Rendering courtesy of

Nov. 5

By Gary Olp

Fifteen years ago, like-minded individuals realized that there were serious problems with our built environment and it was inherently by design. Out of this
realization, architects, engineers, building science experts and environmentalists began to work together and develop new codes and standards to initially address indoor environmental quality and energy efficiency. In this span of time, the benefits of building sustainable buildings through an integration of economic, environmental and social goals has been demonstrated and well documented.

Consequently, green building in the U.S. today has become big business. As the “green building certification business” has grown exponentially, it is ripe for competition. As a result, variations continue to enter the marketplace, each one clamoring that its rating system is cheaper, faster or a darker shade of green. 

Above, courtesy of GGO Architects.

Today there are several competing “green rating” systems. On the surface, each of these utilize a matrix built around an integrated design process, addressing specific areas of sustainable categories, require modeling, substantiation and documentation of sustainable features, systems, procedures and materials. All of them adhere to varying degrees of third party oversight.

Here’s a list ranked by degree of difficulty with the most challenging last:

Green Globes

Seeing an opportunity to offer an industry-friendly alternative to a perceived monopoly by the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED system, the Green Building Initiative purchased BREEAM, brought it from Canada to the U.S. and refitted/rebranded it in 2004 as the Green Globes rating system.

It’s noteworthy that the timber, oil, plastics industry and every chemical and vinyl-related industry support it. At the core of the standard, it doesn’t challenge industries to change, but it is simpler, faster and potentially cheaper. There are few outside consultants and it is more of a do-it-yourself process so it doesn’t carry the weight that verifiable independent third-party assessments achieve with LEED.

On the surface, Green Globes sounds like LEED but in practice, it fills a niche for building owners who might otherwise not add green features to their buildings because of the cost and hassle.


The U.S. Green Building Council launched its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Rating System in 2000 and has continued to improve and refine the rating system and the certification process, and most importantly is driving the industry forward in way that’s better for everyone. As the organization rolls out LEED v4.0, backed by internal changes, many of the difficulties the rating system has been criticized for should be remedied.


The Living Building Challenge

The Living Building Challenge 2.0 promotes its rating system as a visionary path to a restorative future. It is the most challenging certification to achieve, as it requires a built solution that mimics the natural environment to a degree almost impossible to achieve within the current paradigm of the design and construction industry.

The Green Future

Clearly, all of these rating systems have the expressed intent to effect market transformation at the mainstream level. The tools need to be practical and affordable but ultimately they must restore the environment both built and natural for the seventh generation that will not know us personally but will know us by the world we leave for them.

Gary Olp is an award-winning LEED-accredited architect and founder and president of GGO Architects, the first green practice to open in Dallas. He speaks and writes about sustainable design and environmental stewardship.

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