Exploring the menu of green building certifications

This article is from our October 2015 Newsletter "Force of Nature". You can sign up to get the newsletter right here

Buildings didn't use to come with logos and certifications but it seems today that green building certifications are sprouting up all over the place. This is a brief look at what you may see out there; readers are encouraged to follow the links and learn more about the different approaches. 

One of the main reasons there are standards and certifications at all is because terms like "green" or "environmentally friendly" or even "natural" buildings are not regulated and can mean very different things in different circumstances. Standards may be set by governments or by organizations. 

According to the Whole Building Design Guide, the creation of Building Research Establishment's Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), was the first green building rating system in the U.K. BREEAM says it is the longest running system for assessing sustainable buildings. BREEAM is still used around the world, but is not widely used in Canada. BREEAM judges a number of things on a scale of "pass" to "outstanding" including, according to Wikipedia "energy and water use, health and wellbeing, pollution, transport, materials, waste, ecology and management processes."

More common in Canada is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED created by the United States Green Building Council. The Canadian Green Building Council also works to support and certify LEED buildings.  LEED may be the most used system in the world. LEED now covers a wide range of standards, not just for single buildings. LEED projects earn points across nine basic areas that address key aspects of green buildings: Integrative process, Location and transportation, Sustainable sites, Water efficiency,Energy and atmosphere Materials and resources, Indoor environmental quality, Innovation, Regional priority. Different points result in different ratings. Note that the points are not always rewarded to just the building but also the property (whole project).

The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is "comprised of seven performance categories called Petals: Place, Water, Energy, Health & Happiness, Materials, Equity and Beauty. Petals are subdivided into a total of twenty Imperatives, each of which focuses on a specific sphere of influence. This compilation of Imperatives can be applied to almost every conceivable building project, of any scale and any location—be it a new building or an existing structure.  . . .LBC 3.0 contains Net Positive Water, Net Positive Energy and Net Positive Waste. For all of these Imperatives regeneration is a core concept that requires the project to either produce more than it uses, treat more than it is responsible for, or use waste that is already in the waste stream."

Energy Star products are fairly common, but now there are Energy Star buildings.  "A new home that has earned the ENERGY STAR label has undergone a process of inspections, testing, and verification to meet strict requirements set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), delivering better quality, better comfort, and better durability" according to Energy Star. These homes must meet standards around thermal enclosures, heating and cooling, water management and lighting appliances. 

Passive House (PH) buildings follow a rigorous standard for energy efficiency, based on measurable results of air tightness and energy use on the building itself. As summed up in Wikipedia "The building must be designed to have an annual heating and cooling demand as calculated with the Passivhaus Planning Package of not more than 15 kWh/m² per year (4746 btu/ft² per year) in heating and 15 kWh/m² per year cooling energy OR to be designed with a peak heat load of 10W/m². Total primary energy (source energy for electricity, etc.) consumption (primary energy for heating, hot water and electricity) must not be more than 120 kWh/m² per year (37900 btu/ft² per year). The building must not leak more air than 0.6 times the house volume per hour (n50 ≤ 0.6 / hour) at 50 Pa (N/m²) as tested by a blower door."

In more plain language the building must be very air tight and well insulated and energy efficient.Some organizations are using different standards in different climates for PH, for more on this see here

See short video below for more information on how Passive House Works.  

As buildings get more efficient better and better standards are being pushed. With our without certifications, high standard of energy efficiency will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce operating costs, and promote healthier living in buildings.