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LEED Certification is Not Sufficient

Building owners are demanding evidence of operational performance because they are uncertain that traditional sustainability programs deliver.

After 17 years, what does the data say?

In 2000, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) introduced its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system. LEED is arguably the most popular green rating system in the United States, and has been instrumental in the progression of sustainable thinking in the built environment. Owners are asking if LEED certified buildings are directly influencing primary energy utilization and carbon emissions, and if so, how much? Two reports attempt to answer this question based on empirical evidence.

New Buildings Institute’ report “Energy Performance of LEED for New Construction Buildings” analyzed measured energy performance for 121 LEED New Construction buildings. Measured performance results show that on average LEED buildings are saving energy. The bad news is that there is a wide scatter among the individual results that make up the average savings, with a significant number of buildings using more energy than average for comparable existing building stock. The take away from the NBI report is that energy performance results from LEED certified buildings vary greatly, and that better measured performance and feedback is required.


John Scofield, a professor of physics at Oberlin College, authored “No Evidence LEED Building Certification is saving Primary Energy”. Professor Scofield uses scientific data analysis of existing performances of LEED certified buildings. His report analyzes the public relations marketing versus performance data for existing LEED certified buildings. His conclusions are, as his title suggests, there is no direct evidence linking performance of buildings to LEED certification. Of particular interest is the collective momentum from all sides to understand the need for measuring performance of buildings.


However, it’s important to note that LEED was never designed to become the industry’s performance standard. It is merely a prescriptive approach to raise awareness in an industry scrambling for ways to reduce energy consumption.

The first step to true energy conservation is to require buildings to disclose energy performance. Any “green” or “sustainable” building should, at a minimum know and disclose the building’s Energy Use Intensity (EUI).

Once we commit to EUI as a performance-based standard, we can then consider how to set performance goals during building planning and dynamically track performance once the building is operational.

Imagine in 10 years, looking back at this period and wondering how we classified any buildings as sustainable, without data specifically addressing energy utilization and impacts on carbon emissions.

For more information on setting EUI goals and dynamically tracking performance, go to


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