Determine Which Sustainable Building Rating Systems are Best for You

The variety of sustainable building rating systems promoting health and wellbeing can be confusing. With so many standards, how do you determine which are suitable for your project? How do you take advantage of the synergies between these rating systems to pick the right building materials? By increasing your knowledge of all the available options, you can make a more informed decision and achieve the best possible results for your building. In AEC Daily’s online course you can explore health and wellbeing credits across sustainable building rating systems and study the many options for creating optimal conditions for building occupants.

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Throughout history, building requirements have changed to match our increasingly complex needs and the evolution of construction materials. Along with these changes came a growing recognition of health and safety concerns, leading to periodic revisions of building codes. For example, the recognition of sick building syndrome during the late 20th century brought the link between health issues and building design to the forefront. Poor ventilation systems and a range of biological and chemical contaminants caused tenants to suffer from symptoms including dizziness, headaches, nausea, and skin irritation. Building codes were revised to improve ventilation, as well as placing restrictions on hazards such as asbestos and radon gas.

Along these lines and in response to growing ecological concerns, voluntary sustainable building rating systems emerged in the 1990s to help designers create more environmentally-friendly buildings. Even in early systems such as BREEAM and LEED, the programs looked beyond strictly energy issues to include elements of the whole building site, such as indoor air quality, materials, and waste.

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“Wellness” has become the term promoted by sustainable building rating systems to encapsulate the overall links between the health, productivity, and wellbeing of building occupants. Six dimensions have been defined to achieve wellness: occupational, physical, social, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional. “Wellness,” the University of California has observed, “is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life.” 

Maintaining wellness through building practices is critical when people spend 90 percent of their lives indoors. Exposure to higher levels of pollutants, the lack of natural light, and sedentary habits reduce physical energy and devastate our mental health. Pursuing building designs that counter those factors and instead enhance wellness has been shown to benefit businesses, leading to increased productivity and job satisfaction and decreased absenteeism. In other words, investing in healthier buildings protects a business’s greatest asset: its staff. 

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As the number of rating systems increase, alignment documents known as “crosswalks” are becoming more important. These simplify the certification process for anyone pursuing dual certifications or wanting to compare criteria between rating systems. The AEC Daily course outlines the related credits and current crosswalks between rating systems, allowing you to make the choices that will maximize the benefits for your project. The course discusses green construction codes as well, such as IgCC, which cover sustainability measures for whole construction sites, and also includes a list of building product databases to help you choose the right building materials for your project. 

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The basis for this article is a continuing education course sponsored by Underwriters Laboratories. This course is managed and maintained by AEC Daily, one of the world's largest sources of free continuing education for architects, engineers, and construction professionals. Note: You will need an AEC Daily user account to access the full course and earn CE credit.

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Cite: AEC Daily. "Determine Which Sustainable Building Rating Systems are Best for You" 30 Nov 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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