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The Green Business Certification Rating Systems Explained

Written by Sarah Stanley

Stay on top of the latest green business certifications administered by GBCI.

GBCI is the premier global organization for independently recognizing excellence in sustainability performance and practice. With regional offices in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Europe, India and China, GBCI is accelerating the adoption of green business practices through an array of certification and professional credentialing programs.

With LEED at its core, GBCI offers a suite of complementary solutions for companies to implement sustainability practices across all levels of business. These programs foster global competitiveness and enhance the environmental and human health benefits of our built environment.

Here’s a rundown of all the rating systems:

Sustainable SITES Initiative (SITES)

SITES is a comprehensive program for designing and maintaining sustainable landscapes. Land is a crucial part of the built environment, and SITES fills a need for best practices that

  • Reduce water demand and energy consumption.
  • Improve air quality.
  • Create resilient communities that can withstand and recover from catastrophic events.

Landscape professionals can also demonstrate their expertise and commitment to the profession by becoming a SITES AP—a credential that defines the profession of sustainable landscape design and development.

Read about SITES projects in action and register a project.

Total Resource Use and Efficiency (TRUE)

The TRUE Zero Waste certification helps businesses and facilities achieve zero waste goals by becoming more resource-efficient and environmentally responsible. Changing how materials flow through society, TRUE ensures that all products are eventually reused and diverted, instead of ending up in the landfill. By closing the loop on waste, facilities can cut greenhouse gas emissions, manage risk, reinvest resources, create jobs and add more value to the business.

GBCI also offers an opportunity to become a recognized zero waste professional through the TRUE Advisor program. TRUE Advisors are trained on the TRUE Zero Waste Rating System and help projects achieve TRUE certification.

Read about TRUE projects in action and register a project.


Parksmart advances sustainable mobility through smarter siting, design and operations of parking structures. The certification program recognizes high-performing, sustainable garages and provides a road map for implementing strategies that help both new and existing facilites to

  • Reduce operational costs up to 25 percent.
  • Reduce energy consumption.
  • Maximize performance.
  • Minimize waste and harmful emissions.
  • Encourage sustainable transportation, such as ride-sharing and bicycling.

Parksmart projects can also use Arc to benchmark and track building and portfolio performance.

Professionals who are well versed in strategies to reduce the energy and environmental footprint of parking facilities can be recognized through the Parksmart Advisorprogram.

Read about Parksmart projects in action and register your project at

Performance Excellence in Electricity Renewal (PEER)

PEER is the nation’s first rating system to measure and improve power system performance and electricity delivery. It is designed to improve grid resilience, create greater efficiencies in energy use, reduce carbon and minimize risks caused by poor energy reliability and poor power quality.

From hospitals to municipalities, PEER is transforming the complex power and energy sectors.

Learn more about PEER and register a project.

Investor Confidence Project (ICP)

ICP is a global underwriting standard for developing and measuring energy efficiency retrofits for commercial and multifamily residential buildings. Through its Investor Ready Energy Efficiency (IREE) certification, ICP aims to standardize energy efficiency upgrades through best practices that make projects more attractive to investors and building owners. These protocols lower transaction costs and increase confidence in savings.

The program was developed by the Environmental Defense Fund and is available in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

Explore IREE certification.


GRESB is an investor-driven organization committed to assessing the environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance of real assets globally. GRESB gives real asset investors tools to monitor and manage the ESG performance of their investments and to prepare for increasingly rigorous sustainability issues at the forefront of business decision-making.

By participating, companies and funds are able to better manage portfolios, funds and assets in the face of more volatile energy prices, stricter legislation to combat climate change, increased energy efficiency requirements and changing preferences of corporate tenants.

Explore GRESB data and join to improve ESG management and reporting.


EDGE is a certification system for residential and commercial buildings that enables design teams and project owners to find the most cost-effective ways to achieve energy and water savings. EDGE includes a web-based software application, a universal standard and a certification system.

