Green Building Pilots and Demonstrations Double Adoption Rates, Ivan Allen College Research Shows

Daniel Matisoff

Posted February 18, 2021

When a building like Georgia Tech’s Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design goes up, it turns out that it really does have a measurable impact on the pace of green building adoption in the community, according to first-of-its-kind research conducted in the School of Public Policy and School of Economics.

In fact, local quarterly green building adoption rates approximately double following the completion of a pilot or demonstration project, according to the analysis by School of Public Policy Associate Professor Dan Matisoff, former School of Economics Ph.D. student Chris Blackburn, former Ph.D. student Mallory Flowers, now an assistant professor at the University of Rhode Island; and former Georgia Tech Associate Professor Juan Moreno-Cruz, now at the University of Waterloo.

“Pragmatically, our research suggests that programs like LEED and LEED-Pilots can help accelerate the update of environmentally-friendly technologies in the built environment,” the authors wrote in their paper, published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. “As urban populations in cities expand worldwide, mitigating the impacts of buildings on the natural environment is critical to sustainable development. Greener building designs use fewer resources, mitigate urban heat islands, protect habitat, and provide healthier spaces for people to thrive.”

Their analysis, the first systematic empirical assessment of whether such projects boost emerging green building technologies, uses a difference-in-difference-in-differences approach to examine the impact of pilot and demonstration projects on green building uptake. The researchers leveraged differences in location and timing of the projects to understand changes in local building patterns. Variation in adoption rates within a particular LEED standard provided the third difference in their evaluation. The additional factor helped mitigate against the model mistakenly crediting the pilot project for a spike in green building adoption due to another cause, such as a city’s implementation of green building incentives after a trial project.

The study found that projects under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) pilot program increase initial adoption of the technologies demonstrated by 0.5% to 1.4% nationwide, with even further increases occurring as more buildings are built. The researchers also found that knowledge gained in pilot and demonstration projects reduce implementation costs for non—participating organizations by around 9%.

Georgia Tech’s Kendeda Building is a perfect example of such an effort. Dedicated in 2019, it is the first academic and research building in the Southeast designed to be certified as a living building by the International Living Future Institute. It is designed to generate more on-site electricity than it consumes and collect and harvest more water than it uses.

The Kendeda Fund committed $25 million to the project to prove a regenerative building was practical even in the Southeast’s heat and humidity.

Matisoff said the research demonstrates the value of such projects as an essential part of the fight against climate change.

“As we’re thinking about how we decarbonize our world, we need to facilitate massive market transformation and penetration of technologies that exist but aren’t in widespread use in the market,” he said. “This research demonstrates while we often think about tools like subsidies and regulations, these pilot and demonstration projects are also really effective tools to increase adoption of really effective technologies that can help us hold down the adverse effects of global climate change.”

The article, “Do Pilot and Demonstration Projects Work? Evidence from a Green Building Program,” was published in the September 2020 edition of The Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. It is available at https://www.doi.org/10.1002/pam.22218.

The potential for LEED and pilot projects to facilitate climate transition will be explored further in Matisoff’s upcoming book, Voluntary Mechanisms for Transforming Markets: Learning to LEED, which is scheduled to be published this year.

The School of Public Policy and School of Economics are units of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.

Contact For More Information

Michael Pearson
michael.pearson@iac.gatech.edu