The Top 10 States For Green Buildings

Some states have been more proactive in getting LEED-certified buildings built than others. Which has the most sustainable square feet per citizen?

People don’t usually think of Illinois as the greenest state in the union, but it happens to have the most green buildings per capita, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Green Building Council. California had the most projects overall. States like Louisiana and Montana? Not so much.


The council, which oversees the LEED green building rating system, named lIllinois the top state in 2013 for buildings that are energy-efficient and minimize impacts to people and the environment. The state had more than 29 million square feet of space LEED-certified–that’s 2.29 square foot per person. Maryland (2.20) and Virginia (2.11) came next, followed by Massachusetts (2.09).

New York, Snooks Hollow

Oregon, North Carolina, Hawaii and Minnesota all made it into the top 10 for the first time. California, which is quite a large state, had far and away the most projects (595) and almost double the next best state in square footage (72.7 million, to New York’s 37.8 million). Washington D.C. also saw a lot of new LEED-certified spaces last year, the council says. If it was a state, it would have ranked highly.

Top-10 LEED-certified states (by per capita square footage)

  1. Illinois
  2. Maryland
  3. Virginia
  4. Massachusetts
  5. New York and California (tied)
  6. Oregon
  7. North Carolina
  8. Colorado
  9. Hawaii
  10. Minnesota

Scot Horst, the council’s senior vice president for LEED, puts Illinois’s position down to three reasons: leadership, economic activity, and a clustering effect. Chicago took to LEED certification early under ex-Mayor Richard Daley, he notes, and the effect is still felt. “Behind LEED buildings are leaders,” he says. Second, Chicago is seeing more than its fair share of construction, which raises its numbers. And third, one green building project tends to lead to another. “Once you’ve educated people that it doesn’t cost more to build a LEED building, they want to keep doing more of it,” Horst says.

A study from the World Green Building Council last year showed that LEED buildings need not cost more money, that prices are falling all the time, and that LEED buildings are cheaper to operate.

Louisiana and Montana rank the lowest out of 50 states, which is probably because of less government pressure to consider environment impact in new construction. Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi have outlawed LEED for public buildings, amid complaints from chemical and timber companies that LEED is demonizing their products. Industry groups want to see states and the federal government adopt the alternative Green Globes system, which is easier to achieve and less environmentally challenging. For now, though, LEED is still in the ascendancy. A total of 4,642 projects worldwide were LEED-certified last year.


About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.


#FCFestival returns to NYC this September! Get your tickets today!