Date of Award


Document Type

Union College Only

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Environmental Science and Policy

First Advisor

James Kenney




emissions, global warming, climate change, LEED, carbon


Buildings consume 72% of U.S. electricity produced and contribute 30% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. With current energy scarcity, there is a need for higher performance energy-efficient buildings to reduce the U.S. footprint. The LEED rating system establishes a framework of guidelines to encourage sustainable construction and renovation, emphasizing energy optimization. What does LEED accomplish and what is its role in U.S. policy? Before pursuing LEED, one must consider the element of cost, and distinguish between cost savings and energy savings. Cost-benefit analysis provides a framework to make educated decisions with respect to green building. The primary objectives of the rating system are energy-efficiency and social welfare, along with cost-efficiency. Surveys and studies from NY, IL, CA and nationwide show that a premium between 0-3% on average exists to meet LEED Certified or Gold requirements, and energy savings average between 25-30%. Thirty four states, 14 government agencies and 202 localities now include LEED in existing legislation, mostly mandating public buildings to meet Certified or Silver standards. While LEED has increased green building awareness, the system must remain dynamic and willing to adapt criteria to meet federal, state and local needs of the greater population. As long as people do not do was is right, paternalism is needed to protect social welfare. With improved education and economic incentives, LEED guidelines can help people understand the benefits of green building.