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Green Building Standards and Certification Systems

by Stephanie Vierra, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP BD+C
Vierra Design & Education Services, LLC

Last updated: 10-27-2014


Buildings have extensive direct and indirect impacts on the environment. During their construction, occupancy, renovation, repurposing, and demolition, buildings use energy, water, and raw materials, generate waste, and emit potentially harmful atmospheric emissions. These facts have prompted the creation of green building standards, certifications, and rating systems aimed at mitigating the impact of buildings on the natural environment through sustainable design.

The push toward sustainable design increased in the 1990s with the creation of Building Research Establishment's Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), the first green building rating system in the U.K. In 2000, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) followed suit and developed and released criteria also aimed at improving the environmental performance of buildings through its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system for new construction. Since that first release, LEED has continued to grow in prominence and to include rating systems for existing buildings and entire neighborhoods. Others also responded to the growing interest and demand for sustainable design including the Green Building Initiative (GBI), which was created to assist the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) in promoting its Green Building Guidelines for Residential Structures. Although originally developed for Canada, GBI helped to make Green Globes available for use in the U.S. in 2005. Additional rating systems have been developed that were influenced by these early programs but are tailored to their own national priorities and requirements or seek to go beyond the limits of current policy and building practices to address broader issues of sustainability or evolving concepts such as net zero energy, and living and restorative building concepts that improve the natural environment, or those that model nature's processes.

Green product standards also began to appear in the marketplace in the 1980s and increased in the 1990s. Initially, many green product standards were developed in response to growing concerns for product toxicity and its impact on children's health and indoor environmental quality (IEQ). In the 21st century, when growing concerns over global warming and resource depletion became more prominent and supported by research, the number and type of green product standards and certifications grew. The focus also expanded to include a broader range of environmental issues and the impacts of products during their manufacture, use, and reuse. While there is still no universal definition of a green product, these products are intended to meet claims that they offer environmental benefits and adhere to certain standards. (See also Use Greener Materials)

There is now a proliferation of standards, rating, and certification programs in the marketplace to help guide, demonstrate, and document efforts to deliver sustainable, high-performance buildings. It is estimated that there are nearly 600 green product certifications in the world with nearly 100 in use in the U.S., and the numbers continue to grow (Source: Building Green). There are also green building rating programs in use around the world and they vary in their approach with some outlining prerequisites and optional credits, while others take a prescriptive approach, and still others suggest performance-based requirements that can be met in different ways for different products and project types. As a result, it can be challenging and time consuming determining which standards, certifications, and rating programs are most credible and applicable to a particular project. This page will provide an introduction to some commonly used terms and an overview of the most widely recognized green building product standards, and building rating and certification programs currently in use with an emphasis on how they vary and some of the issues to consider when selecting them.


A. Building Standards

A standard is a set of guidelines and criteria against which a product can be judged. Common standards related to building practices are created through consensus processes by organizations such as ANSI, ASTM, or ASHRAE. Supporting the governance of standards and certifications is the International Standards Organization (ISO), which defines and develops worldwide standards that frequently become law or form the basis of industry norms. ISO defines a standard as: "a document, established by consensus, approved by a recognized body that provides for common and repeated use as rules, guidelines, or characteristics for activities or their results."

Requirements found in standards may either be prescriptive (identifying methods of achievement) or performance based (stating expectations of end results). Consensus based standards, those developed through a formal, voluntary consensus process that is exemplified by an open and due process have immediate buy-in, government support, and international influence. According to the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act (NTTAA) federal agencies are required by law to adopt existing private-sector voluntary consensus standards instead of creating proprietary, non-consensus standards. Standards frequently serve as incentives for improved performance. Many of the green product standards available today are proprietary or regulatory standards that have been developed outside of the formal ANSI and ISO consensus process. These types of standards may be more or less stringent than consensus standards and can include some level of transparency and public comment. However, many of these types of standards are trusted because they are associated with a group that has strong environmental credentials.

