Introduction: Green Building Certifications

A certification is an assurance made either by a company or an outside entity regarding the characteristics of a product or service, or a claim that has been made about the product or service. At a time when sustainable materials, services and information are expanding exponentially, certifications provide one potentially valuable data point for evaluating green building products and services. Certifications can help particularly when there is a need for technical verification that a certain goal or standard has been met, as most buyers simply don’t have the expertise or resources to evaluate marketing claims. Certifications can be made narrowly or widely, and by different entities. As with any information used to make important decisions, it’s wise to understand carefully the assurance(s) being made and by what entity.

Certifications fall into one of three categories that help define how close the entity is that provides the certification to the entity with the certification interest: first party, second party, and third party. Generally speaking, many green building professionals favor third-party certifications, as a non-related entity can in theory most likely provide an unbiased opinion. However, others might point out that certification can be quite expensive, and that first and second party certification programs provide more opportunities and more affordable access for smaller businesses. There is a concern that when certification is too difficult or expensive, some quite sustainable businesses feel shut out by a non-level playing field.

○ First-party certifications are made by the body providing the product or service. ○ Second-party certifications are made by a partnering party with some interest in the company. ○ Third-party certifications are made by an independent entity with no vested interest in the product or service.

Certifications can also be categorized into single and multi attribute. Single attribute claims can provide valuable information, but for a more narrow claim one may wish to learn more about other characteristics about the product or service. For example, the buyer might still want to investigate the health aspects of a product that is certified 100% recycled materials. While the use of recycled materials is a positive attribute, the item may not meet all the other criteria for a product the person or organization might be seeking. Toxicity or durability, or a host of other factors may also have to be evaluated. Multi attribute claims address more characteristics, or even attempt to make a global generalization about a product or service. Regardless, just seeing a label alone does not answer all questions - and the more informed buyer can make more confident decisions.

Certifications can also be categorized by the subject being certified. Product and service certifications are specific to the items or services described, while whole building certifications apply to parameters met by an entire structure. Whole building certifications also divide into categories according to new construction, renovations, and into several types of residential, commercial and institutional structures.

We’ve listed some highly regarded certifications below for whole buildings, and products. We expect to expand this list over time to include selected professional accreditations and transparency tools that help verify health and environmental factors. For all of the certifications Rate It Green, currently hosts, please visit the Green Building Certification, Labels & Transparency section of our green building directory.

Selected Whole Building Certifications

Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method

Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method

Developed in 1990, BREEAM is the world’s first sustainable building rating system. Assessments are performed by BREEAM licensed organizations, with buildings receiving a score out of five available stars. The BREEAM assessor works with the builder through whatever building stage they are working on, and gives credits for certain benchmarks of sustainability that are met. Since it was developed, more than 100,000 buildings have been rated by BREEAM in over 70 different countries.

Energy Star for Buildings

ENERGY STAR for Buildings

The Energy Star program is a government-run organization which works to save energy and protect the environment by offering a range of certifications and rating systems. Energy Star offers single-attribute certifications to products that have passed EPA approved third-party testing on efficient use of energy, and offers a similar label for homes, commercial buildings, and industrial sites that demonstrate third-party approved energy efficiency.

Fitwel

Fitwel

Fitwel is a third party certification system developed by the Center for Active Design. Buildings are first registered on the website, and are graded on a scorecard that is then verified by Fitwel personnel. Certification is divided into two main groups, Fitwel Champions and Fitwel Ambassadors. Fitwel Champions are companies that have agreed to adopt Fitwel standards in all or some of their real estate, while Fitwel Ambassadors are individuals trained to bring Fitwel standards to projects they are involved in.

Green Globes

Green Globes

Green Globes is a building certification system developed by the Green Building Initiative. Through Green Globes, developers and managers gain support from experts who can help them choose the best sustainable improvements based on the existing conditions of their projects. Buildings seeking Green Globe certification must earn 350 of 1000 available points to be recognized, with more prestigious certifications requiring higher scores. Points are available in several different categories, including project management, water, energy, and indoor environment.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design

Developed by the United States Green Building Council, LEED is the largest third party rating system in the world. There are five different categories of LEED certifications, these being Building Design and Construction, Interior Design and Construction, Building Operation and Maintenance, Neighborhood Development, and Homes. LEED offers different levels of certifications based on the degree to which the building limits its negative environmental impact. In increasing difficulty of attainment, these levels are Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.

