Green building standards and the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals

J Environ Manage. 2023 Jan 15;326(Pt A):116552. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2022.116552. Epub 2022 Nov 10.


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.

Keywords: 2030 Agenda; Building standards; Real estate; Sustainable development; Sustainable development goals; Transformative change.

MeSH terms

  • Goals
  • Sustainable Development*
  • United Nations*