Voluntary environmental programmes (VEPs) are increasingly gaining traction as a means of improving the environmental performance of buildings and their occupants. These programmes are of interest because they incentivise developers, property owners and occupants to improve such performance voluntarily beyond what is required by governmental construction regulation. This article questions whether such programmes have the potential to affect the environmental and resource sustainability of the built environment to a significant extent. It first briefly reviews the extant literature on voluntary programmes as developed in policy sciences and governance studies. It then studies the performance of a leading, often lauded, VEP in the built environment: LEED. In spite of LEED’s impressive performance in absolute terms, this article concludes that LEED is a relatively poor performing VEP. This raises considerable questions about the potential of VEPs to improve sustainability in the built environment more generally.
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