Leading Sustainability Certifications

Sustainable building as a concept sounds easy – use less impactful materials that require less energy, be resilient yet healthy for human occupancy, and do it all at a cost that’s reasonable. How do we determine a “sustainable building” objectively? What does that building look like? As interest grows in the sustainable building movement, the need to understand in consistent methodologies what is sustainable and what isn’t has come to the forefront. Also, in our constant human competitive nature, we want to know how our building measures up against others’ buildings…so a scoring system was needed to compare. This is how we came to sustainable building certifications.

The first sustainable building rating system came to be in 1990 in the United Kingdom. BREEAM (, or Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology, was started and is administered by the Building Research Establishment (BRE). BREEAM is now used on a global basis on many different building types from commercial to residential to governmental and in both new construction or refurbishment. BREEAM has always taken a more life cycle approach to their whole building evaluation areas and looks at the management, water, energy, transport, health & wellbeing, resources, resilience, land use & ecology, pollution, materials, waste and innovation. The project is then scored on a percentage basis on how they achieved the criteria, with ratings of “Pass” (in-use scheme only), “Good” (2 stars), “Very Good” (3 stars), “Excellent” (4 stars), and “Outstanding” (5 stars) which is for projects that achieve a greater than or equal to score of 85%. There are around 535,000 buildings BREEAM certified around the world as of early 2024.

Not to be left behind, a group of U.S. based organizations along with federal government representatives started the US Green Building Council in 1993. This collective along with a group of volunteers and some early funding from the US Department of Energy developed what became the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED - rating system in 1998. There have been 4 editions of the LEED rating system with a multitude of versions within each edition. There have also been numerous specific building type rating systems over the years, but in recent years has focused on New Construction, Core and Shell, Commercial Interiors, and Existing Buildings. The credit category criteria have fluctuated, but has traditionally covered the building’s location and transportation, sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality. Each credit category has required prerequisites and optional credit gathering criteria. No level of certification is possible without meeting the prerequisites, and then projects can achieve certifications levels including Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. At the time of publishing, there is also a proposed LEED v5 in development. As of 2023, there are around 105,000 LEED certified buildings around the world.

The Living Building Challenge (LBC) ( is a building certification program that has started to gain more attention in recent years. The certification program was originally published by the Cascadia Green Building Council in 2006, now also partially overseen by the International Living Building Institute since 2009 The Living Building Challenge (LBC) ( is a building certification program that has started to gain more attention in recent years. The certification program was originally published by the Cascadia Green Building Council in 2006, now also partially overseen by the International Living Building Institute since 2009. . The stated goal of the certification is to foster a regenerative built environment. The programs is built on a framework based on petals of a flower - petals include place, water, energy, health and happiness, materials, equity and beauty. Projects can include a multitude of use types and be existing or new builds. Certification levels for the Living Building Challenge include Living Certification, Core Certification, and Petal Certification, with “Living” being the highest achievement. To realize the full certification, a new building must meet all 20 imperatives while other types of buildings may only have certain imperatives required for its typology. The Core certification requires that a building achieves the 10 core LBC imperatives. Petal certification is where the building meets all 10 core LBC imperatives and in addition achieves all the imperatives in one or more of the water, energy, or materials petals. This would allow the building to be certified to a certain petal. As of 2024 there are 250 certified buildings and 500 pursuing certifications.

Green Globes is a system that has its roots, like many of the systems around the world, in BREEAM. In 1996, development began and by 2000 it was an online questionnaire for existing buildings. In 2004 the Green Building Initiative (GBI) was founded and acquired the US rights to the Green Globes system which it now manages for the US and Canada. The rating system currently has certification programs for commercial new construction, existing buildings, core & shell, sustainable interiors and multifamily new construction and existing building. In 2005 the GBI became an accredited standards developer by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), allowing their building certification systems to be recognized in a national consensus process. The assessment areas for certification include project management, site, energy, water efficiency, materials, and indoor environment. Projects are rated on a points system and awarded either one green globe, two green globes, three green globes, or four green globes. As of 2024 there are over 3500 projects certified to the Green Globes system.

Many of the countries around the world have their own green building councils that have created their own sustainable building rating systems. Many of them work along the same principles of looking at operational energy, water used, location of the building, indoor environmental quality, and materials used. Some have multiple system considerations within them, with different criteria for the type of building use (i.e., residential vs. commercial). Some treat all new construction or existing building the same no matter the building usage. The World Green Building Council lists around 50 sustainable building certifications (, however this list is not exhaustive.

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Term of the Day

Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (CO2e) is a method to compare various greenhouse gases based on their global warming potential. One metric ton of a greenhouse gas is converted to the equivalent number of metric tons of CO2 emissions with the same global warming potential.

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