Shades of Green: Measuring Success in Sustainability

How green is your sustainability project?  Says who??

In the field of sustainable building, rating systems and certifications have been springing up in abundance in the last few years.  There are so many systems for measuring “green” that it’s hard to know which one to use.  All offer extensive checklists, weighted points for doing different things, and require applications and large payments to get their certification.  All have standards for both new construction and retrofits of existing buildings.  Going through the certification process earns the building owner public-relations kudos and maybe a link on the certifier’s website.

Here are the sustainable building rating systems used which I have found so far to be commonly used in the United States:

LEED (Silver, Gold, Platinum) – Developed by the US Green Building Council in Washington DC, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is perhaps the best-know rating system in the US.

Green Globes Green Building Initiative – Coming from the UK to the US via Canada, the Green Globes system of 1 to 4 offers “a streamlined and affordable alternative to LEED”.

BuiltGreen – A local Seattle-area rating system developed by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties using 1 to 5 stars.

Passivhaus – PHIUS+ projects follow a German standard for airtight super-insulated buildings for ultra-low energy use.

Net Zero-Energy Building and Living Building Challenge are two related standards developed by the International Living Future Institute.

While many of these rating systems have a lot in common, proponents of each of these approaches seem to occasionally have differing and sometime conflicting opinions on what is or is not sustainability.  Behind each certification system is a different philosophy with slightly different priorities.

Shades of green

Shades of greens near Rifle, Colorado

Fortunately, as nature shows us, there is room in this world for many shades of green.