There are more than 120,000 green-rated buildings worldwide, giving investors a wide choice of sustainable assets. But which cities should they consider first? We highlight 15 top choices from the Americas, EMEA and Asia-Pacific.

Our selection of 15 green building hotspots features top cities around the world for green-rated real estate, including projects registered as being planned or in progress as well as finished, certified buildings. We have included five cities each from the Americas, EMEA and Asia-Pacific. In addition to the major global certifications of BREEAM and LEED, other prominent national certifications that investors might come across are highlighted.



LONDON The UK has led the global charge for environmental assessment of real estate. The first building assessment was undertaken by Watford-based Building Research Establishment in 1990, which has since morphed into BREEAM, one of the most recognised international certifications. Unsurprisingly, therefore, London ranks number one globally for sustainable real estate with over 3,000 green-rated buildings. Even so, with almost 65% of London’s commercial buildings being completed before the year 2000, there are many opportunities to bring them in line with carbon-reduction targets.

DUBAI Government-owned buildings have been subject to Green Building Regulations and Specifications (GBR&S) since 2011, as have all new buildings since 2014, as part of UAE and City visions for sustainable development. Dubai has since introduced the Al Sa’fat Rating System for real estate to further reflect sustainability goals, which includes 30% energy and water savings by 2030 and 75% clean energy fuel mix by 2050. There are over 1,500 registered and certified LEED projects in Dubai, which was the first city in the region to receive a Platinum LEED city level rating6. Of note is the 46-hectare Sustainable City in Dubai, the Emirates' first fully operational net-zero energy community. Meanwhile, the 53-storey, 1.1 million square foot ICD Brookfield Place at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) was recently awarded LEED-Platinum status, making it the tallest and largest building to achieve this level of certification in the region and places it among the top 20 largest LEED-Platinum certified buildings globally.

6Green Building City Market Brief 2019

STOCKHOLM The Swedish capital is home to over 400 BREEAM-rated real estate projects and more than 100 LEED-rated ones. However, other green certifications are used both in Stockholm and across the country. For example, 1,500 residential and commercial buildings have been rated by the Miljöbyggnad standard, a certification system developed by the Sweden Green Building Council to account for local government regulations and Swedish construction practices. The council also certifies the sustainable building management standard, Miljöbyggnad iDrift, which covers indoor environment, health, climate impact, resource, and the condition of the building.

PARIS The Haute Qualité Environnementale (HQE) certification is widely used across France and accounts for 85% of office products, according to a report released in 2017. There are currently 13% that are BREEAM-rated and 2% LEED-rated, but these proportions are rising. In Paris, although most green-certified buildings are HQE, over 600 real estate assets are certified using BREEAM, with a smaller proportion using LEED. Approximately 9% of office space in the French capital is green-certified, and this has increased considerably over the last 13 years.7 Many assets, including the 44-floor Majunga tower, in the La Defense business district, are dual-rated or even triple-rated. Majunga has also been rated BBC, a French label (Bâtiment Basse Consommation) or low-energy building.

7International Green Building Adoption Index 2018 Maastricht University

ABU DHABI Abu Dhabi, which hosts the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), launched its Estidama sustainability framework in 2008 as part of the Abu Dhabi Vision 2030. The Estidama Pearl Rating System (PRS) for green buildings was developed by the Abu Dhabi planning council a few years later. In 2010, a 1-Pearl rating (the maximum is 5-Pearl) became mandatory for all applicable new buildings, with a minimum 2-Pearl for government-funded buildings. Now, there are over 1,000 design or construction-rated buildings with a 2-Pearl rating and above and another 1,400, with a 1-Pearl rating. The green rating system also applies to villas and 20,000 are currently Pearl rated[1]. In addition to the local rating, LEED certification is also popular, with circa 40 certified buildings and 100 registered buildings. The Siemens Headquarters in Masdar City was the first Platinum-certified LEED building in the Abu Dhabi in 2014.


WASHINGTON, DC Washington, DC became the world’s first LEED platinum city. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) was formed in the early 1990s by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) which is based in the capital. Worldwide, LEED standards have been applied to over one billion square metres of space. Washington, DC was also the first location in the US to legislate for green building certification in the public and private sector, with the Green Building Act 2006. The city has the most LEED and ENERGY STAR-certified square footage on a per capita basis and the most LEED and ENERGY STAR-certified projects of any large city. ENERGY STAR was formed in 1992 by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and covers homes and commercial real estate.

NEW YORK The five boroughs of New York contain around 1,000 LEED rated buildings. More than 70 enjoy the highest Platinum certification and more than 400 are certified as Gold. One World Trade Center is the tallest building in the western hemisphere to achieve the LEED gold certification. The iconic Empire State Building was also awarded LEED gold status in 2011. Additionally, five universities in New York have been accredited by the AASHE STARS framework, which measures sustainability performance for colleges and universities.

LOS ANGELES The City of Angels contains almost 800 LEED-rated real estate sites and over 400 ENERGY STAR-rated assets. Despite COVID-19, between April and July 2020, $600 million of green-rated office assets in the city were transacted8.

