Almost 300% More LEED-Certified Eco-Friendly Apartments in Large-Scale Buildings in a Decade

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Key highlights:

  • The number of new LEED-certified rental units in large-scale buildings dropped for the second year in a row with 42,900 units delivered last year — still a 283% increase compared to 2008.
  • Chicago, IL has the most LEED-certified apartments on the U.S. market — 20,600 units, as shown by Yardi Matrix data.
  • Smaller cities like McLean, VA (47%), Evanston, IL (30%), and Cambridge, MA (29%) boast the largest share of sustainable apartments.

Nowadays, the ubiquitous presence of sustainable buildings might look like enough to cement their status as an essential part of present and future accommodation. However, keeping the concrete jungle green does not come easy. The sustainable building sector is shaping up to be one of the most influential and fastest growing in the country. When discussing ideas for a healthier environment, we cannot overlook the part green-certified buildings play among verifiable eco-friendly solutions that reduce carbon emissions and waste, while using less energy and water. As commercial buildings embrace more resource-efficient options, it was only a matter of time before green construction development would contribute to the multifamily sector next, and provide us with plenty eco-friendly apartments to live in.

In order to see how sustainable the U.S. rental market is, we examined Yardi Matrix‘s national inventory between 2008 and 2018 and considered buildings of 50+ units that have already achieved or are proposed for LEED certification, the most widely used international sustainable building rating system. The verification system introduced in 2000 by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design confirms whether a building has been developed under eco-conscious principles or not.

If back in 2008 there were 11,200 LEED-certified sustainable apartments nationwide, by 2018 that number reached 42,900. This means 4 times more units either certified or pending sustainability certification last year. While this goes to show that the present is greener than the past, we cannot yet talk about a constant year-over-year increase in energy-efficient housing.

2016 Marked the Most Recent Peak in Building Sustainable Apartments

Overall apartment construction rose by 34% in the past decade.  While the 42,900 new LEED-certified units introduced in 2018 represent a 6% y-o-y drop in sustainable construction, they also bring a 283% increase compared to 2008. The highest y-o-y increase in the number of sustainable apartments took place in 2014 — a 19% leap. However, the year green construction truly blossomed was 2016, when 50,300 LEED-certified eco-friendly apartments accounted for 16% of the residential construction conducted that year — a sharp 10.5% y-o-y growth in large-scale developments across the country.

In 2008, only 5% of multifamily units were LEED-certified and, up until 2014, there was a continuous upward streak of green construction that culminated with 19% of the new apartments completed that year getting certified. Since then, the percentage of new sustainable apartments has dropped, hitting 14% in 2017 and slowly recovering in 2018 at 15%.

eco-friendly apartments construction

Sustainable building construction and certification went down in the past two years, naturally following the deceleration trend in overall apartment construction, but never below the 42,000 mark. For example, even the 9% y-o-y drop registered in 2017 translated into 45,600 new large-scale buildings that got a green certification by the end of the year.

Top 10 U.S. Cities with Most Eco-Friendly Apartments

Sustainable construction seems focused on areas with potential for bigger impact in improving the standard of living — urban hubs. When we narrow it down to city-level accomplishments in sustainable development, Chicago, IL rises above the crowd with most sustainable apartments (20,600 in 68 large residential buildings), closely followed by Seattle, WA (19,800 units) and Washington, DC (13,200 units). The green list ends with Denver, Dallas, and Los Angeles.

Top Cities with most eco-friendly apartments

Illinois is the top state for overall green construction, offering a total of 68.13 million square feet of space certified last year alone — non-residential buildings included. In 2018, the city of Chicago became LEED-certified for sustainable building efforts, not only because of its green construction initiatives but also due to its largest buildings reducing emissions by almost 20%.

See top states for LEED-certified apartment construction.

The Emerald City stays true to its colors with around 22% of all Seattle apartments being sustainable. First runner-up with almost 20,000 LEED-certified units in 94 residential buildings, Seattle boasts the largest number of green buildings of any city in the United States.

