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LEED vs. Green Globes

When a building owner wants to reduce their environmental footprint and get the extra effort certified by an independent source, usually they seek a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED certification. But there’s a rival green-building option, Portland-based Green Globes, gaining more attention.

Puzzled about which one to choose? Here’s a snapshot of their attributes.

Price/ease of use:

This is the main selling point of Green Globes, a web-based system designed to be simpler, cheaper and faster than LEED. Green Globes is more for the do-it-yourselfer, while LEED generally requires consultants or in-house specialists well-versed in the system's specs.

With either, the cost of getting certified is relatively small compared with the cost of the building upgrades and amenities. And long-term savings in energy, water and sewer bills, plus tenant and customer satisfaction, should more than make up for the upfront investments.

But Green Globes costs less for compliance and requires less time and hassle.

Advantage: Green Globes

Popularity/credibility:

Green Globes has been used in only a handful of Portland buildings and 850 around the country. LEED has been used in 750 Oregon projects and more than 55,000 around the world.

Green Globes got more cred for federal building projects after the U.S. General Services Administration granted it equal status with LEED. And Whole Foods just got its Portland store in the Hollywood neighborhood certified under Green Globes, and plans to do the same at other Northwest stores, which could raise its local profile.

But the nonprofit that offers Green Globes in the United States was created by timber interests, and retains close ties to wood, paper, plastics and chemical manufacturers whose products are well-received by Green Globes but not by LEED. That's left it tainted by allegations of greenwashing.

Advantage: LEED

Environmental gains:

Many building improvements are encouraged by both systems, so either certification should mean reduced energy and water use, lower carbon emissions and other eco-benefits.

Green Globes is more industry-friendly and flexible, while LEED is more rigorous and pushes manufacturers to "green up" their products.

LEED awards buildings points for using wood harvested under the Forest Stewardship Council green rating system endorsed by the Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace. Green Globes gives equal credit to lumber harvested under the rival Sustainable Forest Initiative created by the timber industry, which permits much-larger clear cuts, routine use of herbicides, and a plantation approach to growing and harvesting trees.

The new LEED v.4 will award points for using nontoxic building materials and disclosing ingredients of building materials. Green Globes is financially supported by vinyl, chemical, wood and plastics manufacturers that are alarmed by those new standards.

Advantage: LEED

Scoring:

LEED provides a menu of green building amenities that developers can shoot for to accrue up to 110 points. The more points, the higher the level of certification: basic, silver, gold or platinum. Green Globes mirrors that system, using 1,000 potential points. That can earn a project one, two, three or four Green Globes.

Advantage: Even

Objectivity:

LEED is run by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council in Washington D.C., which has 77 chapters, including the Cascadia Green Building Council based in Portland. There are 13,000 member organizations representing product manufacturers, service providers or other entities; plus 188,000 affiliated professionals who use the system. The board of directors includes 15 people elected by members, five appointed by the rest of the board and top executives.

Green Globes is run by the nonprofit Green Building Initiative based in Portland. There are no chapters. The organization is controlled by 42 members, who pay dues of $15,000 to $50,000. Most are building industry trade groups and corporations, including the American Chemistry Council, the Carpet and Rug Institute, Jeld-Wen, Louisiana-Pacific, Plum Creek, Stimson Lumber, The Vinyl Institute and Weyerhaeuser. The board of directors, with up to 40 people, are mostly chosen by those corporate members, plus some appointed by the rest of the board.

Advantage: LEED

Conclusion:

LEED is a more rigorous, broad-based, credible system that delivers more environmental benefits. In a short span, it has revolutionized building construction without heavy-handed government mandates, and is constantly pushing for greater environmental gains.

But if a developer or owner doesn’t have the time, money or stomach to pursue LEED certification — which is not uncommon — Green Globes can achieve far more environmental gains than doing nothing at all.

Sources: Interviews with Byron Courts, Elaine Dye, Jason Grant, Scot Horst, and Sharene Rekow; U.S. Green Building Council and Green Building Initiative websites and bylaws; and other material.