A certification provides third-party confirmation that a product, project, process, or system fulfills the requirements of a given standard. Certification programs vary in method or philosophy. They can be divided into multi-attribute and single-attribute programs. A single-attribute certification focuses on just one factor, like water use, energy use, or chemical emissions, while a multi-attribute certification uses life-cycle parameters examines several factors, including energy use, emissions, toxicity, and end of life options. Green building rating systems are a kind of multi-attribute certification that assess entire projects rather than single phases or products within them. They classify projects according to several levels of compliance, each with specific performance requirements. Green building rating and certification systems take a holistic approach, evaluating a building’s entire life cycle, as an exmple, from sourcing and design to construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and end of life. Rating systems can be applied to any kind of building project, from residential homes to commercial or industrial buildings, to entire neighborhoods, products or services. These systems are used in order to better define, implement, and measure the outcomes of sustainability, safety or regulatory strategies.

There are four principles used to evaluate building rating or certification systems. First, they must be based on science, with reproducible results. Second, they must use transparent standards and processes. Third, they should be objective – the most rigorous environmental certifications delegate evaluation, testing, and awarding of certifications to an independent third-party organization, with no connections to product manufacturers, contractors, designers, or other involved parties. Fourth, they must be progressive – setting standards and awarding certifications that encourage advancement and evolution, and which reflect current technologies and research.1

Well known certification and building rating systems include:

  • Cradle to Cradle product standard incentivizes environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing practices.
  • LEED is a certification system and global standard for green buildings and communities.
  • The Living Building Challenge & the Living Product Challenge are certification programs that advance sustainability in the built environment.
  • BREEAM is the world’s first widely used green building certification system.
  • Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is a certification program for organically produced textiles.
  • GREENGUARD and GREENGUARD Gold certify products and processes that meet standards for safe levels of chemical and particle emissions in indoor spaces.
  • SCS Global FloorScore Certified assesses the indoor air emissions of resilient and hard surface flooring materials.
  • SCS Indoor Advantage Certified appraises the VOC emissions of furniture and interior building materials.
  • Forest Stewardship Council (FSC Certified) evaluates forest products, such as wood, paper, and packaging items.
  • WELL is a global rating system that assesses the impact of the built environment on human health.


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