The ANSI/ASHRAE/USGBC/IES Standard 189.1, Standard for the Design of High Performance Green Buildings except Low-Rise Residential Buildings provides minimum requirements for site, design, construction and operations in mandatory, code-enforceable language. This standard is comprehensive and includes chapters for site, water, energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, and materials. The International Green Construction Code (IgCC) is intended to be used as a jurisdictional and municipal building code for new construction and major renovations. The IGCC is a comprehensive code document setting standards for energy conservation, water efficiency, and commissioning, and also includes enforcement procedures and guidelines for existing building renovations. Expected delivery of the IgCC is early 2012. For a detailed description on these and many other building codes and standards that address sustainability goals and requirements, see the Relevant Codes and Standards section below and Energy Codes and Standards.

B. Green Product Certifications

A certification is a confirmation that a product meets defined criteria of a standard. ISO defines certification as: "any activity concerned with determining directly or indirectly that relevant requirements are fulfilled."

Green product certifications are intended to outline and confirm that a product meets a particular standard and offers an environmental benefit. Many product labels and certification programs certify products based on life-cycle parameters, making them multi-attribute programs. These parameters include energy use, recycled content, and air and water emissions from manufacturing, disposal, and use. Others focus on a single attribute, such as water, energy, or chemical emissions that directly impact IEQ.

A green product certification is considered most respected when an independent third party is responsible for conducting the product testing and awarding the certification. Third-party means they are independent of the product manufacturer, contractor, designer, and specifier. Third-party labels and green product certification programs can be helpful in evaluating the attributes of green products because they validate that the product meets certain industry-independent standards. They can also offer greater assurance to consumers, designers, specifiers, and others that a product's marketing claims accurately reflect its green attributes. Many product certifications are also recognized within comprehensive green building rating systems such as LEED, Green Globes, and the National Green Building Standard. As a result, green product certifications are on the rise as market conditions change and the demand for greener products continues to increase. It is important to note that greenwashing, which is defined as the use of green claims that are not true or are unverifiable but used to sell products or a corporate image, has become commonplace as companies try to stay competitive in the green marketplace.

To fully understand what a green certification represents and the quality of information it provides, the details of its requirements need to be reviewed carefully. The ISO defines different types of labels that can be used for products. Below is an outline of the ISO-defined labels and what is being claimed. Product certifications available in the U.S. are mostly Type I and Type II labels while Type III labels are now required in France and becoming more common in Europe and for those U.S. manufacturers with an international focus.

ISO-defined Types of Green Product Certification Labels

TypeISO NumberWhat the label does
Type IISO 14024Seal of approval for multi-attribute requirements
Type IIISO 14021Verifiable single-attribute environmental claims for issues such as energy consumption, emissions, or recycled content. Can be first-party, self-declared manufacturer claims. However many manufacturers are beginning to seek third-party verification of those claims in response to industry demand.
Type IIIISO >14025Comprehensive environmental product disclosure and detailed product information. Similar to an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD)

Summary of Green Product Certifications

The following table, and the expanded information directly below it, outlines some of the most commonly used and respected green product certifications in the marketplace. Please see the Additional Resources section for more information on other programs not included in this page.

Product CertificationSingle- or Multi-AttributeType of Standard or CertificationManaging OrganizationIssue of Focus
Energy StarSingle-AttributeGovernment certification relying on manufacturer-provided data or third-party testingU.S. EPA and U.S. DOEEnergy consuming products
WaterSenseSingle-AttributeGovernment label based on third-party testingU.S. EPAShowerheads, toilets, faucets, urinals, and valves
Forest Stewardship CouncilSingle-AttributeThird-party certificationForest Stewardship Council (FSC)Forests and forestry products
SCS Global ServicesMulti-AttributeThird-party certificationSCS Global ServicesWide range of products ( i.e. carpets, textiles, wood products, insulation, and more)
Green SealMulti-AttributeThird-party ISO Type 1 certificationGreen SealWide range of sectors (paints, adhesives, lamps, electric chillers, windows, window films, occupancy sensors)
Cradle to CradleMulti-AttributeThird-party certification, Cradle to Cradle CertifiedCM Product Standard is managed and updated by the Institute’s Certification Standards BoardCradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute C2CPIIBuilding materials, interior design products, textiles and fabrics, paper and packaging, and personal and homecare products
GreenguardMulti-attributeThird party certificationUL EnvironmentIndoor air quality, children and schools focus

Single-Attribute Product Certifications


energy star logo

ENERGY STAR—First established in 1992 as a voluntary labeling program, Energy Star is a widely recognized government-run product certification label for energy efficient products. It is a joint program of the U.S. EPA and DOE. Energy Star-certified products include appliances, heating and cooling equipment, lighting, home electronics, commercial roofing, and office equipment. Energy Star standards are generally updated and made more stringent every two years. (See also Single-Attribute Building Rating System below.)

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 requires federal agencies to buy either Energy Star products or products designated as energy efficient by the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP), for which the requirements are included in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Subpart 23.203. Executive Order 13423 requires federal agencies to activate Energy Star "sleep" features on computers and monitors and mandates that federal agencies buy EPEAT* registered products. (For more information addressing federal requirements for Energy Star, click here)

watersense logo

WaterSense—a partnership program by the U.S. EPA, WaterSense seeks to protect the future of our nation's water supply by offering people a simple way to use less water with water-efficient products, new homes, and services. Established in 2006 for water-efficient products, the program seeks to help consumers make smart water choices that save money and maintain high environmental standards without compromising performance. WaterSense products and services that have earned the label must be at least 20 percent more efficient without sacrificing performance. Look for the "WaterSense: Meets EPA Criteria" label, not just "WaterSense Partner". The "partner" label indicates that an organization or manufacturer has signed an agreement with EPA to promote water efficiency but does not address performance of a specific product.

Executive Order 13423 requires federal agencies to implement water-efficiency measures, including the purchase, installation, and implementation of water-efficient products and practices. Beginning in fiscal year 2008, agencies must reduce water consumption intensity, relative to their fiscal year 2007 baseline, through cost-effective life-cycle measures by 2 percent annually (or 16 percent total) by the end of fiscal year 2015.

forest stewardship council logo

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)—is a third-party certification program established in 1993 with the goal of promoting responsible forestry and certifying the resulting wood products. The standard is managed by the FSC while certification is awarded by third parties such as the Rainforest Alliance and Scientific Certification Systems. There are different standards for different forest products (FSC pure, FSC mixed, and FSC recycled) and different regions. The FSC chain of custody is a requirement of certification that follows the path of the wood product from forest to consumer. The FSC program uses a specific, prescriptive approach and provides assurance of good environmental and social stewardship of forests.

sce global services logo

SCS Global Services—is a third-party certification of claims for recycled content, biodegradable liquid products, and no-added formaldehyde products. SCS Global Services is a long-respected certifier that backs its certifications with vigorous and transparent standards. A number of products with this certification meet indoor air quality, recycled content, and FSC chain-of-custody requirements within green building rating systems such as LEED.

Multi-Attribute Product Certifications


green seal logo

Green Seal—is a third-party certification and labeling program that covers a wide range of products with sector-specific requirements, particularly consumable items for building operations. Green Seal has been certifying products since 1992 and is an ISO 14024 Type I program. Green Seal considers the impacts of a product over its entire life cycle when developing a standard. Building products covered include paints, adhesives, lamps, electric chillers, windows, window films, and occupancy sensors. Green Seal is referenced in several LEED rating systems, and cleaning products for industrial and institutional use are referenced in LEED for Existing Buildings in Operations and Maintenance.

cradle-to-cradle logo

The Cradle to Cradle CertifiedCM program is a third party, multi-attribute eco-label administered by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute that assesses a product’s safety to humans and the environment and design for future life cycles. The program provides guidelines to help businesses implement the Cradle to Cradle framework, which focuses on using safe materials that can be disassembled and recycled as technical nutrients or composted as biological nutrients. Unlike single-attribute eco-labels, the Cradle to Cradle Certified program takes a comprehensive approach to evaluating the design of a product and the practices employed in manufacturing the product. The materials and manufacturing practices of each product are assessed in five categories: Material Health, Material Reutilization, Renewable Energy Use, Water Stewardship, and Social Responsibility.

greenguard logo

Greenguard—is a third-party certification and label established in 2001. Greenguard Children and Schools certification complies with California Section 01350, calling for emissions at half of California's more stringent thresholds. Greenguard certifies that a product meets thresholds for formaldehyde, total aldehydes, total volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and one-tenth of the threshold limit value (a regulatory benchmark) for many other compounds. The Greenguard Environmental Institute certifies products that comply with their rigorous formaldehyde, emissions, and chemical testing requirements.

C. Green Building Rating and Certification Systems

Both standards and product certifications may play a role in determining the level of sustainability or performance of a product. However, each must be considered as part of a larger process of integrating them into the overall project goals to ensure the entire project is sustainable.

Green building rating or certification systems broaden the focus beyond the product to consider the project as a whole. Rating systems are a type of building certification system that rates or rewards relative levels of compliance or performance with specific environmental goals and requirements. Rating systems and certification systems are frequently used interchangeably.

Green building rating and certification systems require an integrated design process to create projects that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building's life-cycle: from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition. A few of these programs are single-attribute, focusing solely on water or energy, while others are multi-attribute addressing emissions, toxicity, and overall environmental performance in addition to water and energy. While the philosophy, approach, and certification method vary across these the systems, a common objective is that projects awarded or certified within these programs are designed to reduce the overall impact of the built environment on human health and the natural environment.

Green building rating systems exist to address every project type from single-family houses and commercial buildings to entire neighborhoods. There are rating systems available for new construction, which focus on decisions made in the planning and design process and actions taken through construction, as well as for existing buildings, which focus on operations and maintenance throughout the life of the building. A primary reason for the creation of rating systems is the need to more clearly define, implement, and measure green. Federal, state, and municipal agencies across the country such as the General Services Administration (GSA), Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency, have taken an early lead in incorporating energy efficiency and sustainability by following green building guidelines in the design, construction, and renovation of Federal facilities. Most states and many major cities have also incorporated green into their internal building requirements for new construction.

To determine which standard, certification, or rating system should be used, ask the following:

  • Who the organization is that is making the assessment?
  • Is it being done by a first-party, second-party, or third-party?

A first-party assessment is one that comes directly from an organization that is associated with the entity making the claim or who may benefit from the claim. A second-party assessment is performed by an interested party such as a trade association. A third-party assessment is conducted by an independent party that has no financial interest or ties to the outcome of the assessment.

According to RSMeans there are four principles that should be considered when evaluating a building rating or certification system:

  • Science-based — Results and decisions must be reproducible by others using the same standard.
  • Transparent — Standards and process for awarding the certification should be transparent and open for examination.
  • Objective — Certification body should be free of conflict.
  • Progressive — Standards should advance industry practices, not simply reward business as usual.

Why Pursue a Green Building Rating or Certification?

The reasons for pursuing a green building certification for a project are varied. Certification through any rating system provides verification of the green nature of the project, and can be a valuable educational and marketing tool for owners and design and construction teams through the process of creating a more sustainable building. Green building certification can also be a way to provide an incentive for clients, owners, designers, and users to develop and promote highly sustainable construction practices. It is important to note that a building does not have to be certified to be sustainable and well-built.

The guidelines within rating systems also help to clarify a market filled with "green" options. Rating systems also clearly outline what green standards need to be followed and what types of green products should be included in construction specifications.

Ultimately, the type of certification system pursued for a project depends upon that singular project; none of these certification systems are one-size-fits all. The dynamic nature of projects might prohibit one system but favor another. The choice is dependent upon the uniqueness of each project and the project needs and requirements such as the project location, size, budget, and overall project goals. Also comparing essential issues such as cost, ease of use, and building performance will help determine which building rating system is applicable and which certification level is possible.

Building rating and certification systems are in a state of change and evolution and continue to be refined to reflect new standards and goals for achieving ever higher levels of sustainability. So it is essential to investigate the most current versions of these programs to gain an understanding of particular requirements that must be met in order to achieve the best results.

Benefits of Using Green Building Standards and Certification Systems

There are a wide range of economic and environmental benefits to sustainable design, often achieved through the use of standards, rating, and certification systems. According to a study of LEED certified buildings, the USGBC has found that energy, carbon, water, and waste can be reduced, resulting in savings of 30 to 97% respectively. Operating costs of green buildings can also be reduced by 8-9% while increasing in value up to 7.5%. Many sustainable buildings have also seen increases of up to 6.6% on return on investment, 3.5% increases in occupancy, and rent increases of 3%. Other benefits of green buildings, such as higher productivity and increased occupant health, have been attributed to better indoor environmental quality, increases in natural daylighting, and healthier materials and products within green buildings.

In a similar study by the GSA (PDF 11.19 MB), 12 sustainable buildings that were analyzed from a whole building perspective cost less to operate, have excellent energy performance, and have occupants that are more satisfied with the overall building than the occupants in typical commercial buildings. The 12 GSA buildings were compared to industry standard performance of energy, water, maintenance and operations, waste, recycling, transportation, and occupant satisfaction metrics.

While these benefits are possible, it is important to note that they are dependent upon factors such as climate, topography, timing, credit synergies, and local building standards.

Summary of Green Building Rating and Certification Systems

The following table and the expanded information directly below it outlines several of the most commonly used and respected green building rating and certification systems in the marketplace.

Building Rating or Certification SystemSingle- or Multi- AttributeType of Standard or CertificationManaging OrganizationIssues / Areas of Focus
Energy StarSingle-AttributeGovernment certification using a benchmarking methodU.S. EPA and U.S. DOEBuilding energy and water use
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)Multi-AttributeGreen building rating and certification system through independent third-party verification for:
  • New Construction (NC)
  • Existing Buildings, Operations & Maintenance (EB O&M)
  • Commercial Interiors (CI)
  • Core & Shell (CS)
  • Schools (SCH)
  • Retail
  • Healthcare (HC)
  • Homes
  • Neighborhood Development (ND)
U.S. Green Building CouncilPerformance in:
  • Sustainable Sites
  • Water Efficiency
  • Energy & Atmosphere
  • Materials & Resources
  • Indoor Environmental Quality
  • Locations & Linkages
  • Awareness & Education
  • Innovation in Design
  • Regional Priority through a set of prerequisites and credits
Green GlobesMulti-AttributeGreen building guidance and assessment program for:
  • Existing buildings
  • New construction
Green Building Initiative in the U.S.
BOMA Canada
Environmental assessment areas to earn credits in:
  • Energy
  • Indoor Environment
  • Site
  • Water
  • Resources
  • Emissions
  • Project/Environmental Management

No prerequisites
Living Building ChallengeMulti-AttributePerformance-based standard, and certification program for:
  • Landscape and infrastructure projects
  • Partial renovations and complete building renewals
  • New building construction
  • Neighborhood, campus and community design
International Living Future InstitutePerformance areas include:
  • Site
  • Water
  • Energy
  • Materials
  • Health
  • Equity
  • Beauty

All areas are requirements.
International Programs
(Hong Kong)
Multi-AttributeComprehensive standard and supporting process covering all building types, including mixed use complexes, both new and existing to assess, improve, certify, and label the environmental performance of buildingsBusiness Environment CouncilPerformance and assessment in:
  • Site aspects
  • Material aspects
  • Water use
  • Energy use
  • Indoor environmental quality
  • Innovations and additions
(UK, EU, EFTA member states, EU candidates, as well as the Persian Gulf)
Multi-AttributeCertification system is a multi-tiered process with pre-assessment, third-party consultant guidance through an assessment organization for:
  • New Construction
  • Communities
  • In Use Buildings and
  • EcoHomes
BRE GlobalAssessment uses recognized measures of performance, which are set against established benchmarks in:
  • Energy and water use
  • Internal environment (health and well-being)
  • Pollution
  • Transport
  • Materials
  • Waste
  • Ecology and
  • Management processes
Multi-AttributeBuilding assessment tools for
  • Pre-design
  • New Construction
  • Existing Building and
  • Renovation
JSBC (Japan Sustainable Building Consortium) and its affiliated sub-committeesAssessment areas include:
  • Energy efficiency
  • Resource efficiency
  • Local environment, and
  • Indoor environment
Green Mark Scheme
Multi-AttributeBenchmarking scheme that aims to achieve a sustainable built environment by incorporating best practices in environmental design and construction, and the adoption of green building technologies.Building and Construction Authority (BCA)Rates buildings according to five key criteria:
  • Energy efficiency
  • Water efficiency
  • Environmental protection
  • Indoor environmental quality, and
  • Other green and innovative features that contribute to better building performance.
Green Star SA
(South Africa)
Multi-AttributeGreen building rating system for:
  • Office
  • Retail
  • Multi-unit residential
Green Building Council of South Africa administers program
Independent assessors to assess and score projects
Categories assessed in:
  • Management
  • Indoor Environmental Quality
  • Energy
  • Transport
  • Water
  • Materials
  • Land Use & Ecology
  • Emissions
  • Innovation
Pearl Rating System for Estidama
Multi-AttributeGreen building rating system for:
  • Community
  • Buildings
  • Villas
  • Temporary Villas and Buildings
Abu Dhabi Urban Planning CouncilAssessment of performance in:
  • Integrated Development Process
  • Natural Systems
  • Livable Communities
  • Precious Water
  • Resourceful Energy
  • Stewarding Materials
  • Innovating Practice

Single-Attribute Green Building Rating Systems


energy star logo

Energy Star Rating System—is a rating system created by the U.S. EPA and DOE that uses a benchmarking method to assess a building's energy and water use. (Please note that Energy Star also has a product certification program. (See also Single-Attribute Product Certification above.)

As stated on the ENERGY STAR website, "statistically representative models are used to compare your building against similar buildings from a national survey conducted by the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration. This national survey, known as the Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS), is conducted every four years, and gathers data on building characteristics and energy use from thousands of buildings across the United States. Your building's peer group of comparison are those buildings in the CBECS survey that have similar building and operating characteristics. A rating of 50 indicates that the building, from an energy consumption standpoint, performs better than 50% of all similar buildings nationwide, while a rating of 75 indicates that the building performs better than 75% of all similar buildings nationwide."

To receive an Energy Star rating, a project's energy usage must be tracked with the online Portfolio Manager and receive a score of 75 or more.

Multi-Attribute Green Building Rating Systems

Outlined below are the building rating systems most commonly in use within the U.S. in the private and public sectors. Additionally, international programs are included to provide a reference point for those developing projects outside the U.S.

leed logo

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)—was created in 2000 by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), for rating design and construction practices that would define a green building in the United States. LEED is used throughout North America as well as in more than 30 countries with over 6,300 projects currently certified across the globe and over 21,000 projects registered. As of September 2010, over 35 state governments, 380 cities and towns, and 58 counties (PDF 267 KB have enacted sustainable legislation, ordinances, or policies, many of which specifically call for LEED certification.

LEED consists of credits which earn points in 7 categories: Site Selection, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, Regional Priority, and Innovation in Design. One hundred points are available across these categories with mandatory prerequisites such as minimum energy and water-use reduction, recycling collection, and tobacco smoke control. Within each category are credits that pertain to specific strategies for sustainability, such as the use of low-emitting products, reduced water consumption, energy efficiency, access to public transportation, recycled content, renewable energy, and daylighting. Since its inception, LEED standards have become more stringent as the market has changed and expanded to include distinct rating systems that address different building types: New Construction, Existing Buildings, Commercial Interiors, Core & Shell, Schools, Retail, Healthcare, Homes, and Neighborhood Development.

The LEED certification process takes place at LEED Online. Project teams are required to compile documentation to show compliance with LEED requirements and upload this documentation to the LEED Online website. The documentation is then reviewed by the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI); a LEED certification is earned if all prerequisites and a sufficient number of credits are earned. There are four levels of LEED certification: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. There are no on-site visits required and certification can occur upon completion of construction. [link to:;]

green globes logo

Green Globes—originated in Canada and was brought to the U.S. by the Green Building Initiative (GBI) in 2004. It is now cited in many Federal, State, and Municipal mandates.

Buildings are rated on a 1,000 point scale spread across seven categories: Energy, Indoor Environment, Site, Water, Resources, Emissions, and Project/Environmental Management. Users can indicate that certain credits may not be applicable to a project, a feature unique to Green Globes. It also does not have prerequisites. A Green Globes rating requires a Green Globes Assessor to perform an onsite assessment of the building. This ensures that the self-reported claims made in the online documentation are verified. Both new construction and existing buildings can be evaluated using Green Globes; commercial or multifamily.

The first step toward a Green Globes certification is completing a self-reported online assessment survey, which is required at various stages throughout design and construction. At the construction documents phase and after substantial completion, a Green Globes Assessor will perform a site visit to verify the claims made in the survey. A Green Globes certification of one through four globes can then be earned once verification is confirmed.

living building challenge logo

Living Building Challenge (LBC)—is a performance-based system initially launched by the Cascadia Green Building Council. In April 2011, the International Living Future Institute became the umbrella organization for both the Cascadia Green Building Council and the Living Building Challenge.

The LBC makes stringent demands such as 100% net zero energy, 100% net zero water, on-site renewable energy, and 100% recycling or diversion of construction waste. It examines site, water, energy, materials, health, equity, and beauty. All of its tenets are mandatory making it the most rigorous green building certification system in the market today. An on-site audit must occur by a member of the International Living Building Institute (ILBI)

After online registration, projects must join the living building community where discussions concerning compliance are held, and documentation occurs. Certification occurs twelve months after project completion, with an on-site audit to ensure compliance.

International Green Building Rating Systems

There are many international green building design systems that also set up their criteria through a nationalistic focus, keeping local standards and codes in mind. They include:

BEAM—Based in Hong Kong, BEAM is a comprehensive standard and supporting process covering all building types, including existing and newly constructed mixed use complexes. BEAM is an initiative that assesses, improves, certifies, and labels the environmental performance of buildings. It is a voluntary program developed in partnership with, and adopted by the industry. BEAM is intended to: stimulate demand for more sustainable buildings in Hong Kong and other regions, giving recognition for improved performance and minimizing false claims; provide a common set of performance standards that can be pursued by developers, designers, architects, engineers, contractors and operators; reduce the environmental impacts of buildings throughout the planning, design, construction, management and demolition life cycle; and increase awareness in the building community, and ensure that environmental considerations are integrated at the beginning of a project.

BEAM assessments are currently undertaken by the Business Environment Council (BEC), an independent, nonprofit, environmental information center, under the guidance of the BEAM Society Executive Committee. Certification can only be issued upon building completion due to a significant number of credits being based on actions taken during construction and upon completion.

Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM)—has served as the basis for many of the green building certification systems. It was the first building rating system to be established and has been in use since 1990 throughout the UK, EU, EFTA member states, EU candidates, as well as the Persian Gulf. Due to its longevity, its use is widespread and its certification highly recognized. BREEAM ratings are required for many governmental organizations throughout these countries and there are currently over 100,000 BREEAM-rated buildings. BREEAM is a multi-attribute rating system that awards credits for categories such as management, energy, transport, material and waste, and pollution.

The BREEAM application and certification system is a multi-tiered process with pre-assessment, third-party consultant guidance through an assessment organization, of which there are over 1,000 in the UK alone, and the approval process. BREEAM has stipulated that projects must be certified within five years of registration.

CASBEE—in Japan is composed of four assessment tools corresponding to the building life cycle. "CASBEE Family" is the collective name for these four tools and the expanded tools for specific purposes. The CASBEE assessment tools are CASBEE for Pre-design, CASBEE for New Construction, CASBEE for Existing Building and CASBEE for Renovation, to serve at each stage of the design process. Each tool is intended for a separate purpose and target user, and is designed to accommodate a wide range of uses (offices, schools, apartments, etc.) in the evaluated buildings.

CASBEE covers the assessment fields of energy efficiency, resource efficiency, local environment, and indoor environment. Both indoor and outdoor spaces are considered as part of the assessment but are assessed separately.

Green Mark—Based in Singapore, Green Mark was launched by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) in January 2005 to promote environmental awareness in the construction and real estate sectors. The BCA Green Mark Scheme rates buildings according to five key criteria including: energy efficiency, water efficiency, environmental protection, indoor environmental quality, and other green and innovative features that contribute to better building performance. The program outlines a six step scheme that also offers cash incentives to developers, especially focused on addressing improvements to existing construction in areas such as energy use reduction and materials conservation.

Green Star SA—was developed by The Green Building Council of South Africa, and is based on the Australian Green Building Council tools to provide the property industry with an objective measurement for green buildings and to recognize and reward environmental leadership in the property industry. Each rating tool reflects a different market sector (office, retail, multi-unit residential, etc.). The objectives of the Green Star SA rating tools are to: establish a common language and standard of measurement for green buildings, promote integrated, whole building design, raise awareness of green building benefits, recognize environmental leadership, and reduce the environmental impact of development.

Green Star SA Certification is a formal process which involves a project using a Green Star SA rating tool to guide the design or construction process during which a documentation-based submission must be submitted as proof of the achievement. A "Design" certification can be submitted for and awarded at the end of the design phase of the project. At the end of construction, a project can submit for and be awarded "As Built" certification, certifying that all green building strategies were in fact incorporated into the final building. The Certified Rating can be achieved prior to practical completion, but must be achieved no later than 24 months after practical completion. As Built submissions must be submitted after practical completion, and the Certified Rating must be achieved no later than 24 months after practical completion.

Pearl Rating System for Estidama—Estidama, which means 'sustainability' in Arabic, is intended to be the initiative which will transform Abu Dhabi into a model of sustainable urbanization. Its aim is to create more sustainable communities, cities, and global enterprises and to balance the four pillars of Estidama: environmental, economic, cultural, and social. The Pearl Rating System for Estidama aims to address the sustainability of a given development throughout its life cycle from design through construction to operation. Accordingly, three rating stages have been established: Design, Construction, and Operational.

Within each section there are both mandatory and optional credits and credit points are awarded for each optional credit achieved. To achieve a 1 Pearl rating, all the mandatory credit requirements must be met. To achieve a higher Pearl rating, all the mandatory credit requirements must be met along with a minimum number of credit points.

Emerging Issues

New green technologies and materials are always being developed and entering into the marketplace to complement current practices in creating greener environments. Many of these technologies and materials have not been tested long enough in the built environment in order to fully verify their performance. Seek extensive testing and performance data before incorporating new technologies and materials into a project. Also, test beyond the product's green performance for safety, durability, and fire resistance standards from UL and ETL.

New and more stringent requirements will continue to be introduced to the standards and certifications process. Because of the toxicity of some pesticides and fire retardants, and additional means of exposure, testing and certifying beyond product emissions to product content is a trend that will likely increase.

Over the last several years there has also been a shift away from a prescriptive approach to sustainable design toward the scientific evaluation of actual performance through Life Cycle Assessments (LCA). While LCAs are not yet a consistent requirement of green building rating systems and codes, there is a trend toward requiring LCAs and improving the methods for conducting them.

Relevant Codes and Standards

Federal Mandates, Acts, and Executive Orders

International Code Council

  • International Green Construction Code (IgCC). The IgCC is intended to be used as a jurisdictional and municipal building code for new construction and major renovations. The IGCC is a comprehensive code document; it sets standards for energy conservation, water efficiency, and commissioning, and also includes enforcement procedures and guidelines for existing building renovations. Expected delivery of the IgCC is early 2012. See the ICC Web site for more information.
  • ICC 700 National Green Building Standard. The standard defines green building for single-family and multi-family homes, residential remodeling, and site development projects while allowing enough flexibility to incorporate regionally appropriate best green practices.

ASHRAE Standards

Water-related Legislation and Codes

Material-related Legislation

Municipal Standards

Many cities, states, and U.S. Territories have also implemented green standards for public buildings. [Link:]. Every city's, state's, and U.S. Territory's energy goals and requirements are listed, highlighting LEED, Green Globes, and carbon emission reduction goals. New York City and California are two examples of governments that have implemented green standards for public buildings.


California has implemented green building standards for all major renovations and new construction of public buildings. EO S-3-05 calls to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. To accomplish this goal, EO S-20-04 requires all state buildings to reduce energy usage by 20% and achieve a minimum of a Silver LEED rating.

New York City

New York City's Local Law 86 requires LEED certification for public buildings with construction costs exceeding $2 million. The NYC Greener, Greater Buildings Plan is another example of NYC's commitment to sustainability. It requires a combination of benchmarking, energy audits, retro-commissioning, lighting upgrades and sub-metering for the city's largest buildings.

Additional Resources


Building Types / Space Types

Applicable to all Building Types and Space Types

Design Objectives

Aesthetics, Cost-Effective, Sustainable

Products and Systems

Building Envelope Design Guide—Sustainability of the Building Envelope, Federal Green Construction Guide for Specifiers

Project Management

Building Commissioning