Working specifically in emerging markets, EDGE complements other green building rating systems by providing a quantifiable business case that resonates with sectors of the market that have been slow to change.

Explore EDGE certification.

The WELL Building Standard (WELL)

Created by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), WELL is a performance-based system for measuring building features that impact human well-being. It aims to improve the way people live by furthering spaces that enhance occupant health and quality of life.

Building and design professionals dedicated to human-centric principles can be recognized by becoming a WELL AP. The credential denotes expertise in the WELL Building Standard and a commitment to advancing human health and wellness in buildings and communities.

Explore the certification and register a project.

Benchmarking Data into Energy

USGBC National Capital Region would like to share a resource with its members: The Institute for Market Transformation (IMT) has released Putting Data to Work, a comprehensive toolkit that guides city sustainability leadership, energy efficiency service providers, utilities and building owners in effectively deploying building energy performance data to drive savings.

Buildings in the U.S. consume so much energy that they account for more than one-quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), according to the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction. In many buildings, this energy use and its associated costs and pollution could be cut by 30 percent or more through improved operations and use of existing technology.

As a critical first step, cities are enacting benchmarking policies to track building energy and water use, encouraging building owners to analyze and compare building performance over time. Aiding in this process, tools such as USGBC’s Arc platform and the suite of data tools and standards from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), such as the Standard Energy Efficiency Data Platform and Building Energy Data Exchange Specification, are enabling the creation of valuable data that can drive better-informed business decisions and efficiency improvements.

From spreadsheets to savings

Partially funded by the DOE, “Putting Data to Work” is the culmination of a three-year partnership between IMT and the District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment (DOE) and the New York City Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, as well as their partners, the District of Columbia Sustainable Energy Utility and New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation, to examine pioneering efforts in each jurisdiction and enable others to replicate their success in reducing building energy use.

For jurisdictions with benchmarking and building performance policies, or those considering adopting them, the hands-on experience collected in the District and New York City provides a guide for using building performance data to identify efficiency opportunities. Highlights include:

  • A report explaining ways that city-collected data can help identify and connect with high-priority buildings for outreach, as well as how to incorporate data into local climate and energy planning and ensure that high-quality data are collected and used.
  • A resource list to help cities guide building owners to take their efficiency efforts to the next level after benchmarking, and a guide to help answer the critical question of whether energy efficiency policies and programs are having the desired impact.
  • For utilities and energy efficiency service providers, methods for increasing program participation rates and lowering the cost of customer acquisition are shared. This includes a primer on the emerging uses of building energy data for utilities, a guide looking at how program administrators can use data to identify prospective customers and step-by-step guidance for engaging in conversations about energy data with building owners.

Reduce Food Waste

USGBC’s Senior Policy Counsel shares why she is motivated to reduce food waste.

The earth that gives us all this food,
The Sun that makes it ripe and good.
Dearest Earth and dearest Sun,
we will not forget what you have done.


As spring brings blossoms and ever-present birdsong to the metro D.C. region, I’m reminded of Earth Day of this blessing that has stayed with me since my child’s preschool years. It is a deceptively simple act to pause, reflect on and appreciate what the Earth and sun give us, but it is harder to practice in the bustle of everyday life. Personally, I derive disproportionate joy from seeing my small patch of lettuce sprout and then grow, visibly it seems, every day.

To those of us who have it in abundance, food is one of life’s pleasures and an important element of socializing and community. To others, food is about survival, economic stress, and helplessness. If our eyes are open, we need not look far to find individuals facing risks from food scarcity, often right in our neighborhoods, schools and communities.

Reducing waste, reducing CO2

The United States leads the globe in the efficiency of food production and in food exports, but there’s much we still need to learn to fulfill the responsibility of abundance. A new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture finds that U.S. consumers wasted about 150,000 tons of food per day—a quarter of the daily food available for consumption—representing the production from 30 million acres, or 7 percent of our cropland.

