Move over LEED. SERFs are the new kid in town, seeking to provide an alternative to green building certification.

The Society of Environmentally Responsible Facilities (SERF) is a coalition of property owners, businesses and professionals that promotes environmentally responsible homes and buildings through its certification program. SERF’s goal is to make green building certification more affordable and easily accessible to companies of all sizes.

According to SERF founder Joe Maguire, its application process is streamlined to reduce the amount of time and money it takes for a building to be certified green. In most cases, the application process takes four to six weeks and can be completed by the project architect. The typical LEED timeline ranges from five to 15 weeks or more, depending on the project.

Although the process can be time-consuming and expensive, there is credibility in being the veteran green building certifier. U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) introduced the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating system in 2000, and since that time, LEED has become a household name. LEED certification provides independent, third-party verification that a building project is environmentally responsible, profitable and a healthy place to live and/or work. Today, almost 21,800 buildings have been LEED certified, totaling almost 1.5 billion square feet.

The quantity of SERF certifications are modest in comparison to LEED — just over 30 versus more than 21,000, respectively — but it just launched at the end of 2010 with limited rollout.

The major difference in the two programs — besides time and cost — is the approach. SERF is a self-guided process, prescriptive in nature to reduce variables, with voluntary documentation to demonstrate adherence. LEED uses a performance-based compliance approach and third-party verifications of required documentation demonstrating compliance of credits to certify buildings. While LEED has separate rating systems for new construction or renovation and for existing building operation and maintenance, SERF incorporates both into one system.

Our own Stephanie Graham, senior sustainability specialist, says SERF may prove to be an alternative for companies that don’t want to go through the expense and rigor associated with achieving LEED certification. “It’s absolutely better than doing nothing, but SERF opens itself up for abuse since certification does not require proof of achievement, unless audited. Anyone could submit the paperwork and say they were SERF-certified.” she says. “While accessible and affordable, I would consider SERF certification more similar to using best practices and LEED certification as verifiable exemplary performance. With more recent emphasis on long-term performance monitoring, measurement and reporting in the LEED rating systems, buildings will be held accountable to prove their performance over time.”

So what does a new player in the green building certification game mean? More than anything it means that people are becoming more cognizant of being green and building green. USGBC and SERF agree that promoting green building, maintenance and operations is a good thing. And so do we.

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