Rounding up the podium with a total 13,200 units in 54 green large-scale multifamily buildings last year, Washington, DC continues to serve as a model of sustainability across the United States. With an advanced policy in renewable energy and building efficiency deployment, the District of Columbia has the highest number of LEED buildings per capita. Not only that, but DC has been Platinum-certified since 2017.

The latter part of the Top 10 cities with most eco-friendly apartments is dominated by Texas, home to 3 of the greenest U.S. cities: Austin boasts 11,500 green units, and Houston and Dallas are close to 10,000 sustainable apartments.

Smaller Cities Impress with Share of Eco-Friendly Apartments in 2018

Many energy-saving efforts are being made largely in urban hubs like Chicago, Washington, or New York. However, there is a multitude of cities across the United States that are making significant progress in sustainable design and construction. McLean, VA enjoys the biggest share of LEED-certified apartments in the United States — 47% of its apartments are certified sustainable. Next in line are Evanston, IL, and Cambridge, MA with 30% and 29%, respectively.

Portland, OR makes other cities green with envy with the second largest residential green share in the country, after Seattle —  about 20% of what has been built there since 2009 is sustainable. As of 2018, the city offers more than 11,500 green apartments in 75 sustainable large-scale residential buildings.

DC Metro Offers Most Options for Eco-Conscious Renters

Growing green rental demand stems from an eco-conscious renter population. Today’s renter demographic is more aware of the benefits that green-certified spaces have to offer. While basic green features like daylight-controlled lighting systems or water-efficient fittings are nice to have, it’s difficult to pinpoint their exact weight in a renter’s decision, especially when comparing rent prices to a non-green alternative.

When we consider the number of eco-friendly apartments in relation to the total U.S. population, the cities that offer overall sustainability options are not always the same ones that offer the most options for the renter segment.

ratio of people to sustainable apartments

Source: Yardi Matrix

When we factor in the ratio of people to green rentals, Silver Spring, MD has the best ratio of green units to people — 1 for every 18 people. The city with the biggest share of sustainable units, McLean, VA, pops up again, this time in second place with 1 green rental to 23 people. Third is College Park, MD with 1-25, then Arlington, VA 1-27. Rockville, MD wraps up the top 5 greenest cities for renters with 1 sustainable apartment to 33 people.

Building Sustainable Apartments Branches Out Across States

Illinois may rank first in sustainable LEED building overall, but California comes in strong with the highest number of eco-friendly apartments55,100 (LA and San Francisco are the leaders of the pack in the Golden State). The green movement is well reflected in Texas, where there are 47,500 sustainable units. Next up is Washington (26,700), Maryland (26,100), followed by Illinois, which has 24,600 green units to offer as of 2018.

Keeping Construction Evergreen for Future Generations

For years, sustainable construction development efforts have been dedicated to continued energy-saving performance around the country. While this eco-conscious mindset is not exactly a novelty, it is still susceptible to improvement. Organizations like LEED are dedicated to adapting to the needs of the environment, of the people who design and build these spaces, but most of all, of those who get to live in them.


  • Data source: Yardi Matrix apartment data in large-scale multifamily buildings of 50 units or more, as of December 2018, across 130+ markets in the U.S. 
  • We consider “green buildings” large-scale multifamily projects of 50 units or more that are LEED-certified, pending or proposed for LEED certification. The study does not cover the entire stock of rental buildings in the U.S. Updates may occur. 
  •  New York, NY data covers only the borough of Manhattan. 
  •  Unit count was rounded to the nearest hundred. 

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Alexandra is a creative writer and researcher for RentCafe. With a background in e-learning content writing and a passion for knowledge-sharing platforms, she's covered topics from prop-tech to renters insurance to interior design tips. Very familiar with the renter lifestyle herself, Alexandra enjoys researching and writing about renter demographic shifts and residential real estate market trends as much as she loves writing about how to get along with roommates. You can connect with Alexandra via email.

Alexandra’s work includes collaborations with financial and business publications. Her articles have been featured in several national and international online publications, including the New York Times, Barrons, Inman, Forbes, Architectural Digest, Marketwatch, Bisnow, and Curbed. Her educational background includes a B.A. in Japanese and English and an M.A. in Journalism and Cultural Studies.

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