These states are red hot for green building

Illinois is becoming the capital of LEED-certified commercial property.

February 18, 2016

If California is the Golden State and New Jersey is the Garden State, Illinois is fast carving out a new moniker for itself as the Green Building State.

The mid-western state, which is home to the city of Chicago, has ranked first in the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) annual list for the third year in a row.

In 2015 it notched up 161 LEED-certified projects covering a total of 43.98 million square feet that represent the highest levels of green design, construction and operation. That equates to 3.43 square feet of LEED-certified per person in 2015.

So how does Illinois stay on top? One factor is Illinois’ Green Buildings Act, which mandates that state-funded construction projects seek LEED certification. The City of Chicago also supports energy-efficient retrofits, green roofs and other green building initiatives.

“Illinois is a showcase of green building innovation,” observes Bob Best, JLL’s Head of Energy and Sustainability. “It’s evident in the green roof topping Chicago’s City Hall or in cutting-edge smart building projects like 77 W. Wacker.”

The Virgin Hotel Chicago – part of the Virgin brand – is another example. Occupying the former Old Dearborn Bank building, a designated Chicago landmark, it went through a series of sustainability upgrades including a green roof and a variety of energy and water saving installations to achieve LEED Gold certification in July 2015.

A U.S.-wide green shift

Across the country, green building is red hot because of less expensive technology, supportive public policy and popular appeal. In 2015 alone, 1,633 projects became LEED certified in the top 10 states.

“Green construction is quickly outpacing conventional construction in the U.S.,” said Rick Fedrizzi, CEO and founding chair of USGBC. “LEED has become an essential tool for the transformation of building design and construction.”

Maryland is another state that is focused on building its green credentials. It took the second spot in the USGBC’s sixth annual Top 10 States for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rankings, which is based on the highest amount of LEED-certified space per capita in the United States.

In contrast, California came in seventh, despite its reputation as a green haven with only 2.34 square feet of green buildings per person.

Colorado, in fifth place, and Illinois have each made the top 10 list every year since its inception in 2010. This year, Utah makes its debut in tenth place, with LEED Gold certification for its prominent U.S. District Courthouse in Salt Lake City. Nevada made a comeback after a three-year hiatus to claim the sixth spot, although its future rankings are uncertain since the state voted to overhaul its net-metering program.

Why the buzz for green?

Energy savings are only part of the story. According to the 2015 USGBC Green Building Economic Impact Study, green construction will account for more than 3.3 million U.S. jobs by 2018—more than one-third of the entire U.S. construction sector—and generate $190.3 billion in labor earnings. Illinois, for its part, has already gained 413,000 green construction jobs.

And, as the World Green Building Council’s metastudy revealed, green building features support employee health, well-being and productivity, too.

With the business case for green building becoming stronger, the competition to be the Green Building State is heating up. The big question is will Illinois continue its reign through 2016?