Massachusetts led the country in 2020 with the most LEED-certified square feet per capita, followed by Washington and Illinois, according to the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) annual list of the Top 10 States for LEED green building.
Across the top states last year, more than 60% of certifications were office, healthcare, higher education, and K-12 projects. While these projects accounted for a majority of certifications, warehouses, distribution centers, multifamily and retail projects represented almost 20%. Collectively, the 2020 rankings represent 1,171 certified LEED buildings and spaces, and more than 100,000 green building workers.
For the first time, USGBC also released a ranking of states with the most LEED professionals, in which California took the top spot.
“If we are to rebuild an economy that supports our health and our planet, we must lead with changing the way we design and build,” said Mahesh Ramanujam, president and CEO of USGBC. “Last year was a stark reminder that the quality of our buildings impacts the quality of our life. Looking ahead, people want to trust that the spaces they occupy are good for them and their communities, and LEED has always been a tool to support those goals. Now is the time to ensure that every building is LEED certified as that is the only way we are accomplishing our goals of access to healthy, green buildings, homes and spaces.”
In 2020, LEED green building was not limited to a single part of the country and reflects progress across east, west, south and Midwest regions. Of note is that nearly 50% of projects in the top 10 states achieved LEED Gold, one of the highest levels of certification, indicating a commitment to high performance.
The Top 10 States for LEED green building is based on gross square feet of certified space per person using 2010 U.S. Census data and includes commercial and institutional projects certified in 2020. The global green building community is continually improving LEED to ensure it helps buildings, communities, and cities to be more sustainable, healthy, resilient and equitable. More than two-thirds of LEED credits support human health, as the rating system addresses ventilation and filtration, daylighting, low-emitting materials, access to outdoor spaces, acoustics, and other key factors. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, USGBC also introduced Safety First guidance to address operational challenges and assist with each state’s re-entry planning.
LEED’s foundation, however, is in its commitment to help the building sector reduce its contribution to climate change. Certification communicates progress in support of climate and ESG commitments and the goal is to get more buildings on a path to certify. Using Arc to track performance, USGBC is tracking nearly 56 million metrics tons of GHG emissions associated with energy and transportation, and more than 167 billion gallons of water. The data show that LEED projects deliver significant reductions in emissions and improvements in occupant experience – and the benefits increase with higher levels of LEED certification. The latest version of the rating system, LEED v4.1, raises the bar on green building performance, defining the latest sustainability standards while enabling project teams to continue to track progress beyond certification.
“If we want to make a positive impact in our communities, we must transform the building sector, and focus on what the data is telling us,” added Ramanujam. “By putting data at the center of LEED we’re helping teams better understand building performance, find ways to improve and ultimately find a path to net zero.”
Working Toward Net Zero
LEED has been adopted across industries to support corporate sustainability and ESG commitments, as well as by the public sector. President Joe Biden recently signed an executive order around greening the federal government’s own footprint, which includes its buildings. During his campaign, then-candidate Biden also committed to upgrade four million buildings in four years as part of a sustainable infrastructure and clean energy plan.
Over the last year, commitments to net zero emissions have roughly doubled, according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Transitioning buildings to also be net zero is a critical factor in reaching those larger goals.
USGBC’s LEED Zero certification is a pathway for buildings and verifies achievements in net zero carbon, energy, water, and waste. In the two years since LEED Zero launched, certifications have doubled, and the number of projects certified in 2020 exceeded 2019. Among the top 10 states for LEED, six are home to LEED Zero projects, including Virginia, California, Illinois, New York, Colorado and Maryland. Since 2018, more than 25 projects globally have certified LEED Zero.
Transforming the building sector to be more sustainable requires a skilled and knowledgeable workforce. This workforce is contributing to the development and advocacy of LEED and is being quickly embraced by the next generation workforce and decision makers. USGBC has been committed to cultivating and supporting green building professionals through its credentialing and certificate programs. This year, USGBC is also released an additional Top 10 list recognizing states with the most LEED green building professionals.
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