We know that if LEED is going to have a major impact on our 2030 goals for reducing carbon emissions, it must penetrate the existing building market in a big way. To date, LEED’s record in that market segment is dismal. LEED-EB/-EBOM first came on the market in 2004, and it was greatly improved with LEED 2009, but in recent years market uptake has diminished dramatically.
After a major increase in certifications in 2009–2011 in the Great Recession’s aftermath, as shown in Figure 1, during a time when new construction activity declined dramatically, by 2014 interest in LEED-EBOM certification fell dramatically to less than half the 2009–2010 level. In 2014 and 2015, LEED-EBOM registered fewer than 800 projects each year and certified fewer than 600 projects, each year totaling less than 200 million sq.ft., i.e., fewer than 0.01 percent of buildings (that is, only one in ten thousand!) or 0.24 percent of US building area (5.5 million US buildings; 85 billion sq.ft. of space).
Figure 1. LEED for Existing Buildings Projects, 2005–2015
The reason: Even with LEED’s “Dynamic Plaque,” the certification offers little business benefit for existing buildings, because it is a “static” rating system, an Instagram snapshot at a given point in time, and not a YouTube video of ongoing activity that would help building owners manage their properties to improve sustainable outcomes. Why would any sensible building or facility manager want to spend $100,000 or more certifying what they already know they've done? There is very little business benefit. In my new book, Reinventing Green Building, I suggest a way to change this paradigm.
Conclusion: in its present form, LEED-EBOM cannot help at all to reach our 2030 goals for reducing carbon emissions. And in LEED version 4, it gets even more costly and complicated with 11 prerequisites instead of 7 in the current version. Why do we keep pretending that LEED is making a difference in greening existing buildings? Why not abandon it in favor of something that building owners and operators will WANT to use (because it makes business sense)?