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The latest version of Green Globes for New Construction focuses on novel ways to measure energy performance, but details are hard to come by.

Portland VA medical centerThis Veterans Administration hospital in Portland, Oregon, achieved three Green Globes out of a possible four. Photo: GBIThere seems to be a lot to like about the new Green Globes for New Construction, which was apparently launched earlier this week.

I say “seems to” and “apparently” because, despite repeated requests, I have not been allowed to view the rating system myself or to interview anyone involved in its creation.

As you read the summary below, be aware that the Green Building Initiative (GBI) has not released any public-comment drafts or the final rating system to the public—opting instead to release only media alerts and a document it is calling a “white paper” (PDF—more on this document below).

Fancy schmancy ANSI

The most significant change to this version of Green Globes appears to be that it’s based on GBI/ANSI 01–2010—a green building standard developed through the ANSI consensus process.

GBI has been touting its “true consensus process” for years to compare Green Globes favorably with LEED. If you’ve been paying attention to the political wrangling around LEED and Green Globes over the past couple of years, you may be surprised to hear that Green Globes isn’t already an ANSI standard, but until now the ANSI standard developed by GBI and the Green Globes tool itself have been two different animals.

Because we don’t have access to the ANSI standard or the rating system at this time, we also can’t confirm whether it’s for real.

Energy performance

Politics aside, GBI is introducing some interesting new ideas for projecting a design’s energy performance. Green Globes markets itself as being all about streamlining, and it offers several alternatives to the typical ASHRAE 90.1 modeling process. Here are the four compliance pathways relating to energy, as outlined in the white paper “Green Globes for New Construction: Better Building Science for Better Results”:

ASHRAE 90.1–2010, Appendix G—This is the energy modeling comparison referenced in LEED. Designers develop and then compare a baseline building against their own design and calculate the percentage improvement.

Energy Star Target Finder—Target Finder is a predictive tool that draws on Energy Star Portfolio Manager’s benchmarking software. Although the point of Energy Star is to measure and benchmark actual energy and water performance, Target Finder gives a score based on the predictive data that a designer feeds into it. (And unfortunately, Energy Star is currently using data from 2003.) GBI hasn’t shared the specific performance metric that would be used here.

ANSI/GBI 01–2010 Energy Performance Building Carbon Dioxide Equivalent Emissions—This proprietary compliance path also appears to use Target Finder but focuses on greenhouse gas emissions rather than energy. Again, GBI hasn’t shared what specific metric would be used for rating buildings using this method.

ASHRAE Building Energy Quotient (bEQ)—The fourth method references a system ASHRAE began piloting in 2009. The concept with bEQ is that actual energy performance of the building is benchmarked against the energy model. It’s unclear how a design standard will use such a method and achieve accountability for energy performance during operation; there is no mention of ongoing reviews or proof of performance in the document. (A new “as designed” bEQ tool seems like a bit of a misnomer since the building has to be in operation to achieve the rating.)Internap data centerEnergy-hogging data centers have become a big focus for Green Globes. This Internap data center in Santa Clara, California, achieved two globes. Photo: Internap

If the Green Globes system actually does require ongoing operational energy tracking for continued certification, that could really give the program an edge over LEED, which only requires ongoing benchmarking and recertification as part of its Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance rating system (although it is exploring use of a LEED performance dashboard to bring more buildings into an ongoing tracking system).

Emphasis on life-cycle assessment

From its inception, Green Globes has emphasized life-cycle assessment (LCA), and that hasn’t changed with this release.

Here LEED is in the position of playing catch-up by including the methodology in LEED v4—both because of LCA’s greater international acceptance and because some U.S. federal agencies like LCA for tracking carbon. (Many in the U.S. are skeptical of LCA’s use as a tool of accountability and/or marketing—sometimes for good reason. See “The Product Transparency Movement: Peeking Behind the Corporate Veil.”)

Unlike the LEED v4 drafts, the Green Globes system doesn’t seem to offer an option for whole-building LCA—but it does have options for both building assemblies and interior fit-outs. The Athena Impact Estimator tool is encouraged for assembly calculations, and third-party-verified LCAs or environmental product declarations (EPDs) are encouraged for assessing fit-outs.

