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What are Green Building Standards?

By O. Wallace
Updated Feb 07, 2024
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Green building standards focus on making residential and commercial buildings more environmentally friendly, sustainable and healthier for their occupants. Many builders and designers are implementing green building standards into their designs to create buildings that use environmentally friendly materials, are highly energy efficient and have excellent air quality. The US has been slow to adopt green building standards, possibly due to the abundance of cheap energy and building materials, but with the growing popularity of “greening,” it is becoming more and more of a mainstream practice.

The US Green Building Council (USGBC) is the leading authority on green building standards in the United States. Their preamble states their commitment to adhering to the following five main values:

  • Sustainability: A building should make use of sustainable resources and technology.
  • Equity: Design should show respect to the community and the cultures co-existing in it. Plans should be made with all socioeconomic levels in mind.
  • Inclusiveness: USGBC encourages community involvement in building and community design.
  • Progress: Designs should have quantifiable results of a building’s impact on the environment, community and economy of the area.
  • Connectedness: Green building design should respect the connection between man and nature and recognize his stewardship over it.

Responsibility, transparency, leadership, innovation and integrity are the mainstays of green building standards. In August 1998, the USGBC established Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a system for designing and implementing green building standards. LEED sets voluntary, uniform standards that take the whole building design into consideration. Using a scoring system, it rewards builders whose innovation in green building design advances the field. LEED’s goal is to make green building standards a feasible way of building that is accepted by the mainstream, not just environmentalists.

There are five areas in which a building is evaluated by LEED: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources and Indoor Environmental Quality. The levels of certification start at Certified and progress to Silver, Gold and Platinum, which is the highest.

Many think that green building standards are cost prohibitive. Although there is a definite increase in the cost of building, proponents of green building cite studies that prove savings down the road. The energy savings enjoyed by owners of green buildings translate to lower costs, ability to lease commercial and residential space for more and healthier and more satisfied tenants. According to one report, an initial investment of two percent extra in green building design represents a 20% savings on the total cost of construction over the life of the building.

Another report showed that a 4 US dollars (USD) per square foot investment recoups approximately 58 USD per square foot over 20 years. The benefits are quantifiable in health and productivity, cost of operating and maintenance, savings in utilities and savings in emissions. Buildings built with green building standards show a two to 16% increase in worker productivity.

Some buildings that adhere to green building standards use geothermal heating and cooling systems, grey water or black water recycling systems, skylights or other natural lighting, solar or wind power, increased ventilation, sustainable wood products and twice filtered air. Debris from construction is often recycled for other builders to use in future projects.

So far, 49 cities in 15 states have incorporated LEED standards into legislation and building codes. Nine federal initiatives in federal agencies have been adopted, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense, among others. Office buildings, apartment buildings, homes, government buildings and schools can all benefit from using green building standards. Recently, USGBC put out a call to designers, planners and builders to put forth their ideas for a green rebuilding of New Orleans. Globally, there are several projects that are registered by LEED, using green building standards in 24 countries.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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