News Article
November 29, 2012

Reshaping Building Practices: A Look Back After a Decade of Greenbuild

2012 Greenbuild conference looks back on LEED achievements

Thousands will gather Nov. 14-16 in San Francisco for the annual Greenbuild International Conference & Expo, sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Industry leaders and practitioners from around the world have attended for the over the past decade to learn about green building best practices and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) standards, while engaging in conversations that help broaden the market for green buildings. 


LEED is a voluntary, consensus-based process that rates new or existing buildings on numerous green aspects that aim to enhance sustainability, protect the environment, and promote human health. Now with nine rating systems encompassing several building and market types and spanning the entire lifecycle of buildings, the LEED rating system has paved the way for global transformation in the building industry. 

Transformative Practices take Root

In 2002, the year of the first Greenbuild conference, there were fewer than 100 commercial LEED-certified projects; now there are more than 10,000 LEED-certified commercial buildings, and the number is growing. In the 2012 Energy Efficiency Indicator (EEI) survey from the Johnson Controls Institute for Building Efficiency, 43 percent of respondents said their organizations planned to pursue voluntary green building certifications for existing buildings in the next year, with 44 percent planning certification for new construction. Nearly 60 percent of 2012 EEI survey respondents indicated that they had at least one certified green building1, up from 7 percent in 2008.2


LEED has transformed real estate conventions around sustainable practice, and its impact continues to grow around the world. In the United States, LEED has become the new industry norm: more than 384 cities and towns, 34 state governments, 14 federal agencies and departments, and many educational institutions reference or use the LEED ratings in their green building policies.3  


Scot Horst, senior vice president of LEED at the USGBC, describes LEED as a leadership system to increasingly improve the performance of buildings while decreasing their environmental impact. Horst explains that LEED drove many building technology and supply companies to change the products or services they offer and that LEED became the new “due diligence” in the market. Kim Hosken, Director of Green Buildings at Johnson Controls and a LEED practitioner since its inception in 2000, noted that LEED’s influence was not in products alone; it also drove education and collaborative building practices. Because of the increased education on green building practices, she explains, LEED is a quality control and improvement tool, demonstrating to building owners and operators how to further advance the status of buildings’ sustainability and efficiency.   

The Globalization of Green Buildings

A most impressive and somewhat unexpected trend, according to Horst, is the adoption of the LEED rating system internationally. According the USGBC, the largest growth in LEED registrations is in Asia, and the council sees especially accelerated growth in Brazil, China and the Middle East. Currently, more than 40 percent of the total LEED-registered square footage is outside the United States, in more than 135 countries.4 Horst attributes this to LEED’s strong global recognition and respect as a tool to promote not only sustainability, but excellence in building design, construction, operation and maintenance. In Shanghai for example, LEED is seen as a means of quality control and risk mitigation, and the market has realized the benefits of integrated design approaches through the LEED process, he observes.  

The need to recognize local markets and conditions while maintaining global standards has been a discussion point for many green building market participants. In March, 2012, the USGBC and the World Green Building Council announced that points for several Energy & Atmosphere credits would be awarded in LEED for meeting criteria in BREEAM, the United Kingdom’s green building rating system. This is an important step toward making LEED flexible and complementary to other global rating systems. 

USGBC has also implemented Alternative Compliance Paths for several of the credits. The Alternative Compliance Paths take regionally unique issues such as weather, transportation systems and local codes into account to approach challenges in applying LEED credits around the world, while maintaining the overall credit structure and rating system consistency. For example, projects outside the U.S. may use a local benchmark based on source energy from their country’s national or regional energy agency.5


Where will LEED lead?

LEED v4 is the next stage in the LEED evolution toward global applicability and technical rigor, bringing about changes that align to international standards, recognize local issues and solutions, and foster relevance to additional markets and building types. According to Horst, performance is key in existing buildings, and the USGBC will focus on leveraging tools and systems to measure performance in order to track progress and assess success. Changes in LEED v4 are designed to promote:


  • More holistic practices, such as building commissioning and the integrative design process.

  • Increased emphasis on measurement and performance.  


The USGBC Building Performance Initiative was announced in 2009, creating a means to track the performance of building operations and how the occupants use the space within previously LEED- certified buildings. LEED v4 will build on that work to ensure an effective structure to collect, track and report building data and enable continued improvement after certification.


Changes in the LEED rating system, most recently with LEED v4, have not come without resistance from the building industry and LEED practitioners. Horst explains that the challenge is striking a balance between keeping the LEED system the same – potentially less stringent but with wider market impact – while maintaining LEED’s role to continuously push the market and foster change and improvement in the green building space.


Over the past 10 years since the first Greenbuild conference, much has changed in the building industry.  The LEED rating system has been an impetus for change, propelling the industry forward and profoundly changing the way buildings are designed, constructed, operated and maintained. As the industry looks to the future, there is still much to improve and many barriers to break down, but the USGBC will continue to use LEED as a tool to push market expectations by building on the transformative framework it has established thus far.


November 2012



1. Institute for Building Efficiency, Johnson Controls, 2012 Energy Efficiency Indicator Survey Results,

2. Institute for Building Efficiency, Johnson Controls, 2008 Energy Efficiency Indicator Survey Results,

3. USGBC.  Green Building Policy. []

4. USGBC. What is LEED? []

5. USGBC.  Green Buildings Operations and Maintenance with Global Compliance Paths Reference Guide. July 2012. []


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