Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Environmental Science and Policy

First Advisor

James Kenney




energy, consumption, environmental design, sustinability


Buildings account for over 70% of U.S. energy consumption and produce 30% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. With growing concerns over future energy prices, the green building industry and the LEED rating system have made it their goal to produce better performing, more efficient buildings. LEED projects have been implemented in all 50 states, with 46 implementing LEED into public policy. In this study we evaluate the environmental and economic benefits of the LEED certification process. A cost-benefit analysis provides a framework for assessing the life cycle of a LEED building, incorporating both energy and cost savings, as well as the external benefits of building green. The assessment also looks at inherent external costs and the paternalism impact of the LEED certification process. We evaluated studies conducted by industry professionals and case studies from California, New York, and Illinois and found that LEED-rated buildings are, on average, 25-30% more energy efficient, and can be built at a small 3% premium compared to conventional buildings. However, these numbers may be questionable due to regional differences of the studies as well as data availability for cost-benefit analysis. Although LEED has accomplished many of its objectives, the main flaw of the system is that LEED does not require a post project energy audit of its buildings, making lifetime energy and cost estimates uncertain. LEED must continue to adapt to correct such issues, as well as meet regional and policy needs. By improving public education of green building and its economic benefits, the paternalistic nature of public policy may eventually be no longer needed.