Does LEED Have a Big City Bias?

The vast majority of LEED-certified green buildings in the U.S. are located in major cities, leading some to wonder whether there might be an inherent bias in LEED's standards.

"As Northern California's first privately funded LEED office building (other green development in the area has been for the state government), the property's prestigious LEED tag is being received by an audience somewhat unfamiliar with green buildings and funny eco-friendly real estate acronyms."

"In other words, before this building rides the green wave, it has to help build it."

"Now, Aguer must convince tenants that it's a no-brainer, a task in which larger markets like San Francisco -- one of the greenest commercial real estate markets in the nation -- have had a head a start. 'San Francisco is more cutting edge than most cities," he says. "That level of consciousness hasn't hit Sacramento.'"

"The apparent green gap between the two Northern California cities belies the mere 100 miles that separate them and illustrates the geographic limitations of LEED, even as the popularity of the green building rating platform has skyrocketed."

"According to a study last year by institutional investment advisor RREEF, LEED buildings are found in 400 or so U.S. cities, but are "highly concentrated" in the nation's largest metro areas, such as New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles. By CoStar's tally, the 10 largest U.S. cities by population account for almost 10 percent of the more than 11,000 LEED-certified or registered projects to date, for an average of roughly 100 LEED projects per city. That would leave the remaining 350-plus cities with an average of only about 30 LEED projects."

"The trend accelerates on a state-level, where two-thirds of LEED-certified building area falls within the 10 largest states, "despite having barely 40 percent of the nation's population," the RREEF study found."

Full Story: LEED's Big Market Bias



"Bias" is the wrong word

I don't think "bias" is the right word to use here. "Bias" implies that LEED favors projects in large cities over smaller ones. This article is simply saying that LEED has been slower to take off in smaller markets.

Planetizen often tags these articles with misleading headlines. Please try to be more precise. Even if the article itself has an imprecise headline (as this one does), choose one that states what the article is actually saying.

I second that Mr. Sewell

I think Patrick Sewell makes a good point, bias is the wrong word. It adds a negative connotation that is unmerited.

Early LEED literature suggests that 40% of our energy consumption comes from our building stock. As such, it makes sense that LEED would focus on dense metropolitan areas like NY, SF and even LA. Bigger cities tend to be the biggest producers of pollution. It doesn't make it a bias, by my estimation, that would make it strategic.

I wasn't compelled to read the rest of the article, but I think it would be important think about the concentration in terms of how each place is effecting our environment. If we index these places according to their concentration of LEED buildings, with places according to the amount of pollution they are known to produce, there is likely to be a correlation.

This is not to say that LEED isn't an imperfect program.

Attaining LEED certification can be a huge added expense to any development project. For instance, for organizations that develop projects intended to assist with housing folks in lower income communities. They struggle to shoulder those costs of the LEED branding, even if they've invested in the long term gains of developing it to be sustainable.

If we should talk about any bias, we should turn to look at the affordability of the program. I'd love to see how that conversation develops.

urban skolar
K. Freeman

green affordability

Here is recent discussion on the topic of affordability and green from a blog on the local Journal of Commerce in Seattle:

Green design on a dime in Seattle??

A house designed by two small Seattle firms will serve as a prototype for affordable green living in the Gulf Coast. And it might have a lesson or two for the Puget Sound.

Owen Richards Architects and HyBrid Architects found out Friday that their design was chosen from 182 entries in the 99K house competition sponsored by the Rice Design Alliance and AIA Houston.

Their entry, Core, is compact, adaptable and energy efficient, with geothermal heating and cooling, minimal material waste and a giant solar-powered fan.

The 1,200-square-foot house’s estimated total project cost is less than $99,000. The house will be built in June at a site donated by the city. It will then be auctioned off or sold to a lower income family.

Designers had to keep construction costs under $75,000. They designed the house on a four-foot module to reduce waste, with framing of exterior walls designed to link up at 24 inches, using fewer materials and fewer studs in the walls.

Recycled and sustainable materials were also worked in. The house has cement board siding, pine flooring and recycled concrete paving.

There were some things they couldn’t afford, like the green roof they wanted. Rainwater capture will irrigate the site but won’t run through toilets or the laundry.

The geothermal mechanical system cost a little more, but designers said it will pay for itself in energy saved in less than three years. It uses less than half the energy of a traditional HVAC system. Natural ventilation alone wasn’t an option for those sweltering Houston summers, but designers hope the solar-powered fan will be enough on some days.

The house also takes some green cred from its adaptability, with movable inside walls altering the house from one to four bedrooms or two duplex units instead. That decreases the chances of tear-down or a move when a family’s situation changes.

So why don’t we see many affordable green housing projects, in Seattle or elsewhere? Why is energy efficiency a prestige item? I know of some multi-family affordable projects in the area that are targeting lower energy use, but it sure seems slow to catch on. And it’s hardly cheap.

Of course, it’s impossible to build any house in Seattle for under 99 K. Labor is cheaper in Houston, land values are lower, and zoning and land use regulations are minimal. Wages and prices have a role in there as well. But it still stands to reason that we could be seeing super efficient design for the masses in Seattle.

Does it take a competition to get a house like this built here?

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