8Real Capital Analytics

CHICAGO There are approximately 1,000 green-rated real estate assets across Chicago, most of which are LEED and ENERGY STAR-rated. Over 70% of office space in Chicago – covering 15.5 million square metres9 – is green-certified. In recognition of the fact that large buildings contribute a significant proportion of carbon emissions in the city the Chicago Energy Rating System for buildings more than 50,000 square feet was launched in 2019. This initiative rates more than 3,400 buildings using energy data10.

9International Green Building Adoption Index 2018 Maastricht University and CBRE 10Chicago Office of the Mayor

HOUSTON Like Chicago, Houston has approximately 1,000 green-rated real estate projects and most are LEED and ENERGY STAR-rated. In 2019, Houston’s 35-storey Bank of America Tower (formerly Capitol Tower), became the first Platinum certification under LEED Version 4.1, the newest (and more stringent) update to LEED. Hines’ 47-storey, one million square foot Texas Tower, has also been pre-certified as LEED Platinum.


BEIJING Buildings across Beijing utilise a combination of global, regional, and national ratings. There are over 300 real estate projects across the city using LEED, with a small number rated using BREEAM. In 2016, there were 180 Green Building Evaluation Label (GBEL) projects in Beijing.

SHANGHAI A combination of global, regional, and national ratings are used in Shanghai buildings. There are over 500 real estate projects across the city with LEED certification and a minority using the BREEAM assessment. In 2016, in Shanghai, there were over 260 Green Building Evaluation Label (GBEL) projects, which is Mainland China’s national green building rating programme. More widely across Mainland China, there are more than 4,500 GBEL-evaluated buildings, with over 900 such buildings in the Jiangsu province, north of Shanghai.

SINGAPORE As part of accelerating Singapore’s green building agenda, the 2008 Building Control Act made it mandatory for new buildings and substantially refurbished existing buildings to be certified under the Green Mark scheme. As a result, there are more than 2,000 green-rated buildings across the city. Several buildings also hold LEED ratings.

SYDNEY The Green Building Council Australia is responsible for administering and rating the sustainability and performance of buildings design and fit-out under the voluntary Green Star certification. Across the nation, there are almost 3,000 Green Star certifications, covering more than 26 million square metres of space. This is 40% of all office and retail space across the country11. In Sydney, there are over 100 Green Star-certified buildings. Complementary to Green Star is the National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS), which measures the ongoing operational efficiency of a building. There are around 450 NABERS-rated buildings in Sydney, along with a small number of LEED-rated buildings. The Commercial Building Disclosure Program, which mandates energy efficiency disclosure of office space in Australia, is unique in the world. Two other schemes, GRESB, an investor-led organization assessing the sustainability performance of real estate and infrastructure portfolios and assets, and the WELL rating scheme, a performance-based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and wellbeing, are also used in Australia.

11Green Building Council Australia

MELBOURNE Across Melbourne, there are over 120 Green Star-certified buildings, with 275 buildings rated using NABERS and a small number of LEED-rated buildings.


The sustainable real estate movement is often viewed as a nascent or fringe alternative investment choice mainly focused in Europe, but as our research shows, the reality is quite different. In fact, investors already manage $120 trillion of financial assets (including real estate) under voluntary climate change disclosures, and there are now more than 120,000 green-rated real estate assets in clusters spread around the world. Investing sustainably in real estate can take many forms, from improving existing buildings to developing (or investing in) newer certified or certifiable assets. But the myriad global, regional, and national green building certifications present a confusing mix to those seeking to invest in these sustainable assets. LEED and BREEAM are two of the most widely-used standards internationally, but there are many other ratings around the world, as detailed in the previous section. Overlaid with this are investor-led sustainability ratings, such as GRESB. Key challenges for cross-border real estate investors are knowing how to match and compare criteria across different standards and deciding which matter most in which areas around the world.



Although it can be challenging to assess these different ratings, what their prevalence demonstrates is a vast pool of green-rated real estate assets globally. Gaining exposure to these assets will become increasingly important for those targeting resilient returns, for three main reasons. Firstly, the legislative tide is turning; it increasingly favours sustainable assets. Given that the built environment contributes an estimated 40%5 of global carbon emissions, multiple governments are targeting carbon reduction. Future regulatory and tax changes are likely to favour green real estate investment and disadvantage assets that cannot demonstrate compliance. Indeed, this is already happening in some countries; new buildings in locations such as Singapore and Abu Dhabi require minimum green ratings to be granted approval. Likewise, countries such as the Netherlands will require minimum energy performance certificate (EPC) ratings from 2023. Secondly, sustainable buildings will drive greater tenant retention and income resilience. As we discuss extensively in (Y)OUR SPACE, businesses increasingly see real estate as a strategic device for furthering corporate goals. Buildings need to reflect the ethos of brands that operate within them and as these brands – along with their workforces and their customers – increase their focus on sustainability, the occupation of green buildings becomes a very visible way to demonstrate a commitment to this cause. Thirdly, a broader range of financing options will be available to developers of and investors in sustainable buildings in the future. Consequently, these assets will enjoy a deeper potential demand-base compared to others, and will ultimately benefit from more resilient pricing.

5UN Environment Programme 2019 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction

Sustainability is crucial, as the built environment contributes an estimated 40%12 of carbon emissions.

12UN Environment Programme 2019 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction