Ecological Certifications to Watch for in the Green Building Industry

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Certifications green builders should consider pursuing

Ecology is on everybody’s minds these days. Sustainability is becoming a priority in many industries, and it’s crucial for leaders to develop standards that help companies ensure they’re keeping to established best practices.

The emergent green building industry is proof of this. Shortsighted, business-as-usual construction methods yield high-rise fires, materials that don’t last, buildings that harm the land they stand on and structures that waste energy throughout their lifecycles. 

Consumers and builders are increasingly lending their voices and talents to sourcing and building methods featuring smaller ecological footprints. Property and business owners who want to take part in or become a part of green building methods should begin their search with the following ecological certifications.

International Green Construction Code for Low-Impact Buildings

The International Code Council designed the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) as a framework for code enforcement offices, governments at various levels, designers, contractors and manufacturers.

The IgCC covers new construction, additions or retrofits to existing structures, with the following criteria in mind:

  • Choosing building materials and techniques that prioritize healthy indoor environments
  • Building a structure that efficiently uses resources, including water and energy. Designing it in a way that minimizes disruption to the surrounding land and ecosystems.
  • Community development perspectives, such as walkability and what the IgCC calls “neighborhood connections.”

This framework and its mission sprang from the ICC’s understanding that the built environment accounts for 40 percent of CO2 emissions, 65 percent of generated waste, 70 percent of energy consumption and 12 percent of water usage globally.

Energy Star Certifications for Building Systems and Appliances

Energy Star has been a recognizable name among builders and property owners since the EPA established the program in 1992. In the years since, Energy Star has helped businesses and families slash 4 trillion kilowatt-hours from their energy budgets and eliminate some 3 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

Specifically, Energy Star recognizes homes and business locations with energy-efficient lighting systems, electronics and appliances. Heating and cooling systems that reduce electricity consumption and emissions are also eligible for the Energy Star certification.

Forest Stewardship Council Certifications for Responsibly Sourced Wood

Hardwood flooring and other wood features will probably never go out of style — but the demand for sustainable wood building products has never been higher. Home and business owners are spending more time than ever searching for reclaimed wooden planks and beams. 

When that’s not an option, there’s wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. The main priorities of the FSC are responsible forest management, transparent supply chains, sustainable product choices and protecting land owned by indigenous peoples.

In fact, as of 2019, wood certified by the FSC is specified in more building projects per year than Energy Star. This is not post-consumer or reclaimed wood, but wood sourced and harvested sustainably. 

Cradle to Cradle Certifications for Structural Building Materials

The Cradle to Cradle program has several main objectives. Each one focuses on what the organization calls the “environmental and social performance” of various products. A Cradle to Cradle certification signifies meeting one or more of the following criteria:

  • The manufacturer designed the product with human health and safety in mind (no harsh or toxic additives, fair working conditions at the source, etc.).
  • The product was designed from the start to be recycled or reclaimed after its first implementation.
  • The manufacturing and distribution processes were conceived with low waste and efficient resource usage in mind, including energy and water conservation.

There is a wide variety of Cradle to Cradle-certified structural and building products available, including woods, paints and coatings, insulation, concrete, glass and more.

LEED Certifications for Sustainability and Lower Costs

Another major ecological certification worth mentioning is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). LEED certification indicates good ecological stewardship practices from the conception of a project through to its end-of-life date.

LEED-friendly architecture also stresses placing windows and ventilation in wise places and using thoughtful layout and space usage techniques — such as building orientation for passive solar benefits — for significant monetary and energy savings throughout the building’s lifetime. There is no detail too small to escape notice when it comes to environmentally friendly design.

As mentioned earlier, buildings represent a substantial amount of global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions throughout the world. Moreover, construction and demolition generate twice as much material waste as the entire municipal waste collection system in the United States. It’s clear that now is the right time to take these challenges seriously.

Requiring builders and architects to prioritize the efficient use of labor and materials brings down costs throughout the project. That means there are financial savings in addition to the obvious environmental benefits.

Why Is This Important Right Now?

This is far from a complete list. And environmental organizations are issuing new green certifications for building materials at an impressive pace. Between 2009 and now, the number of products on the market claiming to be “green” rose by 73 percent. There are still some disingenuous greenwashing signs to watch for in the marketplace, but this is a positive development overall.

The market is responding to a higher demand for good ecological stewardship practices. And as more certifications are drawn up and companies recognize the cost-saving benefits match up nicely with the sustainability benefits, builders and owners will only have richer choices over time.

Written by: Holly Welles, BOSS Contributor

Holly Welles is a real estate writer who covers the latest market trends in everything from residential to commercial spaces. She is the editor behind her own blog, The Estate Update, and curates more advice on Twitter.

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