LEED.  Build It Green.  CALGreen.  There seem to be so many competing ways to measure the sustainability of a built project that it’s hard to keep them straight.  How do they compare to each other?  Should you do any of them?  Do you have to?

For starters, let’s look at how they differ.  Green Building Certification programs, such as the USGBC’s LEED program and Build It Green’s GreenPoint Rating System, are voluntary point-based rating systems with various levels of certification.  These provide companies or individuals a way to certify that their project is “green”.  This doesn’t mean that everything about the project is energy-efficient or sustainable but it does mean that they have sufficient features in a variety of categories to be certified as a green building under these programs.

Certification in these programs is usually done for marketing purposes, for pride, or to keep up with the Joneses.  After all, the important part is to build a green building, not necessarily to officially validate it as such.

CALGreen is different.  CALGreen is the California Green Building code which overlays the basic building code to set minimum green building standards for the design of a building.  In place since 2011, the code is being phased in over time. Currently, it applies to larger and mostly non-residential projects but will eventually apply to all projects.

Again, the LEED and GreenPoint Rating Systems are voluntary.  CALGreen is mandatory (for qualifying projects).

Prior to the state’s adoption of the CALGreen, it had become increasingly common for cities and other municipalities who felt strongly about green building to adopt legislation requiring projects to be LEED certified or the equivalent.  For example, in August 2008 San Francisco adopted the San Francisco Green Building Ordinance, requiring proof of green building practices and LEED certification for all residential and commercial buildings in the City.

Faced with this patchwork approach to green building regulation, the state decided to adopt a unified system. Perhaps when a handful of influential states have developed green building codes, those sustainable requirements will be written directly into the model codes and we can finally stop using the term “green building”.  There will just be one standard to which all buildings must conform, including health and life safety standards, accessibility standards, and standards that help reduce the impact of the building on our planet.