2016: LEED in (Reverse) Motion - Part 2

In 2016, LEED O+M/EBOM certified less than 700 projects, representing only a little more than 0.01% (that’s not a typo!) of the 5.8 million existing buildings in the US. That’s one in 10,000 buildings certified. Reducing carbon emissions isn’t going to happen with this approach.

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.

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 blog 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.

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 the most important sector of the nonresidential building market in 2016: existing buildings. Meeting our carbon reduction goals will only be done by getting existing buildings to dramatically reduce their induced carbon emissions.

As in previous years, LEED is reaching only a few hundred projects each year, representing only a little more than 0.01% (that's not a typo!) of the 5.8 million existing buildings in the US. That's one in 10,000 buildings certified. Despite the slogan in USGBC "LEED in Motion" reports, a close analysis leads one to question whether in fact there is motion in LEED certification!

While the trend in US certifications of existing nonresidential buildings is up quite modestly the past three years, the numbers are still shockingly low: less than 700 projects certified annually since 2010.

My book, Reinventing Green Building, goes into detailed as to why LEED for existing buildings certification has been a colossal failure, but the bottom line is that building owners just don't see the value added compared with the cost.