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Definition of Green Building | Green Building History in the U.S. | Green Building Research | Green Building and EPA | More Information

Definition of Green Building

Green building is the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building's life-cycle from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction. This practice expands and complements the classical building design concerns of economy, utility, durability, and comfort. Green building is also known as a sustainable or high performance building.

Impacts of the built environment:

Aspects of Built Environment: Consumption: Environmental Effects: Ultimate Effects :
  • Siting
  • Design
  • Construction
  • Operation
  • Maintenance
  • Renovation
  • Deconstruction
  • Energy
  • Water
  • Materials
  • Natural Resources
  • Waste
  • Air pollution
  • Water pollution
  • Indoor pollution
  • Heat islands
  • Stormwater runoff
  • Noise
  • Harm to Human Health
  • Environment Degradation
  • Loss of Resources

Green buildings are designed to reduce the overall impact of the built environment on human health and the natural environment by:

For example, green buildings may incorporate sustainable materials in their construction (e.g., reused, recycled-content, or made from renewable resources); create healthy indoor environments with minimal pollutants (e.g., reduced product emissions); and/or feature landscaping that reduces water usage (e.g., by using native plants that survive without extra watering).

There are a number of reasons to build green, including potential environmental, economic and social benefits.

Green Building History in the U.S.

Some practices, such as using local and renewable materials or passive solar design, date back millennia the Anasazi in the Southwest built entire villages so that all the homes received solar heat in the winter. The contemporary green building movement arose out of the need and desire for more energy efficient and environmentally friendly building practices. The oil price increases of the 1970s spurred significant research and activity to improve energy efficiency and find renewable energy sources. This, combined with the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s, led to the earliest experiments with contemporary green building.

The green building field began to come together more formally in the 1990s. A few early milestones in the U.S. include:

The Federal Commitment to Green Building: Experiences and Expectations (PDF) (89 pp, 2MB, About PDF), a report of the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive, provides a history of federal involvement with green building. Some of the key federal milestones include:

The White Paper on Sustainability: A Report on the Green Building Movement (PDF) (48 pp, 1.2 MB, About PDF) Exit Disclaimer, published by the Building Design and Construction magazine, also contains a brief history of green building on pages 4-6.

Green Building Research

Green building research is being done by national laboratories, private companies, universities, and industry. According to a USGBC report published in 2006, over 70 percent of the green building research is focused on energy and atmosphere research. The next largest category of research is materials and resources. Indoor environmental quality, including issues pertaining to air, is also being studied. The USGBC report, Green Building Research Funding: An Assessment of Current Activity in the United States (PDF) (37 pp, 316 KB, About PDF) Exit Disclaimer, have additional information.

Green Building and EPA

EPA Programs

EPA has a number of programs that provide resources to help you learn more about the components of green building and how to incorporate these green building concepts into different types of buildings.

EPA adopted a new Green Building Strategy (2 pp, 697KB, About PDF) in 2008 to guide the Agency's green building activities.

Green Building Workgroup

EPA's Green Building Workgroup was formed in July 2003 to bring together the many programs across the Agency that work with the building and development sectors to improve their environmental performance. The Workgroup seeks to build effective EPA leadership in the green building movement by jointly informing, coordinating, and guiding the development of Agency policies, programs, partnerships, communications, and operations that influence building and development.

Greening EPA Buildings

To ensure that EPA's buildings and practices reflect the mission of protecting human health and the environment, EPA continuously works to reduce the environmental impact of its facilities and operations, from building new, environmentally sustainable structures to improving the energy efficiency of older buildings. A number of EPA facilities are actively pursuing or demonstrating green building principles.

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