In fall 2009, Philadelphia-based Drexel University broke ground on the $70-million, 130,000-sq-ft Papadakis Integrated Science Building, a project seeking LEED Silver certification under the auspices of the U.S. Green Building Council.
For purposes of comparison, Drexel also decided to execute the project in accordance with the Green Building Initiative's (GBI) Green Globes assessment and certification program, an initiative that in many ways mirrored the criteria and objectives of LEED, although purportedly in a quicker, more cost-efficient manner.
"It was a test case," recalls Jeffrey Beard, associate professor with Drexel's department of construction management. "Members of our facilities department were finding it burdensome to gather and format the information required for LEED certification."
Upon completion of the facility, Beard issued a 2012 study denoting a significant disparity in the time and expense required to administer the two programs. LEED costs amounted to $125,000, Green Globes $9,000. "The disparity was across the board—hard costs, soft costs, other costs," says Beard.
The problem, he acknowledges, "is I performed a study with a sample size of one. You'd really need to evaluate 25 or 30 projects to draw any significant conclusions, and there are only a handful of U.S. projects holding dual certification."
Among the reasons for the data shortage is that Green Globes and other LEED alternatives, including the International Living Future Institute's (ILFI) Living Building Challenge, remain obscure relative to LEED. While USGBC has administered 25,000 U.S. certifications, GBI has administered 1,000.
"Many of our clients haven't heard of GBI certification," says Paul Todd Merrill, director, sustainable construction, with design and construction firm Clayco, St. Louis, which executed $665 million in sustainable construction in 2013. "From our vantage point, we welcome a competing system because we hear a lot of complaints about the requirements involved in seeking LEED certification."
"We don't have a stake in whether a client pursues LEED or an alternative rating program," says Theresa Lehman, a LEED fellow and director of sustainable services for Neenah, Wis.-based contractor Miron Construction Co., a firm with 54 LEED-certified projects under its belt. Having received GBI training, Lehman plans to seek professional certification with the Portland, Ore.-based organization, though to date, she says, interest has been minimal. "We've received only two RFPs for projects seeking Green Globe certification, and neither came to fruition."
"To some extent, it's a branding issue," says Jerry Yudelson, GBI president. "For a Fortune 500 company, LEED is very effective shorthand for 'we did a green building.'"