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Green Globes Tops LEED in Federal Review, But Barely

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By Paula Melton


For new construction, the ability of Green Globes and LEED projects to meet federal standards without extra effort is fairly well matched.


6/5/2012 UPDATE: GSA has pushed back the dates of the listening sessions. Please read below for more details.

5/11/2012 UPDATE: This article has been updated to incorporate comments from GSA, including opportunities for public comments that will influence the outcome of the review process.

After almost a decade of requiring LEED certification for all federal building projects, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) is suggesting in a new report that the Green Globes rating system aligns slightly better than LEED with federal requirements for new construction, while LEED remains the most compatible green building rating system for existing buildings.

The differences identified between the two systems are not marked, and the report acknowledges that apples-to-apples comparisons are difficult. The reviewers also claim the report “does not recommend a certification system,” but repercussions remain to be seen; a similar report from 2006 was used to justify GSA’s continued use of LEED.

To judge the “robustness” of green building certification systems, the reviewers compared federal guiding principles for building projects against features of three voluntary rating systems—Green Globes, LEED, and the Living Building Challenge—considering new construction separately from existing buildings. In keeping with the requirements of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the goal was to identify which systems allow projects to meet federal requirements with the least extra effort by project teams.

Findings regarding new construction

For new construction, Green Globes directly addresses the highest number of federal priorities—25 out of 27. However, as with all of the rating systems analyzed, project teams have to make an extra effort in several categories in order to meet federal guidelines.

• Although Green Globes has no prerequisites, optional credits helped the system match federal green building requirements more closely than those of any other rating system for new construction. Fifteen of these credits, however, would have to exceed the requirements laid out by Green Globes in order to match federal needs. Green Globes does not address two federal requirements at all: benchmarking and building system controls.

LEED prerequisites guarantee compliance with four federal requirements (something Green Globes doesn’t do at all), and optional credits provide compliance with seven more requirements. Nine credits would have to exceed LEED’s requirements in order to meet federal standards. LEED does not address seven of the categories at all, though this could change with LEED 2012 (which in draft versions for example, addresses integrated design).

• The Living Building Challenge (LBC) has only prerequisites and no optional credits. Fourteen LBC requirements align to some degree with federal requirements, but there are thirteen others that LBC does not address.

Findings regarding existing buildings


For existing buildings, LEED clearly jibes more readily with federal guidelines.


While hinting that Green Globes may be preferable to LEED for new construction, the report several times reiterates the importance of measured performance after occupancy and deems LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance (LEED-EBOM) to be the most comprehensive of the three rating systems analyzed for meeting federal requirements.

• Optional credits in Green Globes would help projects meet eight federal requirements for existing buildings. Green Globes does not address six federal requirements at all.

LEED addresses 27 of the 28 mandates, making it the best match for existing buildings, but performance would have to exceed LEED credit requirements in ten areas in order to meet federal needs. According to the review, LEED does not touch directly on one area of concern, greenhouse gas emissions (although the Emissions Reduction Reporting Credit arguably addresses this).

• Seventeen LBC requirements map with federal priorities, but the system does not address 11.

“Relatively negligible”

“Obviously none of the rating systems clearly aligns with the federal mandates, because federal mandates are more extensive and more comprehensive,” said Brad Schaap, P.E., director of sustainability at Leo A. Daly. Schaap characterized the differences among the rating systems as “relatively negligible,” adding that decisions must be made on a project-by-project basis. His firm, which has worked on many federal projects, has used both LEED and Green Globes and found no clear pattern of alignment with legal requirements.

“We use both as a tool,” Shaap told EBN. On a project currently being completed for the Veterans Administration, for example, “for about 20 of the mandates we’re just printing out the LEED documentation, and we have a supplemental narrative where LEED doesn’t go to the extent of the federal mandate.” Green Globes documentation can be used just as easily to demonstrate compliance, he said, meaning that either rating system “saves taxpayer money” by clarifying the scope of work and streamlining the submittal process.

