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USGBC Releases Results of 2021 Green Building Community Survey

April 22, 2021
Nearly 1,700 respondents from 50 countries cite health, equity, and green building access as key factors for building reentry; see 2021 as a true moment of transition for industry sustainability.

By TARYN HOLOWKA, LEED AP, Senior Vice President, USGBC

April 20, 2021 (Washington, DC) — This week, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), along with Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), released the results of the 2021 community survey, which had nearly 1,700 respondents representing 50 countries. The community survey is designed to gather actionable feedback that can be used for USGBC and GBCI program development and to understand more about the needs of the green building and business community.

“This year’s survey was focused on USGBC’s COVID-19 response and healthy economy strategy, and saw double the number of participants take this year’s survey than in 2020,” said Mahesh Ramanujam, president and CEO, USGBC and GBCI. “Health, equity and green building access were cited as key factors for building reentry, and as we begin to come out from the pandemic, this will continue to be a crucial opportunity for the green building industry.”

Survey respondents see many opportunities stemming from the challenges of 2020, including the focus on health. Members see more demand for buildings to promote a healthy environment for occupants, and more people understand the link between buildings and the environment, as well as how the connection impacts individual health and wellness.

The largest opportunity identified through the survey is a greater consumer demand for buildings to promote a healthy environment for occupants (35%). The connection the general public is making about the impact sustainability has on health and wellness (24%) and the importance of increased monitoring of indoor air quality (22%) were also identified as opportunities.

Front and center for members are the challenges of financial pressures and tightening budgets, the growth of the remote workforce following COVID-19 restrictions, the increased operational costs for health and safety protocols, and reduced or no occupancy in buildings. The survey also found that while ROI and costs are still important in building decisions, they have currently taken a back seat to the health of people living and working inside buildings.

The biggest pain points from the pandemic, the survey found, are economic. No single one stands out, but the top issues relate to costs and reduced occupancy, with financial pressures and tight budgets (23%), increased operations costs for health and safety protocols (22%), a remote workforce (22%), and reduced/no occupancy (21%). The pandemic has also put a spotlight on indoor air quality, with that being both the most important issue for the industry due to the pandemic and the biggest way to increase public trust in buildings.

Other findings from the survey include:

  • Health and wellness should continue to be a focus: A plurality of respondents say health and wellness is one of the top issues USGBC and GBCI focused on in 2020, and that it’s one of the top issues we should continue to focus on in 2021. Nearly nine in 10 respondents (87%) also believe a vision about health will benefit USGBC members;
  • Healthy people in healthy places equals a healthy economy: Three-quarters (74%) of respondents say it was the right decision to shift the USGBC strategy amid the pandemic to healthy people in healthy places equals a healthy economy;
  • Importance in equity programs: More than three-quarters of survey respondents believe it is important for USGBC to create an equity program that addresses systematic disparities in the building community. USGBC is seen as a leader in this space, with a responsibility to lead the way on equity and grow beyond its well-established reputation for LEED;
  • A majority of community members (70%) believe USGBC and GBCI responded well to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic: Virtual events, online credential exams, and USGBC’s new health and economy vision were cited as important actions USGBC took during the pandemic. A majority (52%) said they have felt very or somewhat supported during the pandemic;
  • USGBC and GBCI investments in virtual events and online credentialing were important and should continue: A large majority of survey participants cited that virtual events were the most important actions USGBC took last year (87%). Other top choices include making credentialing exams available in an online format (84%) and the shift in USGBC’s vision (83%).

“This is a moment of transition for the building industry, and USGBC and GBCI can lead the way by providing guidance on how to navigate the green building industry post-pandemic,” added Ramanujam. “Information and transparency will build trust and confidence as people begin to reenter office spaces, and USGBC and GBCI are here to help. We have increased access to education and community engagement in 2021.”

The USGBC and GBCI community understands the need for society to be more resilient, healthy and equitable. As the pandemic continues to change our way of life, the USGBC community can help one another by sharing best practices and resilient behaviors with vulnerable communities around the world. We can rely on one another and on these foundations to help us recalibrate and recover from this crisis.

To learn more, download the full USGBC and GBCI community survey 2021 report.