Green-Building Guides Vie for GSA Nod


LEED’s seven-year reign may soon be over as the federal government's go-to green building rating system. 

The Green Building Initiative’s Green Globes and the International Living Building Institute’s Living Building Challenge are two other programs that could prove to be more aligned with federal sustainable design principles and high-performance operational requirements, as the General Services Administration inches toward making its final choice.

Before a formal recommendation (originally scheduled for fall 2012) is revealed, the public has a chance to weigh in, according to the GSA.

The GSA published a formal request in the Federal Register Feb. 5, seeking public comment on the controversial subject. The comment period is open for a period of 60 days, ending April 8.

Getting Up to Green

Every five years, the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) requires the agency to identify a system “deem(ed) to be most likely to encourage a comprehensive and environmentally sound approach to certification of green buildings,” GSA said.

In a 2006 review, GSA identified the USGBC’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification system as a reference for use in the federal sector. The current review is expected to decide whether LEED will retain that coveted status.

As part of the process, GSA completed an initial evaluation report and convened an ad-hoc review group to evaluate and make further recommendations. The review group, composed of key federal portfolio holders, held public listening sessions to solicit verbal and written feedback. A summary memorandum of those findings is available at this link.

Ways to Speak Up

GSA invites comments by one of the following methods.

  • Visit and search for "Notice-MG-2012-04";
  • Fax your comments to 202-501-4067;
  • E-mail your comments to; or
  • Mail them to General Services Administration, Regulatory Secretariat (MVCB), ATTN: Hada Flowers, 1275 First Street, NE., 7th Floor, Washington, DC 20417

After the public comment period ends, GSA said it will provide its findings to the Secretary of Energy who, in consultation with the Department of Defense and GSA, formally identifies the system or combination of systems to be used across the federal government.

GSA’s Initial Look

None of the three systems—LEED, Green Globes, or Living Building Challenge—ensure that a building will meet federal sustainable design requirements (once certified) or that the building will perform optimally, the GSA said in its March 2012 evaluation report.

Empire State Building
C.S. Imming / Wikimedia Commons

U.S. Green Building Council's LEED certification system is the GSA's current reference for sustainable design, but GSA is currently reviewing other systems. The Empire State Building achieved LEED Gold certification in 2011.

The report specifically noted that the use of a green building certification system—though useful for users in documenting, tracking and reporting—is not required to meet federal sector high-performance, sustainable design and operations requirements.

Federal Performance Requirements

GSA has a list of 27 federal requirements for new construction and 28 for existing buildings. Both the new construction and existing buildings performance requirements include criteria for low-emitting materials, energy efficiency, environmentally preferred products, recycled content and biobased content, to name a few.

The report said that the “Green Globes align at some level with more of the Federal requirements (25) than any other new construction system in this review.”

The LEED (2009 version) aligned at some level with 20 of the federal requirements for new construction, and the Living Building Challenge aligned with 14 of the requirements.

As for existing buildings, LEED EBO&M (Existing Buildings Operations & Maintenance) aligned “at some level” with 27 of the federal requirements; Green Globes CIEB (Continual Improvement of Existing Buildings) with 22; and Living Building Challenge with 17 of the federal requirements, the report found.

Green Building Systems

The GSA’s short descriptions of the green building systems are as follows:

  • Green Globes is a voluntary certification system intended for commercial buildings. Available since 2004, Green Globes covers project management, site, water use, energy use, indoor environmental quality and resource, building materials and solid waste.
  • Living Building Challenge is a voluntary system intended for commercial buildings. Initiated in 2008, it is comprised of seven performance areas: Site, Water, Energy, Health, Materials, Equity and Beauty. These are subdivided into a total of twenty Imperatives.
  • LEED is a voluntary certification system intended for commercial buildings. Available since 1998, LEED covers siting, water use, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environment, and innovation.

Currently, GSA uses LEED for new construction and major modernization projects as its certification system and sets a target certification level at LEED Gold.


Tagged categories: Certifications and standards; Color + Design; General Services Administration; Government contracts; Green building; Green design; Green Globes; LEED; Living Building Challenge

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