This blog post is an overview of our recent Building a Sustainable Future virtual event. A recording of the event can be found at the bottom of this page.

How we choose to design and build the buildings of the future will have a major impact on energy use and occupant wellbeing. In the U.S., buildings account for around 40% of total energy consumption and 12% of our water consumption. Designing efficient buildings can help us lower our energy consumption and keep our carbon footprint down.

Americans also spend around 90% of their time indoors (and probably even more than that since the start of the pandemic), and the design of these spaces where we spend most of our lives has the ability to impact our health and wellbeing.

A great way to ensure that buildings run efficiently, have a low carbon footprint, and promote health and wellbeing is to get projects certified by a building certification program that strives to achieve these goals.


The most popular of these certifications is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED. LEED has certification standards for all kinds of projects from single family homes, to bigger projects like schools and office buildings. There are also LEED programs for interior design, neighborhood development, and much more.

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LEED certification takes many factors into account from access to transportation to energy and atmosphere! Photo credits: Kent Hicks Construction Co.

The majority of the projects promote efficiency and wellbeing through 6 main categories: location and transportation, sustainable sites, indoor environmental quality, water efficiency, materials and resources, and energy and atmosphere.

Achieving the goals in these 6 main categories, as well as other LEED program goals like innovation and regional priority will make buildings greener and more sustainable.

Energy Star

Energy Star is a certification program aimed at helping buildings save energy, save money, and help protect the environment by generating fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

The EPA has developed a scale from 1-100 Energy Star Score. To become certified, the building must earn an energy star score of 75 or higher, indicating that it performs better than at least 75% of similar buildings nationwide On average, Energy Star buildings are 20% more efficient than standard new buildings.

Passive House

Another popular building efficiency standard is Passive House. Passive House is a building standard that is truly energy efficient, comfortable, and affordable at the same time.

Just like LEED certification, there are specific standards that must be met and approved by a certified Passive House rater in order for a building to qualify as a Passive House.

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Passive house is an international high performance building standard that really focuses in on energy efficiency. Check out the attached webinar for a tour of this beautiful passive house courtesy of Mount Holyoke Associate Professor of Physics, Alexi Arango! Photo credits: Alexi Arango

There are two entities that offer Passive House certification, Passive House Institute (PHI) and the Passive House Institute of the United States (PHIUS). The biggest difference between the two is that PHIUS has customized heating and cooling demand thresholds depending on your climate, whereas PHI assumes a northern European climate.

There are four concrete passive house requirements, mostly concerned with energy efficiency.

Living Building Challenge

Lastly is the Living Building Challenge (LBC). Living Buildings strive for net-zero energy, are free of toxic chemicals, and lower their energy footprint many times below the generic commercial structure.

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The R.W. Kern Center is a certified Living Building on the campus of Hampshire College. One of only 23 fully certified Living Buildings, The Kern Center meets high standards for energy, water, materials, place, beauty, equity, health, and happiness. Photo credits: The Kern Center

LBC projects achieve this goal by adhering to 7 performance categories, or petals. These petals are energy, water, materials, place, beauty, equity, and health & happiness. The petals are used to represent a building that is as efficient as a flower.


A great way to start your high performance building journey is to get a Home Energy Rating Score (HERS) to quantify how efficient your building. the HERS rating system takes into account factors like insulation, ventilation, HVAC systems, and home envelope seal and assigns a building a score on a scale of 0 to 150 with 0 being a carbon neutral building and 150 being incredibly leaky and inefficient.

Because the HERS program is extensive and standardized nationwide, depending on your project, your rater will be able to certify your home under various programs such as LEED or Energy Star, enable you to qualify for energy mortgages, tax credits, and incentives, and provide several other key services.

CET has a team of HERS raters who are trained to analyze building energy performance. To learn more about our services and get in touch, visit CET’s website.

EcoBuilding Bargains

The best way to lower embodied carbon in your project is to use reclaimed materials instead of new ones. When demolishing or redoing a home, it is possible to do so while salvaging materials and appliances in the home in a process called deconstruction.  

If you are interested in deconstructing your building, CET can help you. CET operates a store called EcoBuilding Bargains where you can donate and buy high quality reclaimed and salvaged appliances and building materials for a fraction of their original price. Check out the store or our website if you are planning any building projects in the near future.

Learn more about CET’s LEED and Passive House programs, as well as other High Performance Building projects here.

Check out EcoBuilding Bargains for reclaimed building materials!