Green Globes scores huge blow against LEED monopoly

2013-10-31 Ashley Bach

The U.S. Green Building Council and its LEED building standard have been enjoying a de facto monopoly in the lucrative green building industry, but that is quickly changing. For years, the USGBC has been getting pressure for its exclusive use of the Forest Stewardship Council over the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, a decision that has ruled out much of the U.S. timber supply from LEED projects. 

Four states, though, have now banned LEED from new government construction, and several other states are taking a hard look at whether they want to perpetuate the LEED monopoly and its damaging policies.

As we noted earlier this year, the tide is also turning for Green Globes, a competing building certification run in the U.S. by the Portland-based Green Building Initiative. Just in the past week, that momentum has transformed into an avalanche. The U.S. General Services Administration just announced that it will recommend Green Globes in addition to LEED as the two certification options for all of the federal government's future constuction projects.

The federal endorsement is a game changer. Green Globes now has legitimacy on a massive scale and will be able to compete with LEED on a more level playing field.

To give a sense of how big the news was, even environmental groups in favor of LEED having zero competition had to admit the federal endorsement was a big shot against the USGBC.

It's also a major victory for the Green Building Initiative, the small Portland nonprofit that runs Green Globes, according to the Portland Tribune.

“LEED was a monopoly,” says Sharene Rekow, the Green Building Initiative’s vice president for business development. “We felt like the marketplace needed a choice.”

Only a handful of local buildings have used Green Building Initiative’s rival Green Globes rating system, Rekow concedes, because “this has been a very LEED-centric city.” But the number of Green Globes-certified building projects around the country doubled in the past two years, she says, and now totals 850.

LEED, by contrast, has been used in more than 55,000 projects around the world.

But Green Globes could take a leap forward after a recent review by the U.S. General Services Administration elevated it to near-equal status with LEED, which had been the exclusive green-rating system used for federal building projects.

“That’s going to give Green Globes what they want: market traction,” says Jason Grant, a Bay Area environmental consultant who monitors green building for the Sierra Club.

For the U.S. General Services Administration, the decision to endorse Green Globes was about fairness and giving federal agencies more than one option.

“GSA has opened this review to an extensive public process, and we’ve made this recommendation using input from the public, industry stakeholders, and sustainability experts,” Kevin Kampschroer, director of GSA’s Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings, said in a statement. “We’ve found two tools that allow us to measure how federal buildings of all kinds can best save energy, improve overall performance, and cut down utility costs.”

When it comes to forest certification, it should be noted that Green Globes - unlike LEED - recognizes wood certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), the American Tree Farm System (ATFS) and other standards besides the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). 

Nadine Block, the vice president of government affairs for SFI, said the federal endorsement of Green Globes is a "very positive outcome" that "opens the door to greater use of SFI-certified wood in federal building construction and renovation."

(The Woodworking Network also compiled reaction from other industry leaders, which you can see here.)

In a lengthy article last week, the Portland Tribune took a look at the two competing green building standards - Green Globes and LEED - and the various players in support of each standard. The Tribune tried to ape the claim from environmental groups that the timber industry shouldn't care about LEED's exclusive use of FSC because certified wood is just one point in the LEED rating system. The industry cares, however, because of simple economics.  

..That one point costs the timber industry “millions and millions of dollars,” contends Kathy Abusow, president and CEO of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

The industry wouldn’t be fighting the system so hard if that provision wasn’t having a major impact, says Cassie Phillips, Weyerhaeuser’s vice president of sustainable forestry.

The paper also profiled a Portland company that decided to use Green Globes instead of LEED for one of its projects. That one example provides a window into the strong position Green Globes will have in competing with LEED for years to come.

Byron Courts doesn’t care much about green labels. He’s more focused on building improvements that achieve results and win support from owners.

As director of engineering services for Portland’s Melvin Mark Companies, Courts earned Green Globes certification by retrofitting two of the company’s older downtown office buildings, Columbia Square and Crowne Plaza.

Getting LEED certification for 2008 improvements at Columbia Square would have cost nearly $100,000, Courts says. “Doing the Green Globes project was about $25,000.”

He collected data, answered about 1,000 questions online, then met with a Green Globes assessor who came out to inspect the work. With LEED, he says, “you can’t really do this stuff yourself.”

But Courts stacks up his improvements at Columbia Square with any LEED-certified project.