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Buildings have extensive direct and indirect impacts on the environment. During their construction, occupancy, renovation, repurposing, and demolition, buildings use energy, water, and raw materials, generate waste, and emit potentially harmful atmospheric emissions. These facts have prompted the creation of green building standards, certifications, and rating systems aimed at mitigating the impact of buildings on the natural environment through sustainable design.
The push toward sustainable design increased in the 1990s with the creation of Building Research Establishment's Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), the first green building rating system in the U.K. In 2000, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) followed suit and developed and released criteria also aimed at improving the environmental performance of buildings through its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system for new construction. Since that first release, LEED has continued to grow in prominence and to include rating systems for existing buildings and entire neighborhoods. Others also responded to the growing interest and demand for sustainable design including the Green Building Initiative (GBI), which was created to assist the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) in promoting its Green Building Guidelines for Residential Structures. Although originally developed for Canada, GBI helped to make Green Globes available for use in the U.S. in 2005. Additional rating systems have been developed that were influenced by these early programs but are tailored to their own national priorities and requirements or seek to go beyond the limits of current policy and building practices to address broader issues of sustainability or evolving concepts such as net zero energy, and living and restorative building concepts that improve the natural environment, or those that model nature's processes.
Green product standards also began to appear in the marketplace in the 1980s and increased in the 1990s. Initially, many green product standards were developed in response to growing concerns for product toxicity and its impact on children's health and indoor environmental quality (IEQ). In the 21st century, when growing concerns over global warming and resource depletion became more prominent and supported by research, the number and type of green product standards and certifications grew. The focus also expanded to include a broader range of environmental issues and the impacts of products during their manufacture, use, and reuse. While there is still no universal definition of a green product, these products are intended to meet claims that they offer environmental benefits and adhere to certain standards. (See also Use Greener Materials)
There is now a proliferation of standards, rating, and certification programs in the marketplace to help guide, demonstrate, and document efforts to deliver sustainable, high-performance buildings. It is estimated that there are nearly 600 green product certifications in the world with nearly 100 in use in the U.S., and the numbers continue to grow (Source: Building Green). There are also green building rating programs in use around the world and they vary in their approach with some outlining prerequisites and optional credits, while others take a prescriptive approach, and still others suggest performance-based requirements that can be met in different ways for different products and project types. As a result, it can be challenging and time consuming determining which standards, certifications, and rating programs are most credible and applicable to a particular project. This page will provide an introduction to some commonly used terms and an overview of the most widely recognized green building product standards, and building rating and certification programs currently in use with an emphasis on how they vary and some of the issues to consider when selecting them.