Green Globes: To Use or Not To Use?

By: April Brown & Helene Gotthelf
Project Managers

Ever since the General Services Administrationannounced their support of Green Globes in 2013, we’ve been eager to learn more about the rating system and test it out. We began brushing up on the Green Globes certification, watched a handful of webinars that became available, and even became Green Globes Professionals. From a high level view, Green Globes seemed to take everything that is cumbersome about LEED and toss it out the window.

Amidst the hype and excitement about an alternative to LEED though, we couldn’t ignore some of the critique that we had learned about Green Globes and the Green Building Initiative (GBI). This made us wonder – should the opportunity present itself, would we use and promote Green Globes?

In order to make a more objective decision, we researched the pros, cons, and costs of certifying a hypothetical building using Green Globes for New Construction – a 20,000 square foot addition to an existing art museum on a university campus.

 
Advantages
Undoubtedly, there are several benefits of using Green Globes:  
  • The web-based tool includes an initial project evaluation which calculates your projected Green Globes score and provides instant feedback on your building. The online portal also tracks the status of the assessment process.
  • Green Globes includes a third-party site visit, which means that Green Globes Assessors can visually inspect the building and cut down on the amount of documentation you have to provide, which can save a lot of time for the project team. Additionally, the assessor is also available to answer questions about the assessment process, criteria, and documentation. 
  • Partial credit is allowed, recognizing varying levels of achievement.
  • Teams can choose credits that are “not applicable” to allow for project-specific and regionally-based conditions.
  • Green Globes incorporates ANSI-based Life Cycle Assessment
  • There are no precluding rules about certifying additions, as compared to one of the LEED Minimum Program Requirements that defines most additions as ineligible or requires very specific conditions for the addition to be eligible for certification. 
  • Hands-on and accessible customer service – according to correspondence with GBI staff, projects are assigned a project manager that will help answer any questions that may arise about the certification process from the moment that you begin.
Disadvantages
There are also several disadvantages that play an integral role in the decision-making process:
  • There is no building performance data available to verify the correlation between Green Globes and a high performance structure.
  • There is a negative perception of GBI due to the type of corporations represented on their board of directors, mainly the timber and chemical industries. Many of the same organizations that support GBI have a long track record of fighting against environmental regulations.
  • Green Globes does not have any prerequisites. While this allows for flexibility in which criteria project teams choose to pursue, this may also allow project teams to exclude certain strategies that are imperative for high performance buildings, such as commissioning.
  •  BuildingGreen, an independent publishing company, has found that Green Globes is less technically rigorous than LEED. As a result, we question whether Green Globes will encourage the green building movement to continue to push the building and construction industry toward higher standards.
  •  There is less marketing and public relations potential. While Green Globes has received an increase in publicity over the past couple years, LEED is still the dominant green building rating system in the U.S.. With significantly less buildings pursuing Green Globes, we are unsure whether the certification will carry the same weight in the public eye as LEED.
Costs
According to GBI’s New Construction pricing list, the registration and certification fees will range from $10,500-$17,200. This does not include the price of certificates or plaques. The fine print for the Complexity Fee states that it is applicable for non-Energy Star building types and other multi-use/complex buildings that depart substantially from a standard office building. If applicable, GBI will notify customer of fee amount and whether the fee is optional or mandatory in advance of scheduling/performing services. GBI determines applicability in its sole discretion.
Due to a streamlined certification process, one would assume a cost and time savings for those gathering and submitting documentation. However, without having gone through the process ourselves, it will be hard to confirm whether this is true. Even if the consultant fees are reduced, the registration and certification fees are still much higher than LEED; therefore, the cost of certifying this hypothetical project (when compared to a LEED project of the same size and type) may end up as a wash for the owner.

Conclusion
After considering the advantages and disadvantages, we’ve decided that we cannot draw an objective conclusion about whether or not to use and promote Green Globes without gaining first-hand knowledge of administering the rating system ourselves. That said, we are intrigued enough to pursue a Green Globes project in order to make a well-informed conclusion on the credibility, rigor, and usability of this rating system. Until then, the question remains: to use or not to use Green Globes? What would you do?
References
Green Building Initiative (2014). Retrieved July 10, 2014, from http://www.thegbi.org/
BuildingGreen. 2014. Green Globes vs. LEED Analysis [Webinar]. Retrieved from http://www2.buildinggreen.com/article/buildinggreen-present-green-globes-vs-leed-analysis
Green Building Initiative. (2014). Green Globes Professional Training Manual.
General Services Administration (2014). Green Building Certification System Review. Retrieved July 9, 2014, from www.gsa.gov/gbcertificationreview
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No Difference in Occupant Satisfaction and LEED? Not so fast!

Associate Director
The Center for the Built Environment (CBE) at UC Berkley recently released a study in May 2014 suggesting that there is no difference in occupant satisfaction for LEED and non-LEED buildings.  Unfortunately, results like these can be easily taken at face value and are often misinterpreted by general audiences.
Upon further investigation and consideration of the study, there are a couple of important questions that should be raised about the construct, and ultimately the results, of the study.
Of the 15 IEQ parameters that the study assessed, only three are substantively addressed in the 2009 LEED for New Construction and Commercial Interiors credits: amount of light, air quality, and temperature.  The additional parameters center on cleanliness, maintenance, spatial design, and aesthetic, among others.
Light, air quality, and temperature are primarily addressed as credits in LEED, and not as prerequisites.  The CBE study does not indicate if the credits related to these attributes were achieved in the buildings evaluated in the study.  The study also included some buildings certified under the Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance rating system, which would include some additional parameters (e.g. building maintenance, workspace cleanliness), but even these attributes are a bit of a stretch.
Of the three areas that could arguably be addressed by LEED, responses were somewhat unfavorable related to amount of light in LEED buildings (likely related to energy conservation efforts), favorable for air quality (potentially due to ventilation and healthy materials credits that are included in LEED), and mostly neutral on temperature (which makes sense because thermal comfort is a key focus for any mechanical engineer who wants to cover his/her back on callbacks from unhappy owners).
So the first question is, “Is LEED even designed to affect occupant satisfaction?” I would argue that it is not.  LEED is primarily designed to 1) increase energy and water efficiency, 2) to encourage responsible site selection and development, 3) reduce impacts related to materials and 4) to create healthierbuildings for occupants.  Healthier is not the same as satisfied, as the two often include different factors, design solutions, and metrics for success.
A second point about methodology is that the researchers were primarily comparing Class A offices and institutional buildings to other Class A offices and institutional buildings.  One would argue that Class A design, is, well, Class A design.  That means that the starting point is already a pretty nice building, with decent designers and good mechanical systems.  Our experience on over 50 LEED projects would suggest that the pursuit of LEED generally doesn’t have much effect on decisions around furnishings, finishes, office layouts, etc. These types of design decisions are often dictated by programming and budget, and to a much lesser extent by LEED.
At the end of the day, I’m more concerned that the headlines and blog posts on this study will give people the wrong idea.  LEED really isn’t designed to affect the 15 IEQ factors that were measured in the CBE study.  LEED is, however, a great tool for adding focus and accountability for project teams to track and meet a whole host of relevant green building strategies.  Good design should not start with LEED; but through good design, prestigious certifications – and more importantly highly effective buildings – naturally follow.
A complete copy of the article published in Building and Environment can be found here.