Certification process

GBI has always marketed Green Globes as a faster, cheaper, and more streamlined method for achieving green building goals. The features that make this possible include:

  • A browser-based question-and-answer tool the group frequently compares to Turbo Tax
  • A lack of prerequisites for certification (“credits” only, though they aren’t called that)
  • Direct communication and consultation between assessors and members of the project team
  • Direct uploads of raw data instead of filling out templates (the assessor does most of the necessary calculations)

A site visit from the third-party assessor also distinguishes Green Globes from LEED, which relies instead on a mandatory building commissioning by a third party, in addition to its notoriously detailed documentation review process.

Where’s the building science?

When I saw the subtitle of the document GBI released along with the rating system launch—“Better Building Science for Better Results”—I expected to find information about the intensive focus on hygrothermal performance that is increasingly important as building envelopes get tighter and energy flows decrease to near zero. A new credit regarding building enclosure commissioning aims to address this issue in LEED v4.

The Green Globes document doesn’t mention airtightness, R-values, moisture management, or anything else having to do with hygrothermal performance, however, which leads me to suspect the phrase “better building science” here refers to LCA. I inquired about this with GBI but have not heard back.

Green Globes and LEED

With this launch, GBI is getting very aggressive about its competition with LEED. The “white paper” that it released along with the press release makes no secret of that. Here are some nakedly critical quotes from the document:

Green Globes for New Construction is the answer for the frustrated LEED project team looking for an alternative green certification process. The excellent customer service, overall ease of use, transparency of the certification process, national recognition, and swift response times surpass LEED.

Questions can be discussed with GBI staff or a third-party Green Globes Assessor so an informed decision can be made. This is where LEED fails and continues to get worse.

The document also quotes the well-known 2005 essay by Auden Schendler titled “LEED is Broken, Let’s Fix it,” but it seems to gloss over the “let’s fix it” portion of that essay and doesn’t acknowledge the massive evolution in LEED since it was penned. In all, the ten-page document mentions LEED by name 23 times. Is this a white paper or an anti-LEED screed?Green Globes process graphicGBI often touts its tool's relative ease of use. Illustration: GBI

A word from the author

The paper was “a little hard on LEED,” admits coauthor Donald Martin, AIA, principal at Marston Design Studio. Martin, who is also a LEEP AP, defends the paper’s takedown of Green Globes’ rival, however. His comments to BuildingGreen focused on the notorious LEED bureaucracy.

“It’s just very easy to work with the people” at GBI, he said. “I have projects in the LEED system right now that have dragged on over a year” because it is so difficult to get questions answered, he says. (USGBC has acknowledged customer service issues and has opened up better communication lines with its technical staff.)

Martin also criticized the LEED process because no one comes to the building to verify that design and construction features such as recycling areas or bike racks were truly implemented. “With LEED, you could say whatever you wanted and get away with it,” he claims.

When I asked Martin for an example of a third-party Green Globes assessor catching a project in the act of lying for the sake of certification, he couldn’t provide one. Most of the advantages he pointed to were procedural: when a design team had neglected to update its energy model on the online questionnaire, an assessor caught the mistake and awarded them “several hundred extra points.” He described a collaborative relationship with assessors, who “help you” find ways to get more points if you’re “on the cusp” of getting to the next globe.

He added that verification doesn’t compare to commissioning, though, which is “definitely more technical. The commissioning agent goes through documents all day long; they are very good onsite at finding stuff” that needs to be adjusted. “I wouldn’t compare commissioning with verification.”

Green Globes does not have mandatory third-party commissioning, as LEED does, but Martin said it is virtually impossible to achieve two globes or more without it.

Back to the politics

The timing of this release and the document’s anti-LEED bent will come as no surprise to anyone who’s been following the timber and chemical industries’ campaigns in regard to LEED and the federal government. (These industries’ talking points eerily echo those of GBI on topics ranging from LCA to certified wood to “true consensus.”)

