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Doctoral Dissertation Research

The Green Building Industry in California: From Ideology to Buildings


Beth M. Duckles

PLEASE DO NOT CITE OR REPRODUCE WITHOUT PERMISSION

Project Summary:
Intellectual Merit
Rather than looking at why buildings are not built sustainably, this study seeks to understand why
an increasingly visible number of commercial buildings are built sustainably. The rapidly growing green
building market suggests that there is a need to look more closely at the mechanisms that account for
market emergence. Going green is changing the types of buildings consumers want, the materials that
builders use and the way in which architects design and think about buildings. The ideology behind this
building trend is rooted in the environmental movement, and while it is clear that there is a relationship
between the sustainable ideology and these market changes it is still unclear whether this ideological shift
is demand or supply driven.
To address this gap, this dissertation will examine the way in which the actors within a quickly
shifting market promote, attack, implement or alter the ideals of sustainability and environmentalism in
the face of established rules, norms, and traditions, i.e., institutions. As these actors respond to the
changes in the market, there is an opportunity to examine not only market change, but also the
mechanisms by which the ideology of a movement becomes integrated into the marketplace. When these
market shifts are based on difficult to define concepts such as "sustainable" how do those definitions
become institutionalized. When sustainable ideals undermine the typical business model, how do actors
respond?
This work will meet at the intersection of three literatures: social movements, organizational
change and economic sociology. We will address the emergence of an embedded market, gain an
understanding of the institutional shifts as a social movement outcome and discuss the relationship
between the profit motive and the motive for organizations to be socially and environmentally
responsible. To accomplish this, we propose to study how the environmental ideals are commensurated
as new institutional standards emerge through the creation of the LEED building certification system,
created by the US Green Building Council. The study will focus on LEED certified buildings in the state
of California and in three phases gather research on builders and architects, organizational consumers and
suppliers. Methods include participant observation, targeted interviews, and the gathering of document
data on green buildings. Analysis will be conducted using a unique blend of narrative and process
analysis.

Broader Impacts
Gaining an understanding of the formation of a market embedded within the larger commercial
construction industry will contribute to the research on the growth and creation of markets. Examining
how a market shifts in response to ideological origins, will give us a sense of the mechanisms that affect
key actors within the industry and examine how that social movement ideology becomes institutionalized.
This has implications for the social movements literature as a study of social movement outcomes that do
not target the state. Additionally this has direct application for a social movement that seeks to integrate
itself into the workings of social institutions as well as the study of change within social institutions
themselves. Finally, green building is a case that involves the integration of business principles with the
motives of environmental and sustainable ideologies. In this way it is a fascinating starting point for
exploring the emergence of socially responsible and ecologically responsive organizations and will add to
the literature of sector bending organizations and corporate social responsibility.