Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2018


Sustainable real estate development is an essential component of intergenerational justice, in part because the real estate sector creates more than 20% of the world’s carbon emissions. Governments, recognizing that environmentally sustainable real estate development involves higher upfront costs, have encouraged green building by offering publicly funded incentives such as tax credits, grants, reduced approval fees, and streamlined permitting. Using market measurement innovations such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, investors can promote environmentally sustainable development by prioritizing real estate developers that embrace environmentally conscious practices. Even though real estate in general still underperforms in many other sectors in terms of its environmental sustainability, trends are encouraging. Commercial real estate has embraced green building as a concept, and the World Economic Forum predicts that approximately 55% of all new commercial properties in 2020 will be “built green.”

The affordable housing sector, however, needs more than marginal governmental carrots and sticks to be able to implement sustainability practices. Environmental sustainability will elude affordable housing as long as it remains in its current, financially unsustainable state. Government housing assistance programs are unpredictable, underfunded, and may to some extent perpetuate rather than solve the problem of housing need. The nation’s supply of affordable housing is rapidly declining in quality as well as quantity, and rising housing costs and stagnant incomes mean that an ever-increasing number of lower-income households must devote an unsustainably high percentage of their income toward housing costs. Our affordable housing system cannot go green until the system stops operating in the red. Properly conceived, affordable sustainability of housing and sustainable affordability of housing are mutually enforcing concepts. Successful housing laws and policy must therefore find a way to achieve both.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.