Living Building Challenge

Living Building Challenge

The Living Building Challenge is an international sustainable building certification created in 2006 by the International Living Future Institute. This certification tool promotes measurement of sustainability in the built environment. It is applicable to both new and existing buildings of various sizes and to infrastructure, landscape, neighborhood, and community projects. In addition to the Living Building Challenge, the International Living Future Institute offers few more certifications such as the Petal Certification, Net Zero Energy Building Certification, Living Product Certification and the Living Community Certification.

Passive House Institute US

Passive House Institute US

The Passive House Institute is one of the leading passive building standards in the United States. PHIUS works to set standards for low energy buildings, along with providing information and training for green-building companies and professionals. While PHIUS does occasionally certify renovations, it is mainly used for new projects.

WELL Building Standard

WELL Building Standard

Founded by Delos Living LLC, the WELL building standard encompasses seven distinct areas of health and wellness in relation to buildings, these being air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. With WELL, a developer must first meet baseline requirements. After the baseline is met, the developer can then choose specifications that best suite their project. WELL projects are third party certified, with options for residential and commercial buildings.

Selected Product Certifications

Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute

Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute

The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute is a, non-profit organization that offers multi-attribute certification to products over a range of industries, these being fashion, built environment, manufacturing, and product design. They also work to inform students on the principles of innovative green design. Cradle to Cradle assesses a product’s impact on human health, while also taking into account the potential for reuse of the product in future lifecycles.

ECOLOGO

ECOLOGO

Founded by UL, the ECOLOGO certification is awarded to products and services that have a reduced environmental impact. Products that obtain an ECOLOGO certification are scientifically tested or carefully audited by a third party organization to prove their sustainability across multiple attributes. Products certified by ECOLOGO include electronics, building materials, and cleaning supplies.

Energy Star for Buildings

ENERGY STAR for Buildings

The Energy Star program is a government-run organization which works to save energy and protect the environment by offering a range of certifications and rating systems. Energy Star offers single-attribute certifications to products that have passed EPA approved third-party testing on efficient use of energy, and offers a similar label for homes, commercial buildings, and industrial sites that demonstrate third-party approved energy efficiency.

Forest Stewardship Council

Forest Stewardship Council

FSC certification is a voluntary, market-based approach to improve forest practices worldwide. Products that acheive FSC come from responsibly managed forest resources. The FSC offers Chain-of-Custody Certification, Forest Management Certification, and Group Certification.

GREENGUARD

GREENGUARD

GREENGUARD certification, developed by UL Environment, helps manufacturers create interior products and materials that have safer levels of chemical and particle emissions. GREENGUARD specifies testing procedures as well as acceptable emission levels. If testing is passed, the manufacturer earns the certification, ensuring that their product is especially safe for use in indoor spaces.

GreenScreen

GreenScreen

GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals was developed by the Clean Production Action. Through rigorous testing procedures GreenScreen identifies chemicals of high concern and finds safer alternatives. Both private companies and governments use GreenScreen to reduce the negative environmental effects of the chemicals that they use.

SCS Global Services

SCS Global Services

SCS Global Services offers third-party assistance to companies and products striving for environmental, sustainability and food quality. SCS offers its services in the forestry, green building, energy, agricultural, fisheries, and consumer products sectors. SCS partners with companies and governments to help them achieve their sustainability goals.

South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD)

South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD)

The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) is the air pollution control agency for all of Orange County, Los Angeles, and surrounding urban regions. The SCAQMD is undertaking necessary steps to protect public health from air pollution and reduce emission. SCAQMD offers several certification programs to promote clean air products and services such as solvents, and commercial cleaners. In addition to certification, SCAQMD also offers compliance training for federal, state, and local clean air regulations.

The Carpet and Rug Institute

The Carpet and Rug Institute

The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) provides information to consumers regarding carpet and rug trends, health benefits, and environmental efforts. CRI offers Green Label and Green Label Plus certification for carpets, adhesives, and cushion products with lowest volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions. By ensuring improved air quality, CRI certification benefits both the environment and human health.

WaterSense

WaterSense

WaterSense is an EPA run program that encourages water conservation by promoting and providing labels to products that demonstrate exemplary water efficiency. To earn the label, products must use 20% less water than the amount given by baseline EPA specifications while still meeting the performance standards of less efficient models. The products must be tested by a third party entity before they receive the label.