LEED Buildings Grow by 14% Despite Market Crash

CHICAGO, IL — Everyone is painfully aware of just how hard the real estate market was hit during the Great Recession. And while the green building industry held its own longer than most sectors, the economy took its pound of flesh in 2010.

Despite precipitous declines in the rate of growth, the total amount of LEED-certified buildings grew by one billion square feet in 2010, up to eight billion, or a growth rate of 14 percent.

That's the top-line finding of the third annual Green Building Market & Impact Report, researched and written by Rob Watson, the "godfather of LEED."

Although the "green lifeboat" effect that seemed to prop up the building market in 2009 largely sunk -- with registrations of new LEED projects plummeting by three-quarters or more -- buildings begun prior to the crash are still proceeding, and swelling the amount of overall green building floorspace around the world. Total certified floor area grew 50 percent over last year, and the number of certified projects rose 40 percent over last year.

Growth continues to be strong outside the United States, especially in India, the United Arab Emirates, and China, the three countries with the most overall LEED-certified square footage.

And the shift to renovating and retrofitting existing buildings -- long known to be the only way that buildings could hope to reduce their climate impacts -- seems to be well underway. LEED EBOM -- covering existing building projects and operations and maintenance, was the dominant standard in 2010, with almost half of all registered and certified LEED floor area.

The Green Building Market & Impact Report looks far beyond just the growth of LEED square footage, however. The report examines the environmental impacts of green buildings in a number of areas, including:

• Water savings
• Indoor Air Quality and productivity impacts
• Growth of LEED-certified wood products
• Site impacts on employee commute distances
• Energy efficiency and renewables.

Watson calculates that LEED buildings currently save approximately 8 million tons of CO2 emissions from energy efficiency and renewables, a figure that grows to 64 million tons per year by 2020 and almost 170 million tons annually by 2030 -- about 3 percent of the country's current annual CO2 footprint.

"While the fact that these savings show up at all is impressive, given our massive carbon budget," Watson writes in the report, "comparing a 3 percent reduction in 2030 to the needed 80 percent in 2050 seems pretty daunting."

The full report is available for free download from GreenBiz.com. Rob Watson will also dig into the findings during a webcast from the Greenbuild show floor. The webcast will be archived for 90 days, and readers can register to view the webcast here.