In this study, higher-quality diets were associated with greater amounts of food waste, especially fruits and vegetables, which are the most likely categories of food to be discarded. Even more is counted as wasted if we include products that don’t make it to market, such as those deemed unattractive because of bruising.

Wasted food has a significant toll on the climate from greenhouse gas contributions—both in the emissions from wasted energy and resources to grow, harvest and transport the unused food and in methane release from decomposition. Researchers have estimated food waste contributes 4.4 gigatons of carbon dioxide each year, nearly as much as emissions from road transportation.

Giving back to the Earth—and fellow humans

Climate impact alone provides strong motivation for many of us to reduce waste. But perhaps an even stronger motivation is our natural desire to give. Sharing our collective food abundance taps into our human impulse of generosity, which science shows contributes to individual happiness. Actions to help get food where it’s needed, and keep it out of landfills, are not just things we “should” do.

Opportunities to give, and to and reduce waste, are everywhere—at food banks, farmers’ markets, soup kitchens, community gardens and home compost stations. I’m excited by innovative models that are cropping up to match volunteer solutions with our human desire to help.

Also, new attention is being paid to the dual food waste/hunger challenge. For example, Baltimore-based Hungry Harvest sells “ugly” produce that would otherwise be thrown away and uses the proceeds to subsidize food access for those in need.Globally, Selina Juul has created a movement about stopping food waste.

Tangible ways to appreciate and share our abundance—to thank the earth and sun—are right in front of us, if our eyes are open. Earth Day, Earth Week and Earth Month are a terrific time to notice and take advantage of those chances to give back.

Cali Green Alignment

USGBC, creators of LEED, the green building rating system, announced significant streamlining for all LEED prerequisites and some credits for California projects that are pursuing certification under LEED v4. New projects built to California’s robust energy and green building codes (CALGreen) are pre-approved for significant streamlining of fundamental LEED requirements.

“LEED has always helped to raise the bar on code so that we can continue to push the market to reduce carbon emissions,” said Wes Sullens, USGBC director for codes technical development. “In the case of CALGreen, LEED is able to celebrate the leadership of California by recognizing its efforts and allowing projects to pursue both CALGreen and LEED. This streamlining effort recognizes those leaders in the green building space who constantly push the market to new heights. It also signals to the rest of the U.S. what’s possible when you add the weight of LEED to a robust building code, and that for those already operating at this level, certification is actually very attainable.”

With California leading the way, many cities, counties, and states are adopting green building strategies as mandatory requirements in local codes. USGBC has been working on the greening of building codes for more than a decade. Since 2014, USGBC has worked to align requirements between LEED and CALGreen, and although all projects must earn a minimum of 40 points to earn LEED certification, California’s green codes put project teams on a more direct certification path.

Last July, USGBC substantially expanded streamlining the LEED v4 Building Design and Construction (BD+C) credits and prerequisites on projects built to California’s codes. To date, the project teams for more than 3 million square feet of space have taken advantage of that effort. Now, projects built to the 2016 California code can seek certification through additional streamlining of the LEED v4 Interior Design and Construction (ID+C) and rating system and that for homes. Additionally, commercial projects pursuing points toward certification using the Optimize Energy Performance credit now benefit from an update that reduces the need to run additional energy models if the project is building to, or exceeding, California’s code.

“The LEED streamlining announced today is welcome news for local governments in California, who are working hard to meet climate and sustainability goals,” said Deborah Weintraub, chief deputy city engineer at the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering. “We think the duplication of work that is minimized by this recognition in LEED will reduce costs and allow us to focus our time and the public’s resources on pursuing higher levels of LEED. We applaud USGBC for taking this step to recognize California.”

In addition to being the first state in the nation to adopt a mandatory green building code, California is home to some of the first LEED buildings and consistently certifies the most projects in the U.S., year after year, per capita. In 2017, 475 projects achieved LEED certification in the state, representing more than 89.26 million total square feet of space.

Built for Health

On this week’s podcast, learn how the urban farming movement is changing the food landscape for the better.

