Green Building Materials Hit the Wall Over Certification Wars

Many of us in the commercial building and green building materials industry are hearing the cries from the front lines of the green building certification wars. Numerous articles of late proclaim one green building certification over another.

From net-zero energy to green building materials, sustainable design has become an oxymoron in some circles. It’s baffling to determine which materials, criteria and assessments are necessary to achieve certification.

With all the benefits green building materials bring to the betterment of the planet, it is disappointing to report that green building initiatives have not gained the traction expected.

Since 2000 and the introduction of United States Green Building Councils’ (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, new environmental building certifications have been formulated. Green Building Initiative (GBI) brought Green Globes certification to the U.S. in 2004-2006 and have positioned themselves to be competitors of LEED. With strong membership numbers in the timber, chemicals, and plastics industries, GBI differs from the others in their view of which products support environmental stewardship.

Other options including Living Building Challenge (2006) certification levels and now WELL Building Standard are offering certifications with meaningful impact on the physical and human elements of the built environment as well. All of these certifications outline their suggested best practices to accelerate the adoption of environmental principles in the building and construction industry.

Dealing with energy, waste, and water the idea is to reduce the carbon footprint of each building by endorsing the many benefits of green building in terms of (1) Energy (30-50% reduction in use and lower maintenance costs), (2) Water Reduction (in both use and costs), (3) Material Use (reduced waste), and (4) a Healthier Environment (reduction in sick days and higher productivity).

With all the benefits green building materials bring to the betterment of the planet, it is disappointing to report that green building initiatives have not gained the traction expected. According to Jerry Yudelson, President of the Green Building Initiative, the organization behind Green Globe certification, “If green is so great, why does it account for only one percent of the total U.S. building stock?”

The reality is we have big organizations competing for corporations, architects, builders and facility managers to invest in their green building certifications. Green building material manufacturers jump through hoops to comply with the requirements of each of the certification arms. Interior designers research and specify environmentally friendly materials. The benefits include reduced waste and carbon emissions, long-term savings in water, energy and sewer bills, healthier buildings plus higher rents and tenant and customer satisfaction and yet nobody seems to care. Based on the energy savings alone, we know it is not for lack of benefits that green building has not been embraced by more of the manufacturing, construction, and building industries.

Save the Planet by Specifying Moveable Walls

Manufacturers of sustainable moveable walls assist builders and facilities in increasing points for all green building certifications including LEED and Living Building points in the waste, materials and aesthetic areas of certification. It is not solely to please the approximately 1% seeking certification that we are designing healthier products and adopting environmentally conscious manufacturing and installation methods. We’re providing green building materials and sustainable design because we know our removable walls have an impact on the environment – today and in the future.

Achieving LEED certification is a coveted sustainable goal for many organizations. The energy savings, and reduced environmental impact LEED certified building offers are celebrated across the globe. Sustainability is a choice of values however, not a plaque on the wall or content for a positive press release. If LEED certification, reaching a WELL Building Standard or Living Building Challenge is out of reach, specifying moveable walls and sustainable products can still be integrated into your design and green building plans.

Adopting the principles of green building whether certification is sought or not is what will make the fastest and greatest impact on the planet. Making conscious green choices by specifying sustainable building products, diverting construction waste and reducing the use of raw materials has become an integral part of nonresidential and residential green building construction.

At the risk of stating the obvious, challenges with green building certifications doesn’t mean it has to have an impact on building green, choosing sustainable design or specifying moveable walls. The construction and design industries have been educated in the benefits of building green and it’s not entirely about certification. In recognition of our recent Earth Day, maybe now’s a good time to be reminded that when it comes to building and protecting our planet the end doesn’t justify the means.

Green Building Market:
Lower Cost High Return

A 2007 study of LEED certified buildings discovered there is no significant difference in average costs for green buildings as compared to non-green buildings. With less consumption of energy, lower maintenance costs, and higher occupant satisfaction, green building offers a much higher return than expected. With the increased market demand, the manufacturing of green building components and materials has grown.

Increased supply and options in sustainable building material products has also resulted in price reductions. Specifying moveable walls is a good example. In the past when designers specified moveable walls, the cost could not compete with traditional gypsum wall construction.

As demountable wall manufacturing and wall panel options have expanded, estimates have become highly competitive, and specifying moveable walls in some cases can result in lower costs than traditional wall construction. Project managers claiming sustainable design costs more because of increased research, analysis and selection of alternative products has also been negated. By implementing the integrated design process and bringing consultants, stakeholders, designers and contractors together early on, the integrated design process actually helps to avoid costly charges at later stages of construction.

When it comes to higher return, the United States Green Building Council reports that Green buildings consume less energy. Compared to the average commercial building, the LEED Gold buildings in the General Services Administration’s portfolio generally have these features: (1) Consume 25% less energy and 11% less water; (2) Have 19% lower maintenance costs; (3) 27% higher occupant satisfaction; and (4) 34% lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Green is the New Black

In his book The Shape of Green, Lance Hosey argues that “Beauty is inherent to sustainability, for how things look and feel is as important as how they’re made.” Fortunately, many designers and architects are on board with green building and sustainable design for these reasons. The lessons from the environmental push during the energy crisis of the 70s and the “sick” building syndrome are not lost on designers today. Attention to air quality, daylighting and increased use of recycled, recyclable and reusable products such as flexible removable glass walled work stations that can be reconfigured as building needs change, are a few of the solutions designers and architects are incorporating today.

Sustainable design doesn’t have to be traditional wood furnishings and coarse upholstery. The popularity of sustainable design has launched innovative products that beautify the space while reducing the building’s carbon footprint. Green certification controversies aside, sustainable design/green building is increasing momentum and doesn’t show any sign of peaking soon. “In the end,” writes Senegalese poet Baba Dioum, “We conserve only what we love.”

About the Author
Connie Sweet is a Creative and Marketing Specialist for NxtWall, a sustainable demountable wall solution specializing in higher education and commercial interiors. Learn more about NxtWall and the flexibility of demountable, moveable wall solutions by visiting or emailing