LEED in the United States: Who Really Benefits?

Open Access
Naito, Blake Tatsuo
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Christopher Stiles Fowler, Thesis Supervisor
  • Roger Michael Downs, Honors Advisor
  • green building
  • sustainability
  • LEED
  • justice
  • environmental justice
  • geography
  • GIS
As global climate change becomes an increasingly more prominent problem, we need to implement sustainability measures. The built environment offers many opportunities to promote greener and more sustainable practices. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification program has come to dominate the green building market. It can be found in a number of countries around the world and it is one of the most widely-known programs, certifying buildings that meet at least a minimum sustainability requirement. It promises to benefit people, profits, and the planet. In practice, it does allow businesses to benefit, it decreases buildings’ environmental footprints, and it can improve indoor environmental quality. This thesis aims to examine whether LEED is having a significant enough impact on all fronts and whether or not it benefits people equally. Environmental injustices have historically affected certain segments of society, namely racial minorities, those with less education, and lower-income individuals. I employed a three-stage analysis to test my initial hypothesis that LEED is an elite sustainability measure, mirroring environmental injustices by primarily benefitting whites, the better educated, and those with higher incomes. One stage focuses on LEED at a national (macro) level, the second at a Core-Based Statistical Area (meso) level, and the third at an individual building (micro) level. This provides insight into how LEED has changed and how it is distributed nationally, what inequalities can be seen at smaller, regional levels, and how LEED buildings impact the individuals who occupy them. LEED continues to develop and satisfy its promises. But more importantly, LEED is a program that actually manages to benefit most segments of the population equally, at least preliminarily speaking.