Expert Advice on Green Buildings

LEED Alternatives: What Alternatives Exist for Commercial Interiors?


Kris asks: What alternatives to LEED exist for office interiors? Thank you.


Hi Kris, there are three main rating systems I’m aware of. LEED (obviously), Energy Star, and Green Globes.


Energy Star does just what it says – examines building energy usage and compared to the national Commercial Building Energy Consumption Summary (CBECS), “a national sample survey that collects information on the stock of U.S. commercial buildings, their energy-related building characteristics, and their energy consumption and expenditures.”

LEED goes a step further beyond energy and looks at sites, indoor environmental quality, wise water usage, materials, and innovative processes. As LEED and Energy Star have progressed, both systems have become increasingly dependent on each other. Energy Star deals with energy usage so it’s inherently related to EAc1, Optimize Energy Performance.

While these two programs continue to coexist separately, due to their inherent relation, it just makes good sense to look at both programs during design, but, Energy Star is similar to LEED-NC in that it's a 'whole building' type of rating, so doesn't have any special address for commercial interiors (although there is a 'retail' rating now).

Green Globes

Green Globes was originally developed in Canada, was adapted for the US in 2004 and is applicable for New Construction and Existing Buildings. Ultimately the Rating system categories are similar to LEED. Only points applicable to the specific project are taken into consideration, therefore projects aren’t penalized for not achieving irrelevant points.

Building attributes are compared to a “Target Finder”, similar to Energy Star, instead of a standard rating based on ASHRAE 90.1. The Green Globes program utilizes an interactive Web-based system to evaluate the environmental characteristics of the building during the design stage and also after it’s built.

Once the building is constructed, a team of third party verifiers (including architects and engineers) walk the building to ensure it meets certification requirements. This is a major difference between Green Globes and the LEED rating system.

Also, there are four tiers of Green Globes: One Globe, a sound building. Two Globes, good. Three Globes, excellent. Four Globes, outstanding.

Here’s a sample cost assessment between the two programs documentation costs (for a 15,000 sf office building):

LEED Certification
Project Registration: $450
Design Review: $1,250
Construction Review: $500
Total: $3,200

Green Globes
Stage I and II assessment/rating: $7,270*

*Travel Costs + 20% handling charge for the GBI assessor charged separately or pay $1,000 fee upfront.

So... Green Globes looks about $5,000 more expensive than for our example… and people haven’t really heard of it. It’s no wonder people lean more towards LEED. The two rating systems aren’t supposed to be in competition, but I honestly don’t see how they would conceivably fit together (like LEED and Energy Star do). Still, it’s good to know what’s out there.

As far as Commercial Interiors is concerned, of course there's LEED-CI (LEED ID+C). With respect to Green Globes, the categories are:

- Design of New Buildings or Significant Renovation
- Management and Operation of Existing Buildings
- Building Emergency Management
- Building Intelligence (which is a separate certification, BIQ, Building Intelligence Quotient)


Fit-Up is "an on-line guidance and auditing tool to integrate sustainable principles in the design of new or the remodeling of existing commercial interiors." You can find it here.

Using a confidential questionnaire that evaluates energy and environmental design practices, the Green Globes Fit-Up program generates an on-line report. This report contains scores for modules of energy, water, resources, indoor environment, etc. You can try out Green Globes Fit-Up here.

I can see how this would be beneficial as a certification for someone who wants to design a green project but doesn’t want to go through all the process LEED requires, however it doesn't provide as much guidance as, say, a reference guide does to an individual without any knowledge of green building.

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