2016: LEED in (Reverse) Motion - Part 1

In higher education, LEED certifications in 2016 were less than half of those in 2015 and had reverted to 2010 levels. K12 education certifications in the US in 2016 declined by more than 25% from year earlier levels, to below 2011 certification levels. LEED for Healthcare certifications continued to slide lower, from 2013 highs.

While I am a strong supporter of green building and have been for the past 20 years, I do think it's wise to check in regularly to see how leading certification systems are doing. Surprisingly, I seem to be the only person who has actually looked at the (public) LEED Project Directory to determine trends in green building certification in the US and elsewhere.

Trends and results to the end of 2015 were published in my recent book, Reinventing Green Building. Basically, we showed that use of LEED certification for nonresidential projects was in decline in the US after 2011. By 2015, some sectors, such as existing building certification, had declined more than two-thirds from their peak use in 2009-2011.

In this series, I will publish the results of our analysis for LEED nonresidential project certifications in the US in 2016. You will see that the results continue to be dismal, with one exception that I will report. In my book, Reinventing Green Building: Why Certification Systems Aren't Working and What We Can Do About It, i discuss the reasons why LEED continues to decline in use and make strong recommendations about what USGBC can do to remedy the situation.

One would think that precipitous decline in the use of the LEED product for green building certification would occasion some soul-searching and a strong desire to improve the system on the part of the US Green Building Council, but there is no evidence that has happened. In fact, as I will comment in subsequent blogs, the response since 2014-2015 has been to double-down on PR and promotional activity, with no apparent effect on actual use of the product.

Let's look at LEED certification activity in some key sectors of the nonresidential building market in 2016: higher education, K12 education and healthcare. In higher education, LEED certifications in 2016 were less than half of those in 2015 and had reverted to 2010 levels. LEED in (reverse) motion, indeed!

Let's look now at K12 education certifications in the US in 2016, which declined by more than 25% from year earlier levels, to below the 2011 certification level. Clearly the "green schools" movement is not taking off. Shouldn't we be carefully examining why this is the case?

What about healthcare, another huge segment of the US building and construction industry? Well, registered projects increased, but actual certifications fell to the lowest level since 2011. Why were registrations up in 2016? Most likely it's because projects raced to register under the old LEED 2009 system, which closed to new registrations after October 31, 2016. Whether they plan to eventually certify or not, projects wanted to use the more understandable and cheaper older LEED system.

There you have it. Two major building and construction sectors, education and healthcare, showed declining use of LEED in 2016. What do you think are the real reasons? In my book, Reinventing Green Building, I analyze a number of factors for this decline and offer some very clear solutions.