The famous Coke vs. Pepsi debate can compare to the competition between green building standards. Most standards are made of the same basic ingredients, but they are battling it out to become the preferred product.

While the Coke vs. Pepsi race remains close in the United States, there seems to be a clear leader in commercial green building programs. And some obvious characteristics do set the systems apart. But, like Coke and Pepsi, many people are still unsure as to which system is better.

Run by the U.S. Green Building Council, 31 states recognize the LEED green building standard, and 1,212 commercial new construction projects have been certified under that system. Green Globes, run by the Green Building Initiative, is recognized in 18 states, and only 15 buildings have gained certification.

The systems, however, are more similar than they are different.

Both standards cover similar grounds, such as site sustainability, energy efficiency, water efficiency, resource efficiency, and indoor environmental quality. They have four possible levels of certification, require third-party certification, and have a minimum amount of points that builders must attain in each section.

But there are differences. One issue holds particular importance with dealers: forest certification systems. Green Globes awards points for a variety of certification systems, including the American Tree Farm System, the Forest Stewardship Council, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, and other programs that the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification recognizes. LEED only recognizes FSC-certified wood, but the USGBC is working to include other certifications.

A big issue that worries professionals is the added cost of building green. Some say Green Globes is cheaper than LEED. Green Globes certification costs usually range from $3,000 to $7,000, says Mark Rossolo, director of state and local outreach for the Green Building Initiative. LEED certification for New Construction costs $2,000 on average, but certification fees for buildings of more than 500,000 square feet can go beyond $20,000. The paperwork for Green Globes can be completed online, and the online system offers feedback. This reduces some of the "soft cost" of green building, says Rossolo.

Some say Green Globes is also more flexible. The system has a protection against "nonapplicable criteria." If a builder marks a criterion as nonapplicable, then he or she will be excused for not gaining points in those areas. For example, if a building code overrides a criterion, then the criterion can be marked as nonapplicable. Another example would be if a building does not have elevators and a criterion deals with improving elevators.

However, some argue LEED is more effective.

LEED for New Construction requires that buildings "exceed ASHRAE 90.1 2004 by at least 14%, which can lead to significant energy reduction," says an American Institute of Architects' report comparing three green building rating systems. Green Globes encourages energy reduction, but does not require it. LEED also calls for a minimum indoor air quality performance, while Green Globes does not. LEED makes it mandatory that builders have "some documentation of the initial building energy and operational performance through fundamental commissioning," says the AIA report, but Green Globes does not.

Green Globes does include points related to life-cycle assessment, while the current version of LEED does not. Life-cycle assessment analyzes how green a product is from its manufacture to the day it is no longer in use. An upcoming version of Green Globes will include a built-in tool that calculates how environmentally friendly a product is according to life-cycle assessment. This gives Green Globes "a very holistic approach in ensuring that we're getting the most environmentally friendly attributes overall," says Rossolo. However, LEED is working on including life-cycle assessment in future versions of its rating system.

Peter Casals, manager of membership and government relations for the Lumbermen's Association of Texas, says he wants to see how the upcoming changes in LEED pan out before he decides which rating system he prefers.

"I think it's too early to say one system is better than the other," he says. "I think that, as far as LEED, they are going to be making a lot of changes in the near future, and they are looking at a lot of things that will make them more flexible."

-- Victoria Markovitz