As sustainability certifications continue to mature, there are ever more options to choose from. From infrastructure-specific systems to those that focus on the entire life cycle of projects across a variety of scales, the choices can be dizzying. The summary table below highlights some of the distinctions between rating systems, but we recommend doing additional research and/or reaching out before selecting the best option for your project.
Some of the questions around whether, which, and how to use the various certification systems often hinge on desired outcomes. If you are looking to craft a process and ensure that the team is considering all relevant factors, using a system such as Envision or EcoDistricts can provide a focus on governance, broad considerations, and customized credits. If, on the other hand, your team is looking for a more prescriptive process to get to a clear outcome, the LEED ratings systems, SITES or similar, have a more “check the box” feel while still allowing for innovation and customization.
The question of whether to actually certify versus benchmarking against best practices is a common one, and as with most complicated questions, there is no single answer. Certification systems work best when they are followed through to certification, resulting in market recognition, compliance, and effective comparisons. On the other hand, certification can add cost, require compliance with (and documentation for) measures that may not add as much value as others that may be excluded, and limit innovation. The ideal approach can be to establish a minimum certification threshold and then consider the best of other applicable systems in the project’s early stages. This requires significant client buy-in as well as a comprehensive knowledge of the attributes of a variety of systems and metrics.
Trends in sustainability certification worth heeding include increased focus on performance, larger scale certifications, and more specific certifications to address niche scales and issues. In terms of ongoing performance, systems that enable tracking and reporting continue to gain prominence. For example, LEED requires 5 years of tracking and offers free access to the ARC platform for new projects, and systems like Envision and EcoDistricts encourage or require ongoing protocols for measuring performance as part of the project design. Larger scale certifications gaining momentum include EcoDistricts (15 certified districts, including 2 in Colorado), the STAR Communities rating system (over 70 communities, 3 in Colorado), LEED for Cities (currently in pilot), and the Living Community Challenge (14 communities). Niches include infrastructure-specific systems (Envision, GreenRoads, Parksmart) or airports (Sustainable Airport Manual), and those focused on health (WELL) and resilience (RELi, USRC, REDi).
Keeping your project goals front and center is the best way to sort through the myriad options for sustainability certification. When you’re ready to start the journey, give us a call and we’ll help you make the best choice for your goals!