John Scofield, Oberlin College

Buildings are responsible for roughly 40% of U.S. primary energy consumption and greenhouse gas emission. Reducing energy use in buildings is a necessary component of any plan to address climate change.  Green building certification programs are being promoted as a pathway to lower building energy use.  The U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program is the most popular such program in the U.S.

Since its inception twenty years ago it has been widely assumed that LEED buildings save energy and lower greenhouse gas emission.  Proponents of LEED claim 25-30% energy savings. Numerous governmental and non-governmental organizations have mandated that all new buildings be LEED-certified.  But demonstrated savings for a handful of champion buildings is not evidence that, on average, LEED building certification is yielding significant energy savings and reductions in GHG emission.

Here I present the results of our study of energy use by LEED certified buildings as deduced from publicly-accessible, municipal building energy benchmarking data.  Our latest study gathered 2016 energy data for more than 28,000 commercial buildings in 10 major US cities.  Among these buildings we have identified 847 as LEED-certified.  This is the largest and most comprehensive study yet undertaken for energy use and GHG emission associated with LEED-certified buildings.

Our data show that, on average, LEED office buildings are demonstrating modest energy and GHG savings, but much less than the 25-30% claimed by design teams.  In my talk I will share our results and discuss some of the implications of our study.