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Green Building Rating Systems

Laura Dickemann
Modern Building Skyline at Dusk

While product innovations, market forces, and building codes can affect choices, the building and construction industry has witnessed the growth of “green” building programs, incentives, and laws. Although the definition of “green” varies widely, generally green building seeks to increase the efficiency of energy, water and materials used in buildings and to reduce their environmental and human health impacts. For example, plastics can help conserve resources, are durable and can make buildings more energy efficient. Despite these benefits, some aspects of green building programs can still present some major challenges for plastic products.

For the reasons just mentioned, plastic products such as insulation, sealants, house wrap, pipe, vinyl windows and doors can help contribute significantly to the greening of buildings. Many companies are marketing their products to capture this growth trend. Because they want to be “green”, many federal agencies, state governments and municipalities have adopted incentives or regulations that promote green building, and many alliances, councils and activist groups are forming to advance green building practices.

In early 2000, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), an organization of architects and designers moved to provide a definition of “green building”. Through the promotion of their eco-label known as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system, the USGBC sought to become an authority on green building for architects and designers. Other “green building” tools are now emerging in the market place, such as the Green Globes environmental assessment and rating system for the commercial sector and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Model Green Home Building Guidelines for residential construction. Green Globes is a product of the Green Building Initiative (GBI), whose mission is to “promote practical green building approaches to energy efficient and environmentally sustainable building practices commonly referred to as green building. GBI is focused on ensuring the availability of credible and practical green building approaches within the residential and commercial construction industries.” Green Globes seeks to be performance based, material neutral, affordable, and life-cycle oriented.

Building green is a complex undertaking that requires a fair, open, and science-based evaluation process that allows all materials and products to compete on a level playing field. Many "green building" tools are available to architects, policymakers and others. These tools combine life-cycle costs and performance assessment data to discern environmental and economic tradeoffs, allow for a fair comparison of products and rely on standards developed by consensus-based groups such as ANSI, the International Standards Organization (ISO) and ASTM International.

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