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Magazines & Newsletters / ASTM Standardization News


September/October 2008

Rating Green Buildings

In the movement toward more sustainable buildings, green building rating programs play their part, as do standards on sustainability.

“Green” buildings outperform more traditional construction in sale price and rental rates, as well as occupancy.

That’s according to a March 2008 study by the CoStar Group Inc., a Nasdaq-listed provider of information and marketing services to the commercial real estate industry, which found that more property investors and tenants are demanding space that has either earned LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification or Energy Star rating.

These programs, which include LEED, Green Globes, Energy Star and others, represent approaches to “greening” a building, according to Dru Meadows, principal at theGreenTeam Inc. in Tulsa, Okla., and chair of Subcommittee E06.71 on Sustainability. “The green building rating programs provide guidance on environmentally responsible design/construction options. And they provide awards, public recognition of effort,” she says.

Building ratings typically come from checklists that require a minimum number of points to be earned in any combination. The use of solar energy or other renewable resources, recycling materials such as grinding leftover wood into mulch, reusing concrete for countertops and a site plan that reduces environmental impact are just a few examples of considerations.

Meadows notes that in addition to the checklist approach, a “custom approach” to rating programs can be taken. “Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages. The checklist approach requires a working knowledge of the rating program and the various point options. It may not provide the best, most eco-efficient result. The custom approach (life cycle assessment) requires a working knowledge of environmental issues and LCA methodologies. It is usually more expensive and time-consuming initially. However, it is more likely to identify the best, most eco-efficient design solution.”

These programs cite standards, including many ASTM International standards, to establish performance criteria for various program components. More than 500 ASTM standards related to building and other industry sectors are collected in a sustainability database. In addition, E06.71, a part of Committee E06 on Performance of Buildings, has developed a proposed standard that all green building ratings programs could use: a specification on what constitutes the minimum attributes for a building that claims to promote sustainability, one that considers social and economic aspects as well as environmental.


In Delaware, a beach house is slated to be the first LEED certified dwelling in the state; Synergy at Dockside Green in Victoria, British Columbia, has achieved LEED Platinum status; and Bethke Elementary School in Timnath, Colo., may become the first school in the U.S. to receive the LEED gold certification.

Perhaps the most familiar green rating program in the U.S., the LEED green building rating system can be used by groups from architects to contractors, realtors to facility managers in building and maintaining commercial buildings, houses, schools and more.
The program uses a point system that grades performance in five areas:

  • Sustainable site development;
  • Water savings;
  • Energy efficiency;
  • Materials selection and
  • Indoor environmental quality.

LEED has come a long way since its late 1990s introduction, and the 1993 founding of its sponsoring organization, the U.S. Green Building Council. According to USGBC, more than 1,500 buildings have been LEED certified and more than 11,000 currently seek that distinction.

Currently undergoing an update to be released in January as LEED 2009, the revised system is intended to be more streamlined and simpler to use by the third parties who evaluate and certify buildings.

GBI and Green Globes

Another rating program, Green Globes, from the Green Building Initiative, combines software and protocols that award new construction and existing buildings one to four globes in the U.S. and one to five in Canada, based on environmental performance. The federal court building in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Ark.; and the Alberici Corp. headquarters in St. Louis, Mo., all have achieved recognition through Green Globes.

Green Globes applications, which are evaluated by qualified independent assessors, receive a comprehensive rating based on the categories of:

  • Energy;
  • Indoor environment;
  • Site impact;
  • Water;
  • Resources;
  • Emissions and
  • Project/environmental management.

Green Globes originated with the Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method, which the Canadian Standards Association published in 1996 as BREEAM Canada for Existing Buildings. Revisions led to Green Globes for Existing Buildings, introduced in 2000. In 2004, the Green Building Initiative acquired the rights to distribute Green Globes in the U.S. and now, Green Globes is going through the American National Standards Institute process.

Other Green Building Programs

While LEED and Green Globes represent two rating programs to advance green building, other groups are also working toward greener construction.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers has proposed, in conjunction with the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America and the U.S. Green Building Council, ASHRAE/IESNA/USGBC 189, Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings, which will address green building practices for new commercial buildings and major renovations. The National Association of Home Builders, in association with the International Code Council, is also working on a green building standard. And with its Energy Star program, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy take an energy-focused approach toward efficient products and practices to protect the environment.

WK11944, ASTM Standards and Rating Systems

Meadows emphasizes that green should not be confused with sustainable. “‘Green’ is used interchangeably with ‘environmental,’” she says. “Sustainability encompasses environmental, economic and social aspects.” And, as indicated above, an E06.71 task group has developed a proposed specification that delineates the minimum aspects necessary to declare that a building is sustainable.

Jeffrey Stone, Ph.D., southeast regional manager for the American Forest & Paper Association, is chair of the E06 task group responsible for drafting WK11944, Specification for Minimum Building Attributes that Promote Sustainability, which will join not only the sustainability standards from E06.71 but also many others from ASTM technical committees. He feels that this work is significant. “We want to conserve our resources. We don’t want to waste them,” he says. “Activities like these are helping us to focus in on what we can and should be doing.”

Once WK11944 achieves final consensus and is published, it could find use in LEED, Green Globes and other rating programs. “The standard could be utilized as a prerequisite to green building programs; the Green Building Initiative is considering this for its Green Globes rating program,” says Meadows.

To develop the proposed specification, the task group took a close look at the various rating programs and the Guiding Principles for Federal Leadership in High Performance and Sustainable Buildings to find commonalities, Stone explains. Those involved — material producers, government representatives, architects, managers, designers, scientists, academics — worked to define what minimum attributes need to be addressed in order to claim a building is sustainable. It’s a noteworthy effort, according to Stone: “There hasn’t been consensus in the past on this.”

The proposed specification mainly addresses new construction but can also be used for major renovations and existing buildings, and it establishes minimum building attributes and consistency in reporting about building sustainability.

The standard, once published, will add to the compiled group of ASTM International standards, more than 500 of them, related to sustainability. Numerous ASTM committees, from A01 on Steel, Stainless Steel and Related Alloys to G02 on Wear and Erosion, have responsibility for standards from acoustics to water stewardship, air quality to waste management.

Alison Kinn Bennett, co-chair of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Green Building Work Group and an E06 member, is developing criteria for standards to be included in ASTM’s sustainability database. “By inviting all ASTM’s committees to propose standards for inclusion, we will not only grow the database but also can start the education and integration of sustainability concepts across ASTM. There are already so many standards that can advance the sustainability movement,” she says. “‘Green’ or ‘sustainable’ may not be keywords in a standard, and yet it may very well support environmental, social or economic principles of sustainability. We want those standards to be recognized for their contributions to sustainability and to be included in the database.”

The standards work and the rating programs will continue to evolve as they have in the past. “The measure, or the means, by which we would assess what is green were based on emotion and not science. It’s getting more and more scientific, using life cycle analysis to analyze the environmental impacts of a decision of a building material,” says Stone. “It started with a limited number of very energetic people to do something and I think as we’ve gone on it has become more mainstream and more people are involved. It has broadened the scope from where it was initially. That’s good because our decisions are based on knowledge that was not available years ago.”