Diet has a great impact on the quality of human life—hence, the expression “you are what you eat.” Our diets suffer for many reasons, including our desire to be satisfied quickly. Many of us, especially in urban areas, also struggle with finding access to fresh fruits and vegetables, the cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle.

With the advent of urban agriculture initiatives, that struggle is waning, and building owners, operators, and occupants have a significant role to play in bringing the farm to the table in cities and communities around the country.

On the newest episode of “Built for Health,” Dr. Michael Greger, a physician, author and professional speaker on public health issues, and Christopher Grallert, Partner, Advisor and Managing Director of Green City Growers, join host Flavia Grey for a discussion on nutrition and how the urban farming movement is changing the food landscape for the better.

Listen to “Built for Health: Nutrition and Food Production” for more on the connection between nutrition and health outcomes, strategies for onsite local food production and how edible landscapes can support your environmental goals.

Learn more about what our bodies need to be healthy and how buildings can help provide the means to cultivate an optimal diet. The episode is eligible for .5 CE hours on the Education @USGBC platform. Listen to the episode, and then take the quiz.




Recovery before Disaster Strikes


After the shock of a disaster has abated, the community begins to think about restoring normalcy. Bringing back school operation is a top priority since it allows faculty and staff to get back to work and brings students back to the city. But this can take time. After Hurricane Katrina, for example, it took several months for a few schools to return to operation and almost two years before there was enough building capacity to meet the demands of the families returning to New Orleans.

States have an opportunity to assist communities in their efforts to rebuild better than before. All federal disaster funds flow through states to local communities, and most local communities are unprepared because they do not manage these funding sources on a regular basis. States are well positioned to provide technical expertise to local leaders and to help manage recovery and envision what the future can hold for a community, including its school system.

State governments should support efforts at the local level not only to recover from a disaster but also to ensure community resilience after future events. Based on my experience in rebuilding the school system after Hurricane Katrina, here are a few recommendations for how states can assist.

1. Help local governments develop and adopt a master plan immediately.

One of the major obstacles to rebuilding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was the lack of a comprehensive rebuilding plan. School reconstruction had to wait until the city’s plan could be decided, thus delaying when students could safely return to school.

Many federal funding streams require the existence of a community-wide plan, developed with community input. This process can be lengthy and contentious. In New Orleans, it took two years to develop a plan for the city, then another year to develop a plan specifically for the schools, which had not had a master plan since the 1950s.

Prior to Katrina, the Recovery School District of Louisiana—a statewide school district of underperforming schools established in 2003—only operated a handful of schools in New Orleans. The Orleans Parish School Board operated a portfolio of buildings that had 50 percent more capacity than enrollment. If a master plan for optimizing these facilities, including new construction and major renovations, had been in place prior to the storm, the rebuilding process could have been initiated far more swiftly, and schools could have been a powerful anchoring force for community health and recovery.

2. Establish minimum standards for greener, more resilient school buildings.

A 2015 national independent poll commissioned by USGBC found that 92 percent of Americans believe that the quality of public school buildings should be improved. To do this, we need standards that align policy with contemporary expectations for healthy, green and resilient school buildings. Federal disaster funding, too, requires building standards as part of project formulation.

However, many small rural and large urban districts do not have the time, resources or expertise available to evaluate or establish standards that prioritize community health and resiliency. Among other benefits, standards that include measures to enhance resilience, such as USGBC’s resilience-focused tools, can prepare buildings to serve as emergency shelters during future events. Here again, states can help by providing guidance and resources well in advance of any urgent need.

3. Provide technical assistance and advocacy.

Except for limited funds provided by the U.S. Department of Education, there are very few opportunities for school districts to manage federal grants. States can act as collectors of local knowledge and offer training to local officials on developing successful applications for funding. Specifically, states can help by

  • Conducting a thorough review of state procurement laws, comparing requirements outlined by the funding source with the options available to municipalities and state agencies. When barriers are discovered, states should negotiate a solution on behalf of the applicants, rather than requiring applicants to manage this on their own.
  • Frequently convening a cross-section of applicants to identify common problems and to facilitate sharing of best practices.
  • Creating a list of the common barriers to recovery across the portfolio of applicants. This could advance state-level policy and serve as a model for other states.

