Certifications, Verification Programs and Rating Systems

Buildings have extensive direct and indirect impacts on the environment. During their construction, occupancy, renovation, repurposing, and demolition, buildings use energy, water, and raw materials, generate waste, and emit potentially harmful atmospheric emissions. These facts have prompted the creation of green building standards, certifications, and rating systems aimed at mitigating the impact of buildings on the natural environment through sustainable design.

A standard is a set of guidelines and criteria against which a product can be judged. Common standards related to building practices are created through consensus processes by organizations such as ANSI, ASTM, or ASHRAE. Supporting the governance of standards and certifications is the International Standards Organization (ISO), which defines and develops worldwide standards that frequently become law or form the basis of industry norms. ISO defines a standard as: “a document, established by consensus, approved by a recognized body that provides for common and repeated use as rules, guidelines, or characteristics for activities or their results.”


Why Pursue Performance Certifications?

Certification through any of the rating systems below verify of differing levels to performance of a project, and can be a valuable educational and marketing tool for owners and design & construction teams through the process of creating a more sustainable building. Performance or sometimes noted as “green” building certifications can also be a way to provide an incentive for clients, owners, designers, and users to develop and promote highly sustainable construction practices. It is important to note that a building does not have to be certified to be sustainable and well-built.

The guidelines within rating systems also help to clarify a market filled with sustainable options. Rating systems also clearly outline what “green” standards need to be followed and what types of products should be included in construction specifications.Ā Building rating and certification systems are in a state of change and evolution and continue to be refined to reflect new standards and goals for achieving ever higher levels of sustainability – it is essential to research the most recent versions of any given certification.


Finding the Right Program

The following table and the expanded information directly below it outlines several of the most commonly used and respected green building rating and certification systems in the marketplace.

Building Rating or Certification System Single- or Multi- Attribute Type of Standard or Certification Managing Organization Issues / Areas of Focus
Energy Star Single-Attribute Government certification using a benchmarking method U.S. EPA and U.S. DOE Building energy and water use
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Multi-Attribute Green building rating and certification system through independent third-party verification for:

  • New Construction (NC)
  • Existing Buildings, Operations & Maintenance (EB O&M)
  • Commercial Interiors (CI)
  • Core & Shell (CS)
  • Schools (SCH)
  • Retail
  • Healthcare (HC)
  • Homes
  • Neighborhood Development (ND)
U.S. Green Building Council Performance in:

  • Sustainable Sites
  • Water Efficiency
  • Energy & Atmosphere
  • Materials & Resources
  • Indoor Environmental Quality
  • Locations & Linkages
  • Awareness & Education
  • Innovation in Design
  • Regional Priority through a set of prerequisites and credits
Green Globes Multi-Attribute Green building guidance and assessment program for:

  • Existing buildings
  • New construction
Green Building Initiative in the U.S.
BOMA Canada
Environmental assessment areas to earn credits in:

  • Energy
  • Indoor Environment
  • Site
  • Water
  • Resources
  • Emissions
  • Project/Environmental Management

No prerequisites

Living Building Challenge Multi-Attribute Performance-based standard, and certification program for:

  • Landscape and infrastructure projects
  • Partial renovations and complete building renewals
  • New building construction
  • Neighborhood, campus and community design
International Living Future Institute Performance areas include:

  • Site
  • Water
  • Energy
  • Materials
  • Health
  • Equity
  • Beauty

All areas are requirements.

NZEB Multi-Attribute Certification program using the structure of the Living Building Challenge which can be applied to any building type. International Living Future Institute One hundred percent of the project’s energy needs must be supplied by on-site renewable energy on a net annual basis, without the use of on-site combustion. NZEB certified buildings must also meet the following requirements of the Living Building Challenge:

  • the first half of Imperative One, Limits to Growth, dealing with appropriate siting of buildings
  • Imperative 19, Beauty and Spirit
  • Imperative 20, Inspiration and Education
Passive House Institute US Multi-Attribute Performance based passive building standard

  • Third-party RESNET approved quality assurance/quality control
  • Earns U.S. DOE Zero Energy Ready Home status
  • Includes HERS rating
Passive House Institute US Any type of building.

New focus areas include:

  • air tightness requirement
  • source energy limit
  • space conditioning criteria
SITES Multi-Attribute Third party verified rating system for development projects located on sites with or without buildings. Administered by GBCI Performance criteria in the areas of:

  • Water
  • Wildlife Habitat
  • Energy
  • Air Quality
  • Human Health
  • Outdoor recreation opportunities
WELL Building Standard Multi-Attribute Performance based standard and certification program for

  • New and Existing Buildings
  • New and Existing Interiors
  • Core and Shell Retail
  • Education Facilities
  • Restaurant
  • Commercial Kitchen
  • Multifamily Residential
Administered by the International WELL Building Instituteā„¢ (IWBI) Measures attributes of buildings that impact occupant health by looking at seven factors: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light

Table summarized from WBDG


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