There are two major policy decisions due out this summer that GBI may be trying to affect with this launch: the U.S. General Services Administration’s review of green building certification systems and the introduction of the Shaheen-Portman energy bill on the U.S. Senate floor.

An anti-LEED amendment to that bill, reportedly to be introduced by Senator Mary Landrieu (D–Louisiana), would redefine what counts as a consensus process and bar any non-ANSI-based green building standard from use by federal agencies.

I sent Sharene Rekow at GBI an email inquiring whether the group would be supporting Landrieu’s amendment, but again, I haven’t heard back.

Sending the wrong message

Representatives of GBI have not responded to multiple requests for comment by BuildingGreen.

This refusal to talk to the media detracts from the organization’s claims of greater transparency and is likely to backfire: one of the reasons Green Globes has failed to take off more broadly, despite what appear to be genuinely good ideas (who doesn’t want less bureaucracy in the process?), is widespread skepticism about GBI’s industry origins.

Tightly controlling the rating system’s distribution with this new launch sends the wrong message and misses a huge opportunity to demonstrate that GBI has outgrown its timber- and chemical-industry roots.

Tell us more!

Are you using Green Globes for any projects? Were you involved in its development? If so, please share your thoughts in the comments section. GBI seems to be trying out some interesting ideas, but it’s confoundingly difficult to get more details on how these ideas will be implemented in a real project.

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Comments

1 Those Devilish Details posted by Peggy White on 06/14/2013 at 10:07 am

As always, a well written analysis Paula.  Regarding the 3rd party certification for GG, have you been able to determine how deep it goes?  i.e., is it an actual analysis of the building design and performance done by qualified persons with technical expertise, or is it simply confirmation that the paperwork has been provided?

It continues to be puzzling (and amusing)  that GBI/GG are so secretive while touting their claims of concensus.  Up is down, and down is up! 

2 Verification isn't like commissioning posted by Paula Melton on 06/14/2013 at 10:28 am

Thanks, Peggy! The third-party assessment seems to be referred to as "verification," so it's more like a documentation review that then gets supplemented by a site visit. And yes, this seems to be really just making sure that the documentation is accurate—not anything like commissioning. The verifiers are licensed building professionals. The minimum requirements (PDF) include at least three years of applicable industry experience (usually five), plus training by GBI.

3 Look at the whole LEED family posted by Alistair Jackson on 06/24/2013 at 01:52 pm

Great article, Paula. I just want to draw attention to the fact that two critical "negatives" of LEED, referenced in your article, are not common to ALL the LEED rating systems.  LEED for Homes, covering buildings from single-family to residential and mixed use buildings up to 8 (ish) stories, has addressed both the on-site verification issue and lack of access to Rating System support since the LEED for Homes pilot was released about 7 years ago:

1) Independent Green Raters (not truly 3rd Party, but with USGBC and RESNET QA oversight) perform in-field inspections and performance testing during construction and at completion to ensure "as built" reflects "as designed" (and I can assure you, we DO find differences on a routine basis; if Green Globes Assessors do not, they must work with very highly developed project delivery processes ;-).  Truing the energy model to "as built" conditions is one of many benefits of this approach.  Another is a significant reduction in the amount of LEED-specific documentation the project team has to generate - the documentation IS in the Contract Docs;

2) Homes and Mid-Rise rating systems are delivered by a network of LEED for Homes Providers who provide that direct line of communication between the rating system technical support and the project team.  Typically, projects can get answers to questions in a few days, up to a couple of weeks if it is more complex.

Competition improves the breed.  Good competition more so.  Rating systems are an important tool for market transformation, yet notoriuosly challenging to design and implement well.  It is an evolutionary process - as the market continues to transform, it will demand and effectively select the rating systems that serve it best.

4 Thanks for the reminder posted by Paula Melton on 06/24/2013 at 02:23 pm

Alistair, I admit I hadn't thought of LEED for Homes while writing this—though I think we would want to compare with the NAHB standard to be fair. Thanks for the perspective! I wonder if this approach would be feasible for a large commercial building and how much the process would overlap with commissioning the owner is already paying for. Interesting to think about!


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