Sustainability leaders are praising a new search engine for green-building data, calling it a crucial tool for making informed design decisions and crafting government policy. The Green Building Information Gateway ( aggregates and assesses design and performance data for thousands of buildings worldwide, collected under the popular green-building rating system called LEED. The site is free to users.

"GBIG organizes and enhances transparency of building-sustainability efforts," says Barry Hooper, green-building program coordinator, San Francisco Dept. of the Environment. "As a transparency tool, GBIG supports effective decisions and competition among real estate owners, enhances the ability of buyers and tenants to factor sustainability into transactions, and improves civic leaders' capacity to track and assess sustainability improvements in the built environment," adds Hooper, who has used the tool.

The U.S. Green Building Council launched GBIG at its annual Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, held in San Francisco on Nov. 14-16. "For the last decade, USGBC has recognized that the lack of information about [green]buildings was a problem for decision-makers," says Chris Pyke, USGBC's Washington, D.C.-based vice president for research. Until GBIG, there was no way to search and explore data about building energy, waste and water use or human comfort, adds Pyke, who leads the team developing GBIG.

LEED, a 14-year-old rating system based on credits, stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. With 50,000 LEED-certified or registered buildings in 135 nations and 1.5 million sq ft per day going through the certification process, USGBC has amassed a huge database of information. Confidential projects are not displayed, though they figure into aggregate numbers about green-building activity in different places.

'Incredibly Useful Tool'

"GBIG is an incredibly useful tool for policymakers," says Bill Updike, green- building specialist for the District of Columbia. "Pre-GBIG, we were operating in a data vacuum, so having the platform now will allow us to make better and more informed decisions at all levels."

GBIG has the ability to dig deeply into very detailed data points, which allows users to see specific choices of building professionals in many locations. GBIG also provides building-specific data, over time, regarding the federal Energy Star program, which scores comparative energy use.

After logging on to the website, users can search myriad green-building subjects the world over. Results include data on everything from redeveloped brownfields to on-site renewable energy to how often designers use daylighting strategies.

Users can search activities, defined as projects at or within a building. They can search specific buildings and places. They can explore others' strategies, defined as specific approaches, and collections, defined as portfolios of green buildings that share a common theme. GBIG also presents collections that group projects and buildings according to location, owner or investor and successful implementation of certain green-building strategies.

Under the "Buildings" icon, a user can click on a featured building and find out its LEED status and Energy Star rating. For example, the 12300 Elm Creek Blvd. building in Minneapolis was certified LEED Platinum in 2008. In 2009, it had an Energy Star rating of 80. By 2011, that rating had improved to 91.

Under the "Places" icon, users can explore green-building activities by city, both domestic and global. There are informational maps and much more.

The platform is open to suggestions. For example, there is a link at the top of each project page for users to enter corrections. Currently, users cannot add new or edit existing projects. But GBIG will be expanded and updated regularly.