Comparative Policy Study for Green Buildings in U.S. and China

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Buildings are the largest energy end-use sector in the U.S. and a rapidly growing energy end-use sector in China. Energy consumption in residential and commercial buildings accounted for over 40% of primary energy use in the U.S. in 2012 and over 25% in China in 2011. With the growing emphasis that each country is placing on energy efficiency and climate change, green building has moved into the spotlight and gained the attention of architects, developers, and occupants in recent years. Much of the green building sector activity has centered on labeling programs, such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) in the U.S. and the Green Building Rating System in China.

LEED was established by the U.S. Green Building Council, a non-governmental body. A separate entity, the Green Building Certification Institute, was set up as a third party to handle all professional credentialing and project certification for LEED. China's programs, however, are administered by central and provincial government agencies, specifically the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD)'s Building Energy Efficiency and Technology Division. This key difference in the types of participating stakeholders between the two green building labeling programs is a key area of divergence.

The first version of LEED's rating system LEED 1.0 was launched in 1998, followed by an updated 2.0 version with the LEED certified, silver, gold, and platinum levels of rating in 2000. As of October 2013, 19,416 projects have received LEED certification globally, with 17,270 of those projects based in the U.S. In China, the Green Building Evaluation Standard was launched in 2006, followed by the Green Building Energy Label (GBEL) in 2007. Given that it had a later start, only 494 projects have been certified with GBEL as of August 2012. Updated versions of both LEED and GBEL are expected in 2014.

LEED has nine rating systems, with new construction, existing building operations, commercial interiors, and core & shell being the most commonly used systems. The other rating systems distinguish between specific commercial building types (e.g., hotels, schools, retail, healthcare), homes and most recently, neighborhoods. LEED has four certification levels: certified, silver, gold, and platinum. For existing buildings seeking the operation and maintenance LEED certification, operating data and documentation for a minimum of three months (longer time period needed for certain requirements) are needed. The building must be recertified at least once every five years or the operational and maintenance LEED certification will expire.

China has separate rating systems for residential and commercial buildings, but does not have specific rating systems for different commercial building types. The GBEL has separate labels for design and operations, which are valid for two and three years, respectively. While operational energy consumption data is not directly required for the operational label, the rating accounts for quality control during construction among other considerations, and the design certified green building has to have been in operation for at least one year before it can apply for the first time. China's rating system is from 1 to 3 stars, with the 3 stars rating reserved for the best performing green buildings.

Both LEED and GBEL have six categories of rating criteria, five of which they share in common: land, energy, water, resource/material efficiency, and indoor environmental quality. The sixth category in China is operational management, whereas innovation & design as well as regional priority make up the sixth category in the U.S. The weighting for the criteria is evenly spread for GBEL, but more heavily weighted on land and energy for LEED. Another key difference between LEED and the GBEL is in how a building's specific rating level is determined. Under China's GBEL, the final rating is determined by meeting the minimum rating or credits within each category, whereas a LEED rating is determined by the total points summed over all categories.

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