Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Assessing the Equity of Access to Greener Buildings: LEED-Certified Schools and Libraries, Their Surrounding Neighborhoods, and Who Owns Them

Friday, November 13, 2015 : 10:15 AM
Gautier (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Douglas Noonan, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and Shuang Zhao, Indiana University
This analysis examines the spatial distribution of green buildings – in particular schools and libraries – and what kinds of local neighborhoods tend to host them.  This study advances the environmental justice (EJ) literature in several respects.  First, by examining the equity in the distribution of benefits (most EJ studies emphasize costs) of greener buildings and, second, by analyzing voluntary actions, this adds to a relatively underrepresented part of the empirical literature.  The proliferation of “green buildings,” certified through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, has not been studied in an environmental justice context.  Further, by examining the allocation of green buildings to different neighborhoods along different “publicness” dimensions, a ready comparison can be made between the equitable spatial distribution of green buildings owned by different private actors and those owned by government actors.

 Our detailed data provided by the US Green Building Council, the nonprofit that manages LEED certification, allow us to place the spatial correlation between EJ demographics and the presence of green schools and libraries in context with the spatial correlations for other types of certified green buildings (e.g., commercial, residential, restaurants) and separate out publicly owned from nonprofit and for-profit ownership. Each LEED-certified building is precisely mapped and compared with surrounding census tract data at a national scale for this analysis.  Although the rich empirical descriptives do not permit causal interpretation, common in EJ analyses, they do allow the examination the neighborhood public facilities for our children – notably their schools and libraries – and which ones are “green”.  For the over-600 educational buildings that LEED-certified at various levels, what kind of neighborhoods do we tend to locate them in?  Which groups of kids have easier access to and more exposure to greener buildings?  The presence of thousands of other LEED-certified buildings, and information on whether the building owner is governmental, nonprofit, or for-profit, allows for a multidimensional comparison of the tendencies to locate various green buildings in neighborhoods with different demographics.  This allows us to directly test if governments have different tendencies than private-sector owners, and whether more “public buildings” (and educational buildings in particular) tend to be located in neighborhoods with different socioeconomic characteristics.  This will indirectly inform the presence of potential biases in different actors and for different sorts of building uses and exposures.