Green Building Certifications, Rating Systems, and Standards

Do you want to be recognized for being a leader in developing a built environment that improves quality of life and the quality of the environment? Do you care about the health and well-being of the people occupying your building? Are you a developer and want to make sure your project team delivers on its commitment to provide a green building that is high performance, healthy, and environmentally responsible? Are you looking to purchase or lease a green building and want to ensure that you're getting what you pay for? Green building certifications, rating systems, and standards help provide all of this and more to the building industry. Read below about your options, and feel free to contact us for more information. 

The Landscape of Green Building Standards

This list will provide many of the green building certifications, rating systems, and standards that are available. The order is generally based on the extent to which a project has achieved sustainability with the highest being first. The following should be considered green|spaces' opinion based on available studies and the experience of our staff.


Living Building Challenge (certification)

Appropriate building type: Any

Incremental Cost for Certification: $1,750-25,000 Certification Fees / 11-27% Higher construction cost due to super high performance systems, but can be paired with cost savings strategies and 29-37% rate of return on investment. Read more

Level of Performance Achieved: Highest in every category

The Living Building Challenge represents, in our opinion, the highest level of green building certification available in the market today. It is a thoughtful, well-considered, and rigorous standard based on actual performance and in-person inspections of the building. Everything in the challenge is required, there are no optional credits. To meet this challenge and receive certification, a building must demonstrate among other things:

  • Net Positive Energy (Produces at least 5% more energy than it consumes on an annual basis)
  • Net Positive Water (Uses on-site water and collected rainwater and treats wastewater on site)
  • No Red-List Materials (No materials used on the project can contain chemicals of concern)

For more information about LBC or the International Living Futures Institute, see the LBC website:

ILBC does offer Net Zero Energy and "Petal" certifications to recognize projects that achieve parts of the Living Building Challenge but cannot achieve the very high performance levels in every category. 



Leed (Leadership in energy and environmental design) (Rating system)

Appropriate building type: Any

Incremental Cost for Certification: $600 Registration Fees ($450 for USGBC members),  $2,250 to $22,500 Certification Fees ($1,750 to $17,500 for USGBC members) / 0-19% Higher construction cost but varies widely for certification level, size, and type. Can be paired with cost saving strategies and a 3-17% Rate of Return on Investment again depending on level. Read more here and here.

Level of Performance Achieved: High performance in every category depending on LEED version (v4 versus 2009) and certification level (Certified, Silver, Gold, Platinum). There is a usually a substantial jump in performance found in Gold and Platinum certified projects compared to Certified and Silver certified projects.

LEED, developed by the US Green Building Council (USGBC)* is the most widely known and trusted green building rating system and offers a balance of high performance features with practical approaches that are achievable in every market. It considers site selection and design, water efficiency, energy efficiency, material efficiency, indoor environmental quality, and other green building concepts. Projects must achieve all prerequisites and the specified number of credits to achieve the respective certification level (Certified, Silver, Gold, Platinum). Extensive documentation of the building design and construction is submitted online and reviewed by 3rd party teams from the Green Building Certification Institute, but there is no in-person inspection. 

For more information, see our LEED Case Studies, and

*green|spaces is a member of the US Green Building Council

Other resources:



Passive house (Certification)

Appropriate building type: Residential (though certification is available to commercial)

Incremental Cost for Certification: $1,480.00-1,850.00 Certification Fees ($1,080.00-1,350.00 for PHIUS members) / 10-19% Higher construction cost. Can be paired with cost saving strategies and a high rate of return on investment based on ~80% reduction in energy costs.

Level of Performance Achieved: Very high energy performance, but does not consider site/water/materials/health

The Passive House Standard started in Germany as Passivehaus by the Passive House Institute and was adapted to US climates by the Passive House Institute US. It focuses on the building envelope (exterior walls, floor, and roof) and requires very high performance insulation, windows, and doors, a very air-tight envelope, and very low demand on the building's mechanical system. The design is submitted online, and the performance is verified with 3rd party testing after construction, but does not involve an in-person inspection. The key thresholds are as follows:

  • a total heating & cooling demand of <15 kWh/m2/yr (4.7 kBtu/ft2/yr)
  • total primary (i.e., source) energy of <120 kWh/m2/yr (38 kBtu/ft2/yr)
  • airtightness 0.6 ACH@50 Pa or less

For more information, see