SPI to Seek Public Comment on First Green Firm Certification Program

Boston--Many design and construction companies offer services that are not as green as they claim, so the Sustainable Performance Institute has created a new program to weed out the greenwashers.

Barbra Batshalom

Boston–Many design and construction companies offer services that are not as green as they claim, so the Sustainable Performance Institute has created a new program to weed out the greenwashers, those entities that whitewash the level of sustainable services they offer. SPI’s new program is the first to provide independent green certification specifically for firms, as opposed to projects or individual professionals, and the organization is already taking steps to refine the program through a 45-day public comment period scheduled to end on March 18.

According to SPI, greenwashing reached peak levels in 2010 and is still on the rise. The duplicitous behavior, however, is not always intentional. “It’s a catch-22,” Barbra Batshalom, executive director of Green Roundtable/SPI, tells MHN. “You can’t get experience on green projects without saying you have green experience. Not all companies have the same commitment, but some don’t realize that they are not as green as they say they are.”

SPI’s certification program serves as a tool to evaluate the capabilities of design and construction firms–as well as property managers, engineers and any company involved in real estate development–to deliver consistent, high-quality sustainability services. After launching in Boston in November 2009, SPI launched the Certification program nationally at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in November, with representatives of the U.S. General Services Administration and TD Bank in tow to demonstrate their support. “The government has a high bar to reach,” Batshalom says, “and they realize that they are not going go reach it if they aren’t working with high performance teams, teams that have institutionalized sustainability in their business.”

Other organizations providing third-party green building certification focus on individual projects or persons. A development can earn the U.S. Green building Council’s LEED Certification, for example, and real estate practitioners can achieve the National Association of Realtor’s Green Designation through a program that provides advanced training in green building and sustainable business practices.

The criteria for SPI Certification consists of 64 required credits and 15 optional credits spanning the categories of Leadership, Strategy & Policy; Project Delivery; Infrastructure and Support Systems; Partnering and Collaboration; and Outcomes and Performance. SPI developed the criteria with the assistance of program partners, including USGBC and the American Institute of Architects, and vetted it with industry experts and participating companies during a six-month pilot phase. Now the organization is looking to the public in an ongoing quest to perfect the certification program. “We’re committed to transparency and quality,” says Batshalom. “We want to maintain credibility and assure best quality, and we have to have input for that. We are going to keep raising the bar.”

While SPI’s certification is only three months old, numerous companies ranging from architects to builders are pursuing the new designation. And they will get exposure for their achievements. “Within the calendar year we will launch an awards recognition program to honor the greenest firms, partly to give credit to companies that are doing a great job, and partly to show other companies what green construction looks like and to entice them to ramp up their green services.”