The future of LEED for federal projects

GSA has required LEED Gold certification for building projects since December 2010; the implications of this review remain to be seen. According to Joni Teter, project lead for the rating system review, next steps will include six meetings of an interagency discussion group. Although GSA is focused on federal performance targets, the agency is well aware that it also “has a role in market-shaping,” Teter told EBN, so GSA will also be hosting listening sessions with stakeholders in the private sector. The first will take place June 25, 2012, at GSA headquarters in Washington, and the second, which will be a webcast, is slated for July 10. She expects GSA to make a final recommendation in the fall.

Lane Burt, director of technical policy at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), has so far seen no indications that the LEED Gold requirement is likely to change. However, he said, “They are going through the process of re-analyzing, which we fundamentally think they should do.”

Burt emphasized the importance of periodic review and the complexity of the analysis required, adding that “LEED is being developed as a voluntary system for the private sector, so it shouldn’t shock anyone that it’s not a perfect match for federal guiding principles.” However, he continued, “As a whole, the rating system maps quite well with federal guiding principles. It was overwhelmingly positive.”

The big picture

“There is an emphasis in this document on looking at existing building stock,” said Schaap. “Existing buildings are obviously where the focus needs to be for substantial change in a sustainable built environment.” Schaap and many of Leo A. Daly’s federal clients are focused on meeting the 2030 Challenge—targeting carbon neutrality by the year 2030.

“We can’t get there today very easily, but we can continually improve,” Schaap said. “It all goes back to measuring the performance of our designs and learning from what we find. That’s the best way to continue the advancement of sustainable design.”

For more information:

U.S. General Services Administration




Comments (5)

1 anything but Green Globes posted by Lloyd Alter on 05/30/2012 at 11:50 am

Arrgh, I was out of town and missed the story here. This is so horrible, Greenglobes is a sham, a fraud set up by a former Louisiana Pacific hack and run out of his office, all as a way to greenwash clearcut lumber. I wrote in 2006, and nothing has changed:

LEED is the green standard, but it only gives points for FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) Certified Lumber. Unfortunately to get that certification the wood has to come from forests that are managed sustainably and guess what, the lumber industry thinks that is too expensive. What is a lumber baron to do? Take a lesson from Exxon and set up your own group. Hire Ward Hubbell, former PR exec from Louisana Pacific, to run it. (Part time- he and GBI staffers Vicki Worden and Kelly O'Brien also work for Hubbell Communications , a flack shop in Portland, whose specialty is "creating public understanding and support for our clients' business and public policy agendas through public relations, coalition building, and grassroots communications.") Get startup capital from the lumber industry. Convince legislators that Green Globe is a green standard equivalent to LEED and you are off and running.

And now, six years later, they have just about completed what they set out to do, to supplant and destroy LEED. Look at their board of directors, full of Dow and the Vinyl institute and the Chemical industry and the vinyl floor people, it is greenwashing pure and simple. They have to be stopped.

2 Green Globes and SFI posted by Paula Melton on 05/30/2012 at 12:13 pm

Lloyd, if I recall, you had a blog post connecting Green Globes and SFI recently. Got a link?

3 Green Globes/LEED comparison posted by Craig Kneeland on 06/08/2012 at 12:35 pm

In the month since seeing the headline for this article, Green Globes Tops LEED in Federal Review, But Barely, I have been trying to figure out why it was used. The headline is clearly biased toward Green Globes, when the differences between the rating systems are "relatively negligible." The headline is ripe for abuse.

On my first read of the article, it took careful reading to parse out the real story, which is “Obviously none of the rating systems clearly aligns with the federal mandates." But that's not the take-away for the headline readers.

The study focuses on verbal alignment, not performance. When did credit alignment with a Federal law become a metric for sustainable design?

Please be more cognizant of the impact of your headlines in the future.

Craig Kneeland

4 article headline posted by Tristan Roberts on 06/08/2012 at 12:57 pm

Craig, we appreciate your feedback. In writing this headline (which we did with great care), we thought that failing to acknowledge that Green Globes came out ahead in the review, even though the scope of the review is much narrower and oddly defined than many readers may guess, would create an inaccurate portrayal. While acknowledging a win for GG, the "barely" qualifier should provide a handy grain of salt for readers.

The first three paragraphs of the article clearly explain the key results (including a win for LEED on the EB side) as well as the scope of the review.

In the end, a headline can only say so much.

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May 9, 2012