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. Some obvious characteristics do set the systems apart, but, like Coke and Pepsi, many people are still unsure as to which system is better.

CERTIFIABLE: This office building in New Jersey (left) is certified by the Green Globes green building standard. It includes plumbing fixtures that conserve water as well as fluorescent, energy efficient lighting, according to information on its Web site. Green Globes (logo, top right) and LEED (logo, bottom right) certification systems have many similarities, but their differences are more than mere technicalities. While the Coke-Pepsi race remains close in the United States, there seems to be a clear leader in commercial green building programs. Thirty-one states recognize the LEED green building standard, which is run by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), and 1,212 commercial new construction projects have been certified under it. Just 18 states recognize Green Globes, run by the Green Building Initiative, and only 15 buildings have gained certification.

The systems, however, are more alike than different. Both cover similar ground, such as site sustainability, energy efficiency, water efficiency, resource efficiency, and indoor environmental quality. Both have four possible levels of certification, require third-party certification, and set minimum point levels for sections.

But there are differences, including one that's key to dealers: forest certification systems. Green Globes awards points for many certification systems, including the American Tree Farm System, the Forest Stewardship Council, and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. LEED only recognizes FSC-certified wood, though the USGBC is considering whether 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. Also, paperwork for Green Globes is completed online, and the online system offers feedback, reducing "soft costs," says Rossolo.

Some say Green Globes is more flexible. The system protects against "nonapplicable criteria," for example, a criterion that a building code overrides can be marked as nonapplicable.

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. The ASHRAE standard sets minimum energy requirements for buildings. Green Globes encourages, but does not require, energy reduction. LEED requires a minimum indoor air quality performance, while Green Globes does not. LEED mandates that builders have "some documentation of the initial building energy and operational performance through fundamental commissioning," says the AIA report; Green Globes does not.

Unlike LEED, Green Globes does include points related to life-cycle assessment. Life-cycle assessment analyzes how green a product is from manufacture to disposal. An upcoming version of Green Globes will even include a built-in tool that calculates how environmentally friendly a product is according to life-cycle assessment. 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