Study Compares Costs of Building Green

MONDAY, MAY 19, 2014

A new case-study examination of the top two green building rating systems has found the costs of LEED certification significantly higher than those of Green Globes.

The study, conducted by Drexel University’s Jeffrey L. Beard, PhD, found that LEED's hard, soft and optional costs were nearly 15 percent higher than those associated with Green Globes for a Philadelphia project.

In addition, internal costs to achieve the U.S. Green Building Councils’ LEED certification topped $125,000 versus $9,000 for Green Building Initiatives’ Green Globes certification, according to the 17-page report.

Billed as a first-of-its-kind study, the report examines comparative costs associated with a new construction project with dual LEED and Green Globes certifications in the United States.

USGBC immediately criticized the study as both biased and limited in scope.

Report Details

The report, “A Study of Comparative Sustainability Certification Costs,” was funded by the Green Building Initiative. However, the nonprofit said Beard had conducted the research without GBI's oversight, using timesheets and other records of administrative costs maintained by the project team and Drexel University.

Authors said the study was an example of “real building” research needed to provide “initial findings that contribute to a more universal adoption of sustainability systems for new and existing facilities.”

Beard is an associate professor at Drexel University’s College of Engineering, Department of Construction Management.

One Building, Two Green Ratings

For the study, Beard provided a direct comparison of the rating systems as applied to a large institutional project: Drexel University’s Papadakis Integrated Science Building.

The new construction project achieved LEED Gold and three Green Globes certifications.

The $65 million facility is a five-story, 130,000-square-foot laboratory and classroom building. It was designed by Diamond & Schmitt Architects of Toronto and H2L2 of Philadelphia. Turner Construction provided construction services.

Opened in September 2011, the building features a limestone façade, a four-story glass cylinder entrance way, and an 80-by-22-foot bio wall in the atrium.

Evaluation, Table

Beard’s research examined the following:

  1. Intrinsic hard costs—allocable on a line-by-line basis—for meeting criteria in each of the rating systems;
  2. Soft costs, whether counted as indirect project costs or as secondary costs that arose as a result of the project, but were otherwise allocated or absorbed; and
  3. Optional costs arising from implementation of the two rating systems.

The table above, featured in the report, illustrates cost differences observed and estimated between the systems in several areas of design, management and assessment.

Highlighting the Differences

The study also highlighted a few key differences between the systems that may have an impact on costs.

First, it said that LEED-certified projects received a percentage of applicable points from a universal list applied to all projects of a similar type. On the other hand, projects rated under Green Globes are not held accountable for scores within sub-categories that are inapplicable to the specific project.

The study also notes that Green Globes offers the ability to compare building design approaches through inputs into a software system that allows designers and owners to adjust and weigh various systems and material investments for their facility.

Drexel University
Drexel University / Courtesy of Green Building Initiative

Opened in September 2011, the building features a 80-by-22-foot bio wall in the atrium. The wall serves as an active living filter used to remove volatile organic compounds from the air.

However, LEED maintains a total point-based system that rewards end-result achievement that is dependent on information input by outside consultants, according to the study.

Feds Endorse Both

Despite their differences, both green-building rating systems have gained federal favor.

In October 2013, the U.S. General Services Administration recommended that government agencies use both rating systems in federal construction and renovation projects. GSA made its decision to endorse both systems in the federal sector after a year of analysis, public comment and reviews.

The LEED system had dominated the federal sector since 2003. However, GSA says that no single certification system adheres to all of the government’s green building requirements and executive orders.

Together, the two rating systems account for more than 90 percent of formal ratings for new buildings in North America, according to data from 2012 cited in Beard’s study.

USGBC Comments

USGBC criticized the study and its conclusions.

“The [Drexel] study was funded by the Green Building Initiative, so it does not provide a balanced comparison of the two certification processes,” a USGBC spokesman said in an e-mail to D+D News.

Spokesman Jacob Kriss further noted that Beard’s study lacked a “holistic view as it only looks at one building, which isn’t enough of a sample size for a valid study.”

Kriss noted that a “truly independent review of LEED and its value” could be drawn from a 2013 Department of Defense report conducted by the National Research Council.

That research found that LEED-certified buildings resulted in significant reductions in energy and water use.


Tagged categories: Architects; Building owners; Certifications and standards; Color + Design; Cost-savings; Green building; Green design; Green Globes; LEED

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