Downtown Residence Inn project indicates Green Globes certification process is gaining traction

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Posted: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 12:00 am

When First Hospitality Group Inc. embarked on the $23 million project to convert downtown Omaha's old federal building into a Residence Inn by Marriott, officials had a choice of green building standards.

They could have chosen standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, or LEED. After all, that's the path more than 20,000 other commercial projects across the world, including other Marriott hotels, have taken to measure and certify their relative “green-ness” in terms of low environmental impact and energy efficiency.

Instead, the Rosemont, Ill.-based hotel developer and operator applied for green certification under the Green Building Initiative's Green Globes program. The 8-year-old program is not as well known as LEED but got a boost when it was approved in October 2013 for use with federal projects.

Proponents say the Green Globes alternative will save money and documentation time while still yielding sustainability.

A 2009 executive order set green building standards for federal buidings with more than 5,000 square feet. That order also requires all new federal buildings to generate as much energy on site as they consume by 2030.

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Like LEED certification, a Green Globes assessment considers factors like water- and energy-saving technology, use of recycled materials and minimal waste sent to landfills.

Jerry Yudelson, president of the Green Building Initiative, calls Green Globes “a technically rigorous but still user-friendly approach.” He said the program stands up to federal scrutiny; a 2012 federal General Services Administration report compared it favorably to LEED and another system, the Living Building Institute's Living Building Challenge.

While Yudelson said Green Globes' ease of use and relative lower cost are advantageous for builders and developers, numbers show he has his work cut out for him in terms of building visibility.

For example, the Omaha-based Kiewit Corp. has 49 people certified in Green Globes across the country and 435 in the 14-year-old LEED program. There are just 18 Green Globes professionals in Nebraska, most of whom work with Kiewit. By contrast, there are more than 900 professionals with LEED credentials across the state.

Proponents say the program has clear advantages over LEED, however.

Shervin Ansari, a Green Building Initiative board member and corporate sustainability manager for Omaha-based Kiewit Corp., said documentation for Green Globes takes about half as much time as LEED documentation. The program also assigns individuals to projects under assessment, which cuts out the cost of contractors having to hire a third-party LEED consultant.

“We've noticed when you actually have a person assigned to projects and they're helping to guide the process, it makes a big difference in the time that it takes,” Ansari said.

Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market in 2010 announced it would assess and certify all of its new and existing stores with the Green Globes program. Besides the the downtown Residence Inn by Marriott, the Whole Foods Market in Lincoln at 6055 O St. is the only other Green Globes candidate in Nebraska.

LEED, meanwhile, isn't going anywhere anytime soon. The 2012 GSA report gave it the upper hand for meeting federal requirements for existing buildings over the two other systems studied, though the report did say that Green Globes standards were better aligned with standards for new buildings.

According to LEED, 88 of the Fortune 100 companies use its green building program and it is the most widely used green building rating program in the world.

But that doesn't mean it's for everyone. First Hospitality Group chairman and chief executive Stephen Schwartz said Green Globes is a better fit for companies like his that work in hospitality renovations.

“The LEED checklist has been adapted and Marriott had its own internal department produce a LEED-certification prototype, but it was for ground-up developments,” Schwartz said. “This structure downtown was an adaptive reuse, so the program we found most applicable to what we're doing was Green Globes.”

Yudelson is scheduled to be in Omaha on Wednesday to promote the Green Globes program. His presentation — set for 7:30 a.m. in room 216 of Mammel Hall, 6708 Pine St. — will address the need for green building practices and will make a business case for them. His talk also will describe the certification process and how green practices can add value to new and existing buildings.

In an interview, Yudelson said Green Globes currently holds just about 5 percent of green building market share, but he has high hopes for the program.

“My goal is to take us from 'class A' to the major league in the next five years,” he said.

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