Will There Be One Global Green Building Standard to Rule Them All?

Planet Plenty by Weef Kichards

This article was written by Phil Clark who blogs about green building and development in the UK at Zerochampion.  Make sure to come back after visiting his site …

Will there ever be one green building standard to rule them all?  It’s an interesting question given the explosion of new ones that are emerging around the globe: in the past month news has reached us over here of a new standard planned by the recently German Sustainable Building Council (this was discovered by Building Sustainability columnist and U.S. expert Jerry Yudelson, a reference of which is in this article) and of a new guide for eco-friendly projects in New Zealand.

The answer to the question until now has always pointed to the negative.  Different countries around the world are subject to distinct cultures, histories, and environmental conditions that mean that such standards must by their very nature be distinct and unique.  And the fact that there are so many separate ones emerging strengthens this logic.  Yet I believe there is a strong case to counter that.  Here’s three reasons why I think the evolution from many to few standards is inevitable:

It’s already happening.
To a degree that is.  The two dominant standards in the world –- the USGBC’s LEED certificate and our BREEAM standard — are beginning to export themselves.  LEED is now being used in the United Arab Emirates and India.  And BREEAM is set to become a standard for particular building types across Europe. It’s clearly logical for countries considering implementing such standards to piggy-back on ones that already exist.

The world is getting smaller.
The past month’s dramatic economic crisis only goes to show how closely interlinked the economies of the world have become.  As globalization continues there will be greater demands from clients for consistent standards.  How much better for a multi-national building owner to be able to assess all its estate according to one standard?

Consistent metrics are necessary.
For us to both assess the performance of buildings and prove the value and profit of building green, a consistent approach beyond regional boundaries would be ideal.  One basic standard would ensure that process would be a consistent one.

These are three reasons why I think such a move could happen, but I fully understand that there are many barriers to a smooth progress for multiple standards to one above all.

One Possible Approach:
What one could envisage is a basic set of standards or measurements emerging that are used by all countries, who then add aspects particular to their territories on top.  I understand some discussions have been held amongst different green building councils across the globe looking at such a method, which would be similar to the ISO standards for environmental management.

And in some senses such a process is already happening, albeit in an ad hoc way.  A member of the Emirates Green Building Council told a conference last week that they want to go “beyond LEED” in the standards for their region, indicating that they would need to adapt LEED for the specific needs of their environment.

I think such a trend would be incredibly positive for the movement. 

It would display a culture of collaboration and open communication that is necessary for spreading the environmental world for our industries.  A green blogger over here, Martin Brown, told an event I attended last week that sustainability had to be “open source” in construction, i.e. break out of the tradition of the industry to hoard or hide information.  Creating an open global standard would the perfect next step in spreading and mainstreaming sustainability in the built environmentWhat do you think?

Photo credit to Weef Kichard and make sure to catch more analysis from Phil Clark at Zerochampion.


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  • http://treehugger.com Lloyd Alter

    Ha! The United States won’t even consider going metric- you can’t even compare R values to RSI. Until we can cross that bridge, open source is going to be awfully difficult. Until the US stops developing suspect standards of their own like SFI because FSC is against clearcutting or Greenglobes because LEED doesnt recognize SFI, until it can even agree on a single national standard, is there a hope of agreeing to an international one?

  • George D

    I tend to think we will see green buidling standards disappear in the future, by one of two ways.

    In the first way, environmental issues are going to become so prominent in our daily lives that buildings will be built green out of necessity. The standard will be how your local environment dictates to you how the building should be designed. There will be no choices…nature will make them for you.

    In the second way, for reasons unknown or unassumed at this point, the environmental issues being forcasted will fail to materialize and the movement will go to being a fringe movement or cease to exist.

  • Andrew

    We could really do with an open source standard. Some of the things in the existing closed source standards seem daft or at least poorly thought, out or relate to proprietary black box assessments (eg BRE’s green guide for materials).

    The whole process although robust can put people off, and in the UK where this is becoming a legal issue (ie code for sustainable homes), the fact we cannot really challenge how things are assessed is not a good place for us (as the poor souls who are subject to this) to be.

    Perhaps the model used in the computer industry (ie sourceforge / gnu licence) is the way to go?

  • http://www.ngbc.us Josh Stack

    There is already a universal standard of sustainability for the built environment.

    It’s Nature, and based on 3.8 billion years of design, building, and manufacturing experience! As others have said, you can break building codes (and exceed or fail to meet the standards of environmental rating systems), but you don’t violate the laws of physics, biology, or ecology.

    We need only to quiet our cleverness and look outside.

  • http://www.zerochampion.com Phil Clark

    Thanks for all your feedback to this. Really interesting points. To back up the argument of my piece somewhat comes this news – http://snipurl.com/4ewxi BREEAM is now off to the Middle East. BREEAM Vs LEED – let battle commence.

    • http://www.jetsongreen.com Preston

      I haven’t seen much mention of it, but I wonder if the World Green Building Council will play an increasing role in helping standards develop in all parts of the world and various countries. By doing so, they may become more relevant to this discussion …

  • http://www.revealrealestate.com/ Claudia Gonella

    Completely agree that this trend would be positive for the movement. Our focus is Central America – and we’re seeing more and more real estate developers incorporate (or think about incorporating) green thinking into their master-plans. LEED is probably too advanced for some of the early entrants to the field (and local accredited professionals/advisers are very hard to come by) – a ‘LEED-lite’ standard is needed that takes into account the particular needs of operating in a developing county (ie tones down some environmental aspects) but beefs up the local community development/empowerment and broader social responsibility aspects (eg treatment of employees and suppliers).

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