The Hensley Field Operations Center in Dallas received a LEED gold rating for new construction. Photo: USGBC
The Summit County (Colo.) Materials Recycling Facility was the first green-built recycling center in the country and was recognized by the Green Globes environmental assessment and rating system for commercial buildings. Photo: GBI

Mention “sustainable design,” and the first thing that pops into most builders'heads is the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification program, commonly known as LEED.

This non-profit organization's mission is to give feedback on how green your building is. It certifies the construction of buildings that are environmentally sustainable, which means that you can meet today's environmental building design and construction needs without compromising those of future generations. The concept ranges from using solar panels to lower energy consumption, planting native flowers and grasses to help ease stormwater issues, and using locally acquired construction materials.

What you may not know, however, is that there is an alternative to the 69-point LEED rating system that's gaining awareness with architects and engineers.

The Green Building Initiative (GBI), also a non-profit organization, offers a slightly different commercial building rating system, though the ultimate goal is the same: to design or rehabilitate a building to be more energy-efficient, have less impact on the environment, and achieve overall sustainability.

GBI's commercial program, called “Green Globes,” is an interactive, online, 1000-point tool that includes an assessment protocol, rating system, and guide for integrating environmentally friendly design into both new and existing commercial buildings. Green Globes guides users through the process, helping them determine the next step they need to take to incorporate sustainable goals. Users answer a series of questions, each of which leads them to the next level, much like a “choose your own adventure” novel.

“Green Globes is a natural outgrowth of the green movement,” says Vicki Worden, head of commercial programs with GBI.

On the municipal level, there are nearly 230 projects that have achieved LEED certification, and the number continues to climb. More organizations (both public and private) join the movement each year, and achieving certification can be a feather in your municipality's cap.

Building green doesn't stop at the building's structural level, either.

The U.S. Green Building Council, along with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Congress for New Urbanism, has begun testing “LEED for Neighborhood Development,” which offers sustainable building practices for an entire community. While your municipality may not have the luxury of starting from scratch, city planners in areas with new development can review this pilot program to determine whether it might be beneficial.

And for those cities that have buildings they'd like to rehabilitate, they can turn to either LEED for Existing Buildings or Green Globes.