Green building standards and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

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Architecture Department

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Sherif Goubran, Thomas Walker, Carmela Cucuzzella, Tyler Schwartz

Document Type

Research Article

Publication Title

Journal of Environmental Management

Publication Date

Winter 1-1-2023




Sustainable practices in the building industry are strongly influenced by published green and sustainable building and real-estate standards (GSBRES). Therefore, it is crucial to assess how these standards contribute to achieving the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This paper evaluates the extent to which GSBRESs align with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, lending a particular focus to the call for transformative change implicit in the SDGs. To this end, we develop a methodology that combines qualitative and quantitative analysis to assess the overlap between the content of three GSBRESs (LEED for design, BOMA BEST for operation, and GRESB for investment) and the SDGs. Despite the overlaps between the attributes of the GSBRESs and the general topics of the SDGs, we find that less than 20% of GSBRES attributes address the specific targets of the 2030 Agenda. Most importantly, the qualitative analysis shows that less than 10% of the standards' scores is attributed to transformative change. We conclude that claims that the GSBRESs are effective in advancing the SDGs are overstated and, without further empirical evidence, caution that they increase the risk of sustainable development greenwashing. We recommend that the standards be repositioned to adopt transformation-focused indicators related to a project's long-term impacts.

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