4. Assist with cash flow.

Many municipalities and local subdivisions are strapped for cash, limiting their flexibility to quickly invest in critical infrastructures, such as schools, in a timely manner. States should have a process to advance or loan money, as well as one to hasten reimbursement of expenses. Since most federal disaster grants are reimbursements, states should consider a revolving loan process for eligible work, to help municipalities that don’t have the cash flow to get started.

When states support municipalities in rebuilding local infrastructure, local efforts are amplified. For schools, this support is especially critical, because they serve as cornerstones of their communities. With states and municipalities working together, schools cannot just return to normalcy but can emerge more resilient than ever before.

Advocacy Day

The event featured policy briefings and discussions on water, energy, air, land, transportation, and health.

Feature image photo credit: Climate + Energy Project.

On March 15, USGBC Central Plains participated in an environmental education and advocacy day, titled “WEALTH Day,” at the Kansas State Capitol in Topeka. The event was hosted by the Climate + Energy Project. The nonprofit organization’s goal is to “dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in America’s Heartland through the ambitious deployment of energy efficiency and renewable energy, in policy and practice.”

The event featured policy briefings and topical discussions on the six subjects suggested by the WEALTH acronym: Water, Energy, Air, Land, Transportation, and Health.

Participating on behalf of USGBC Central Plains were Jennifer Gunby, USGBC State and Local Advocacy Manager; Julie Peterson, USGBC Director of Community for Central Plains; and Josh Thede of Henderson Engineers, USGBC Central Plains Emerging Professionals Chair–2018, and City of Mission, Kansas–Sustainability Commission.

USGBC is monitoring two particular energy efficiency bills and met with Gov. Jeff Colyer’s staff on expanding the benefits of energy efficiency and green buildings in Kansas.

  • KS SB347—Utilities and demand-side programs: Changes how benefits of energy efficiency programs are calculated by replacing the state’s current tests with one based on the National Standard Practice Manual.
  • KS SB 322—Utilities and the net metering act: Would revert state law to 2009 regulations that protect Kansas residential distributed generation (DG) from demand charges. This would apply only to investor-owned utilities’ residential solar customers.


It was my great privilege to be part of the Second Annual Conference of Women4Climate, held last week at the Interactive Museum of Economics. Sponsored by C40, the conference highlighted the significant role and contributions by female leaders around the globe. I represented SUMe, where we strive to educate and encourage our network in achieving climate change mitigation through green building.

Participants in the Women4Climate conference included mayors from cities around the world, such as Rome, Italy; Salt Lake City, Utah; Oslo, Norway; Montreal, Canada; and New Orleans, Louisiana; as well as Mexican women who play an important role today in the care of the environment.

Patricia Espinoza, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and Gabriela Warkentin, Director of W Radio, discussed the role of woman in climate change and how we can solve the challenges facing us. Key themes at the event included the importance of empowering the next generation of women leaders in climate change issues and women’s leadership in building inclusive societies.

One topic that resonated with the Mexican women present in this forum was that of resilience after a catastrophic natural event. The Secretary of Environment of Mexico City, Tanya Müller García, highlighted the important role played by nonmotorized, alternative means of transport in bringing help to those who need it the most.

Women4Climate was launched at the C40 Mayors Summit in 2016, aiming to inspire and empower young women, as well as raise awareness of the great impact that climate change has on women of all the world.

For me, this event was extremely inspiring. It’s invaluable to meet and hear from other women involved in climate action, reflect on experiences shared in the forum and recognize solutions. Women who are at the head of an organization and who fight against climate change, and in favor of gender equity, must stay focused and positive. For this very reason, we need to connect with and empower one another.

