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What are the Top Sustainable Design Organizations and Certifications?


In recent years, sustainability has become an increasingly vital topic among designers. Buildings account for a large amount of resources and contribute to pollution through dumping of waste products and inefficient use of materials. With buildings consuming about 40% of energy usage and contributing about 40% of carbon dioxide emissions, it is our responsibility as designers to shift our focus towards sustainable design practices. There are many ways to do this, and our top four will be outlined in this sustainability series.


At SHYFT, our team is dedicated to continuously improving our knowledge of sustainable practices and implementing them in any feasible ways we can.


The International WELL Building Institute is an organization that created the WELL certification in 2014 and continues to research and expand upon standards for health-focused spaces. The most recent version, WELL v2, is an outline of scientifically researched strategies that aim to guide intentional design with a focus on human health and well-being. It is founded upon the following principles that are outlined on their website: equitable, global, evidence-based, technically robust, customer-focused, and resilient. This certification consists of ten concepts that include preconditions and optimizations that follow a points-based system to determine certification level. The 24 preconditions are as follows: air quality, smoke-free environment, ventilation design, construction pollution management, water quality indicators, drinking water quality, basic water management, fruits and vegetables, nutritional transparency, light exposure, visual lighting design, active buildings and communities, ergonomic workstation design, thermal performance, sound mapping, material restrictions, interior hazardous materials management, CCA and lead management, mental health promotion, nature and place, health and well-being promotion, integrative design, emergency preparedness, and occupant survey.


This rating system, coined by the US Green Building Council, provides framework for buildings that improve efficiency, lower carbon emissions, and create healthier human-focused spaces. One primary goal of LEED is to address climate change and meet ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) goals. Their overall goal is to create better buildings that meet the following criteria: reduce contribution to global climate change, enhance individual human health, protect and restore water resources, protect and enhance biodiversity and ecosystem services, promote sustainable and regenerative material cycles, and enhance community quality of life. These goals are achieved by following a set of prerequisites and credits on a point based system that determines what level of certification a project will receive. The minimum program requirements are as follows: must be in a permanent location on existing land, must use reasonable LEED boundaries, and must comply with project size requirements in its appropriate category.


The LBC 4.0 sets attainable building goals that create sustainable opportunities for any level of project, place, or community. Primary goals include focusing on maximizing environmental impact through feasible levels of effort on a project-by-project basis. Seven petals make up the core performance goals of the challenge and within each petal there are varying numbers of imperatives that can be applied to any building project – new, existing, landscape, or interior. The petals are place, water, energy, health and happiness, materials, equity, beauty. The three characteristics of a living building that are defined by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) are as follows: regenerative buildings that connect occupants to the seven petals, self-sufficient, and create a positive impact on the human and natural systems with which it interacts.


Within the ILFI, the BDI educates on the elements of biophilic design and encourages the use of these strategies by offering a toolkit and an award. The toolkit includes resources and inspiration that provide knowledge on the fundamentals of biophilic design, guidance, activities, and opportunities to take your project a step further. By utilizing this toolkit, designers have the opportunity to win the Stephen R. Kellert Biophilic Design Award. This is given to recognize great achievements in the built environment.


There are many options of sustainable design organizations to choose from that provide different paths to successful, sustainable built environments. Each provides vital foundational knowledge of the efforts individuals can take to make a positive impact on the world. When selecting one or more initiatives to guide your process, it is important to consider feasibility, project goals, and design aesthetic goals. Whether you choose from our favorites, or go your own way, you can take peace in knowing that you are on the path to reducing your negative footprint on the environment.

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