Certifying green buildings in China: LEED vs. 3-star


Over the past few decades, China has steadily risen to become among the world’s top economic players. This has been attributed to vast industrialization, advancement in technology and deeply involved globalization. Unfortunately, the carbon dioxide emission rate in China is worrying. So as to comply with the international regulations and measures set to mitigate on greenhouse gases emissions, China has embarked on a number of measures to reduce its energy consumption both in industrial operations, business and residential buildings. As such, researchers have been looking for various alternatives to reduce energy consumption and have identified green building programs as a promising solution.

The main aim of green building initiative was to generally champion the solutions to some of the main challenges including the adoption of better and resource-efficient building practices thus addressing the key problems in public health, energy consumption, and productivity. Presently, green building rating systems are widely used in the certification of green buildings. Among them, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and the National Building Evaluation Standard (3-Star) are the two commonly used in China. Considering the fact that the developers have a hand in picking the system to use, they need to fully understand the difference and goals of each so as to make the most appropriate decision for their buildings. Unfortunately, no relevant study has been done to compare the two main building certification systems, their purpose, criteria, and the factors to consider when picking on a particular building certification system to use.

To this note, Dr. Yonghua Zou at Zhejiang University recently conducted an empirical study comparing the LEED and 3-Star green building rating systems. The work is currently published in Journal of Cleaner Production.

He first explored the policies and documentation issued by the two organizations that created the two certification systems. Next, he compared the targets, standards criteria of the two systems. Consequently, a logistic model was developed to analyze the factors affecting the choice of building certification systems. This was with regards to geographical locations, intended purpose, investors and developers involved as well as the home country’s regulations.

The author observed both similarities and differences in LEED and 3-Star certifications systems. However, he noted that the choice of the certification systems was generally affected by three factors including the function of the building, geographical location, and the economic activities in the location. For instance, building to be used for industrial and business activities preferred LEED while residential building preferred 3-Star. On the other hand, the 3-Star system was dominant in the eastern regions than in western and central China. Furthermore, high investment and economic activities like in big cities attracted LEED system due to its international reputation as compared to 3-start.

The study is the first to provide empirical evidence for the factors considered by investors and developers in choosing building certification systems, using China as a case study. In general, the study also provides vital information regarding the green building program in China. This will advance the implication of the same in other countries.

About the author

Yonghua Zou is a ZJU100 Young Professor at the School of Public Affairs, Zhejiang University. His research focuses on the interaction mechanism among real estate, urban planning, public policy, and sustainable development in the contexts of China and the United States.

His works have appeared in Urban Geography, Cities, Applied Geography, Journal of Urban Planning and Development, among others. He obtained a Ph.D. from Temple University, and M.A.s from Indiana University, Bloomington and Tsinghua University, Beijing. He can be reached via [email protected].


Zou, Y. (2019). Certifying green buildings in China: LEED vs. 3-starJournal of Cleaner Production208, 880-888.

Go To Journal of Cleaner Production

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