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Making sense of the alphabet soup: Decoding Green Rating systems

“Which green rating / certification should we pursue?”

green building ratings confusion

This question comes up often when interacting with customers. To quote a professor of mine from graduate school, the correct answer to all questions with multiple choices is: “Well, it depends”. There are a number of choices available today for obtaining some manner of recognition for our energy management or “green” efforts. This is a big part of the challenge – how do we make sense of this alphabet soup? And, how do we choose which recognition or green rating is right for us?

In India, for example, for existing commercial buildings, we have the following green rating options:-

• Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) Star Rating for Commercial Buildings
• Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) Green Existing Buildings Operations & Maintenance (a.k.a IGBC Green EBOM)
ISO 50001 – the Energy Management System certification of the International Standards Organization
• US Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy & Environment Design (LEED) Building Operations & Maintenance (a.k.a LEED O+M) (formerly known as LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance or LEED EBOM).

With so many options for green rating, it can get confusing for anyone who is not an expert. So how do you decide one way or the other?
Well, it depends (on your answers to the following questions) :-

1.  Is your focus only or largely on energy, or are you interested in other aspects of “green” or sustainability as well?

  •  Energy is what it’s all about – BEE Star Rating or ISO 50001
  • Holistic sustainability or “green” is where it’s really at – IGBC or LEED

2.  Are you set up for collecting and maintaining a large amount of documentation in a systematic manner; including documents from vendors, manufacturers and service providers?

  • Yes, we’re fairly well equipped to do this – IGBC or LEED
  • Well, we can manage documentation from internal sources fairly well, but we’d struggle to collect documentation from external sources – ISO 50001
  • No, we’d really like to get the fastest and easiest way in terms of documentation – BEE Star Rating

3.  Are you looking something that’s recognized nationally, or internationally?green ratings

  • Most of our stakeholders are national or domestic – BEE Star Rating or IGBC
  • A lot of our stakeholders (or customers) are international– ISO 50001 or LEED

4.  Does it matter if it’s certified by a government entity?

  •  Yes, that would be fairly important to us – BEE Star Rating
  •  No, as far as it’s certified by a third party, it works for us – BEE Star Rating, IGBC, ISO 50001 or LEED

5.  Do you have a budget and / or an appetite for engaging a consultant to take you through the certification process?

  • Yes, we can certainly consider it if it adds value – IGBC or LEED
  • No, we’d rather go with something we can do ourselves – BEE Star Rating or ISO 50001

6.  Besides just the rating or certification, do you want to put a robust framework in place for managing and achieving actual energy    performance outcomes on an ongoing basis?

  • Yes, absolutely – ISO 50001

7.  How quickly do you want the recognition?

  • As soon as possible, no more than 6 months – BEE Star Rating
  • We can wait a year or so to put systems and processes in place – ISO 50001
  • 12-18 months or more is fine, so long as we’re doing the right things all around – IGBC or LEED

It’s also worth remembering that getting a certification need not be a one-time thing. You can think of this as a continuum or progression – for instance, you can start with the BEE Star Rating, then go for ISO 50001 and eventually graduate to a more holistic sustainability framework like IGBC or LEED. A couple of years down the line, chances are; you’d be a notch or two higher on the BEE Star Rating scale. The most sustainable facilities are the ones that maintain or improve their performance over the years.

Hopefully, these questions should help you zero in on the right choice for your situation and facility. Similar filters can be applied to new facilities as well, to determine the best option for a rating or certification. Knowing your present situation and final goal(s), selecting the right certification for your facility should be easier once you address these questions!

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