The increasing attention to sustainability is pushing the construction sector to build more sustainable buildings. In this scenario, several sustainable development indicators have been proposed. The worldwide diffusion of sustainability rating systems and that of their structures are considered as proxy variables for the evaluation of sustainable constructions. Available rating systems span from energy consumption evaluation systems to life cycle analysis and total quality assessment systems. In these last systems, a multi-dimensional approach is proposed, as several building ratings are evaluated separately before being considered together. The description of assessment results from a sample of 490 buildings provides data to discuss construction characteristics that, currently, aim at being defined as sustainable. The paper shows that building energy performance is considered the most important criterion in sustainability rating systems, and the least achieved one in sustainability assessments. In contrast, other performance ratings of the building, such as water efficiency or indoor air quality, are achieved with a high rate of success in sustainability assessments. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment.