Facility Assessment

Which rating system is best for you?

By: Sydney Covey

Jan 27, 2020

At the rate information is shared today, how can one keep up with the green building rating systems in the marketplace? More importantly, as the owner, how do you decide which rating system makes the most sense for your project? When considering which green building rating system to choose there are a few things to consider.

Impact

Knowing what impact, if any, pursuing certification will have on the design and construction of your project is important because being able to commit to a rating system early on will mitigate large impacts. Rating systems like Green Globes are structured to follow construction codes that are industry standard; therefore, pursuing certification under that rating system may not have as great of an impact on the project. Unlike Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) there are no minimum requirements in Green Globes, so the rating system is often selected for projects that cannot meet the LEED prerequisites easily. Conversely, rating systems such as LEED (version 4), the WELL Building Standard, and Living Building Challenge (LBC) are designed to challenge the status quo in the built environment, so their impact on design and construction is imminent. Also, while the LBC rating system elevates the project from sustainable to restorative in all aspects of sustainability, this rating system is rigorous and a greater undertaking for the entire project team. Ensuring your project team has the resources for pursuing any rating system is important to the successful achievement of certification, and hiring a consultant to manage the process may be necessary.

Additionally, many sustainability choices made during design and construction will be directly connected to how the building is used during occupancy. Strategies such as zero waste or composting toilets will require changes in occupant behavior. Depending on your occupants, that may not be practical. A less disruptive strategy might be an enhanced recycling program and waterless urinals which stride toward sustainable occupancy, but with less impact on occupancy or maintenance.

Investment

The budget tolerance for pursuing green building certification will play a significant role in choosing the rating system. Not only will you consider the cost associated with different sustainability strategies (adding renewable energy, enhanced HVAC systems, etc.), but also the added fees from the Architect and Contractor associated with pursuing and achieving certification. Equally important, but often forgotten, each rating system has fees associated with registration, certification and/or verification. See the table below for a sample of registration and certification fees for the LEED, WELL, and LBC green building rating systems. Just like all the rating systems, Green Globes pricing varies, but project teams will pay for registration, assessor services, and assessments/certification. A quote for Green Globes third-party assessment and certification is available once project information is provided.

Rating System Minimum Registration and Certification Fees at 1,000 sq. ft. Registration and Certification Fees at 500,00 sq. ft.
LEED $6,568 $34,500
WELL $2,702 $231,770
LBC $3,400 $25,900
*Fees calculated July 2018 for New Commercial Construction Building, pricing will vary and are for demonstrative purposes only*

Although there will be varying initial cost impacts, operating a high-efficiency building will decrease your operating costs considerably through reduced energy and water use. Also, if you are leasing space in you building, tenants are favoring sustainable features in a space, therefore, lease rates are generally higher for green buildings. In a June 2018 Bisnow article, “The Business Case For Building Sustainably”, Mike Keating, Senior Vice President of Portfolio Management at Bentall Kennedy noted, “Many tenants will pay higher rents for sustainable properties and are happier in them, leading to higher retention rates, which directly impacts revenue.”  The article also noted, “Keating, who helps oversee a portfolio that is recognized as a global leader in sustainability, said operating expense savings and enhanced revenue make these sustainable buildings 8% to 10% more valuable than other properties.” As a result, your early investments in sustainable building practices could be recovered within a reasonable payback period. Further project assessment will determine your potential payback based on your project and investments.

Process

Certification and verification processes vary for each rating system. LEED requires a third-party review and a commitment to sharing energy and water consumption data with USGBC for 5 years. WELL requires a third-party review and a performance and verification process, including a site visit at least one month after 50% of expected occupancy. The building must also be recertified every 3 years. Green Globes requires a design phase online survey, a third-party design review, a construction phase online survey, a third-party on-site assessment, and a post occupancy assessment. LBC requires both the third-party review and a performance and verification process, but the performance period is 1 year. More important to you as the owner, is who will manage the monitoring and recertification during occupancy. If you do not have those resources, it would be best to select the rating system with minimal post-construction requirements.

What Matters Most

It is not just about design and construction; it is about what you as the owner want. Unless mandated by code or law, the owner makes the final decisions on whether to pursue green building certification or not. Your sustainability goals will ultimately drive the certification your project pursues. How the rating system aligns with your sustainability goals and how effective achievement of the certification will be at helping to reach those goals is important. A preliminary question to ask would be: “Are there sustainable features or practices that I want incorporated into the project regardless of pursuing certification?” While LEED tackles many sides of sustainability in the built environment, from Sustainable Sites to Indoor Air Quality, other rating systems such as WELL and LBC focus more on how the building impacts occupant experience with WELL features such as Mind and Nourishment, and LBC petals such as Health and Happiness and Equity.

A consultant or design team can help you transfer your sustainability goals to your project, but it is up to you as the owner to embody them and commit to their success into the future. Whether it is LEED, LBC, WELL, or Green Globes it’s important to be proud of your certifications and, more importantly, your building. Ultimately, the goal is to make an informed decision on the rating system that truly advances your corporate social responsibility and will assist you in achieving your sustainability goals.

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