Report: What’s a Good Location for a Green Building?

Chris Pyke, PhD
New white paper evaluates the application of aggregated, anonymous cellular data as a new tool to understand travel behavior associated with office buildings.

Green building is a flexible bundle of criteria and strategies intended to help guide and recognize the design, construction, and operation of buildings that benefit people and the environment.  LEED® rating systems (excluding LEED for Neighborhood Development) include a significant emphasis on factors that contribute to the social, economic, and environmental impacts of transportation.  This includes two fundamental approaches:

  1. Green locations: LEED recognizes projects that are located in areas with relatively high density, transit access, diverse services, bicycle infrastructure, and related features.
  2. Green behavior: LEED recognizes projects where occupant survey indicate a significant fraction of non-single occupant auto commuting.

Both of these approaches are based on a substantial technical literature, and, on average, they are likely to point toward opportunities to reduce the negative impacts of transportation.  However, emerging technologies are creating new opportunities to go deeper into these issues and, potentially, provide richer, more relevant guidance for individual locations.

Over the last year, the USGBC Research Program has collaborated with San Francisco-based StreetLight Data to evaluate the application of aggregated, anonymous cellular data as a new tool to understand travel behavior associated with office buildings.  We are pleased to release a new white paper describing some of our preliminary findings.

In brief, our initial results demonstrate that:

  • Cellular data can be used to characterize average commute distances for LEED-certified office buildings.
  • Cellular data-based commute distances are weakly, but significantly, correlated with current LEED credit criteria.  Consequently, they are not a direct substitute for current metrics, but they create the opportunity to envision fundamentally new, richer measures of travel behavior.
  • Under some circumstances, cellular data can be combined with LEED credit-based information to understand travel modes choices, such as transit use among long-distance commuters.

These findings have important implications.  For new construction projects, cellular data could provide practical new strategies to better understand the operational outcomes of planning and design choices.  For existing buildings, cellular data could supplement or replace occupant surveys with information that is systematically reproducible and benchmarkable at regional scales.  These data provide fundamentally new opportunities to understand and reward socially, environmentally, and economically preferred travel behaviors.  Realizing these opportunities will require the thoughtful development of intended outcomes and specific metrics that may be suitable for use in future LEED credits.  Read the white paper.

UPDATE: Recently, USGBC and StreetLight Data presented a webinar about this study. View the webinar: Can Cellular Based Metrics Improve Commute Assessments?

Chris Pyke, PhD
GRESB, Chief Operating Officer, helping lead a global team using data and transparency to drive positive change in the real estate industry. Learn more on and