Green Apple Day of Service

At the Center for Green Schools at USGBC, we believe that all students should have the opportunity to attend schools that sustain the world they live in. As Earth Day approaches, we want to remind communities to look to their local schools as a space to promote a thriving, healthy planet.

Green Apple Day of Service offers a variety of project ideas for school communities to come together and reduce their impact on the environment, support health and wellness in schools and advance environmental and sustainability literacy. These projects also give students and teachers the tools they need to engage in civic participation and leave their communities—and the world—better off for those who come after them.

Here are some examples of projects that can help your school community have a lasting, positive impact on our planet.

Create or tend a school garden

  • Good for the environment: Gardens teach students about the important role of land in our lives, such as providing wildlife refuge and habitat, growing vegetables and fruit for instruction or cafeteria use and providing places to divert water from storm sewers.
  • Good for students: You can use planting a garden with students as an opportunity to teach lessons about plant cycles and the environment, as well as teamwork, responsibility and nutritional values.

Train custodians on green cleaning

  • Good for the environment: Conventional cleaning supplies have been found to pollute indoor air with toxins such as lead, asbestos, chemical fumes, pesticides, and molds. The transition to a green cleaning program can both prevent this air pollution and decrease a school’s carbon emissions footprint by using energy-efficient cleaning equipment.
  • Good for students: This project is an example of intergenerational engagement in sustainability, with faculty, students and custodians alike benefiting from increased productivity in an indoor environment free from environmental pollutants and irritants. Whether it is training new custodial workers, expanding on what they already know, adopting new processes or testing new technologies, success is dependent upon custodians receiving appropriate training.

Emirates Green Building Council

The United Arab Emirates (UAE)’s strongest advocates of green schools closed out 2017 with the formal launch of the Emirates Coalition for Green Schools. In a roundtable event convened by the Emirates Green Building Council (EmiratesGBC), government representatives, academics, teachers, education and sustainability stakeholders and private sector representatives came together to discuss a national vision for healthy, high-performing schools.

As a founding member of the Global Coalition for Green Schools—which was founded by the Center for Green Schools at USGBC, in partnership with the World Green Building Council—EmiratesGBC has been leading the UAE’s green schools to work since 2013.

Research and recommendations for UAE schools

The first in a series of planned events, the November roundtable was focused on how each distinctive stakeholder group could contribute to the shared goal of greening UAE’s schools. The event culminated in the release of the State of Our Schools white paper, which outlines recommendations for transforming UAE’s schools into more sustainable learning environments. The white paper is supported by the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy, Taqati, and Etihad Energy Services and was developed with the Center for Green Schools.

The roundtable encapsulated a significant challenge in the industry: A very limited number of schools currently meet the agreed-upon definition of a green school in the UAE. For instance, as noted in the white paper, a recent study found that across 16 elementary schools examined, the average total VOC, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulate concentration were outside of the recommended ranges for classroom environments. Improvements to indoor air quality in UAE schools have been highlighted as a specific need to address.

Working together for a common goal

In addition, the establishment of the Emirates Coalition shows that the global movement is taking root in other countries, bringing together multidisciplinary actors to develop strategies and resources to address the most pressing issues. Collaboration across different sectors in the UAE is helping green schools and improve the sustainability literacy of local students.

The Emirates Coalition is also considering the potential of green schools more broadly. As the white paper emphasizes, greener schools would contribute to the UAE’s educational targets for 2021, as well as aid in achieving national and municipal energy, water and waste reduction targets.

For a U.S. perspective on these issues, read the Center for Green Schools’ 2016 State of Our Schools report, which analyzes the best available school district data about K–12 public school facilities funding and identifies strategies for addressing the structural deficits in our education infrastructure.

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LEED Certification

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is a non profit organization that certifies sustainable businesses, homes, hospitals, schools, and neighborhoods. USGBC is dedicated to expanding green building practices and education, and its LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System™.

Chemline, Inc. is a member of The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and has the potential to provide LEED points.