for an In Operation rating every few years to gauge performance.

To date, ASHRAE has received 10 submissions for the In Operation label. Ratings have been awarded for six; two projects were withdrawn from consideration and two more are being processed. The As Designed label has not been formally pursued by any projects yet. The BEQ committee is conducting a pilot rating of ASHRAE's headquarters building that should be completed by the end of 2013.

Passive House Institute US (PHIUS)

Started in 2007 in the U.S., PHIUS is “first and foremost concerned with energy efficiency,” says John Semmelhack, the program's on-site quality control manager. The organization initially certified projects under operating agreements with the Passive House Institute in Germany, but the two entities parted ways in 2011. While the program includes some indoor air quality requirements, it leaves many sustainable design aspects—such as water efficiency and materials selection—to other certification programs. The program has applied mostly to residential projects in the past, but the nonprofit organization expects to launch high-performance standards for commercial buildings in early 2014.

PHIUS+ emphasizes reduction in space conditioning demand through airtight envelopes, high-performance windows, and energy recovery ventilation. The project's annual heating demand and cooling demand must be equal to or less than 4.75 kBTU per square foot of usable floor area. Primary energy consumption, limited to 11.1 kWH per square foot per year, is calculated based on source energy use intensity rather than site energy use intensity. Subsequently, project teams must consider energy conversion and transmission efficiencies, and not just reduce user demand. Though the certification process involves some on-site commissioning, it currently does not require performance verification from post-occupancy data, Semmelhack says.

To date, about 60 residential projects in the U.S. have met the Passive House standard. About 100 more are in the certification process and include multifamily buildings. Larger buildings generally can meet the certification metrics easier, Semmelhack says. "They have a bigger geometrical efficiency—they have a lot less surface area for the amount of floor area and volume of space."

Energy Star Certified Buildings and Plants

Established by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1992, the Energy Star program began officially certifying buildings with the Energy Star label in 1999; in 2002, the program added the Designed to Earn the Energy Star label for projects in construction. As the only government-backed environment rating system in the U.S., Energy Star enjoys the highest rate of recognition by the general public at 85 percent, according to Lauren Pitcher, director of communications for the EPA's Energy Star Commercial Buildings and Industrial Plants program. "It's the only environmental label that spans consumer products, homes, and commercial buildings," she says.

This year, Energy Star has upgraded its benchmarking tool, the Energy Star Portfolio Manager, to help designers plan a project and to allow owners to track multiple projects. The Portfolio Manager is also often cited as the approved tracking system for the energy benchmarking legislation that cities nationwide have been adopting. Energy Star also enhanced its Target Finder tool, which identifies a project's benchmarking buildings. To earn the label, buildings must perform in the top 25 percent of their market sector as compared to projects on CBECS database. Performance is based on a year's worth of post-occupancy data.

To date, more than 20,000 commercial buildings have earned the Energy Star label, and 550 projects have received the Design to Earn the Energy Star label.

The 2030 Challenge

Issued by the nonprofit organization Architecture 2030, based in Santa Fe, N.M., the 2030 Challenge is not a building certification program, but rather a commitment by architecture firms to reduce energy consumption in buildings, development, and renovations incrementally until projects become carbon neutral by 2030. (It is often confused with the AIA 2030 Commitment, which differs in scope and was launched in 2006.)

A 2013 survey by DesignIntelligence found that 52 percent of all U.S. architecture firms have adopted the Challenge. One of the organization's latest ventures is the 2030 Palette, an online resource to help designers meet the 2030 Challenge by aggregating and curating sustainable design and planning practices and case studies. "Until the Palette, I think, no one has defined sustainability across the entire scale of the built environment, from building regional elements to building elements," says Architecture 2030 founder and CEO Edward Mazria. "The Palette defines sustainability across all scales so you can see how it all pieces together." Users can submit their own work for consideration, interact with designers, planners, and architects, and pore through technical white papers, design guidelines, and photographs for ideas. To date, about 4,000 people have signed up to beta test the 2030 Palette website.

This article was originally published in ARCHITECT November 2013.

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