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Environment Magazine September/October 2008


January/February 2007

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Bytes of Note - Green Buildings

The buildings in which we live, work, and play interact with our environment, affecting stormwater runoff, energy and water consumption, transportation patterns, and indoor air quality. Recognition of the role that buildings have in our environment has led to significant efforts to design, build, and maintain more sustainable structures.

In large part, the endeavor for greener buildings has revolved around efforts to establish standard methods to assess the sustainability of a given building. These efforts are exemplified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System™ developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. The LEED rating and certification program includes modules for new commercial construction and major renovation projects, existing building operations and maintenance, commercial interiors projects, core and shell development projects, homes, neighborhood development, and guidelines for multiple buildings and on-campus building projects (where a “campus” is any cluster of buildings). For example, the rating system for new homes includes an assessment checklist that covers locations and linkages, sustainable sites, water efficiency, indoor air quality, materials and resources, energy and atmosphere, homeowner awareness, and innovation and design process. Advocacy groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council are offering green building tips and promoting the adoption of LEED standards, and the Kresge Foundation has established a program to encourage nonprofit organizations to consider building green. In addition, the Canada Green Building Council is adapting the LEED program for use in Canada.

There are also numerous state and local initiatives designed to promote green buildings in specific geographic regions. Statewide examples include California, Maryland, and New York.

Green building and sustainable architecture are rapidly moving from the periphery to the mainstream architecture and construction industries. For example, the National Association of Home Builders has recently published NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines, and the American Institute of Architects’ Committee on the Environment, which has been active for more than 15 years, publishes sustainable design resources for architects, including best practice guides and a report on ecological literacy in architecture education. There are also a number of industry portals designed to assist practitioners of green building design, construction, and maintenance. Examples include the Whole Building Design Guide,,, and Sustainable Sources.

As the largest property owner in the country, the U.S. federal government has also been moving toward the adoption of green building practices, as detailed in a recent report by the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive. The federal government sponsors a number of programs designed to establish and promote more sustainable buildings. Examples include the Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Program, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star rating program, and the General Services Administration’s Sustainable Design Program.

THOMAS M. PARRIS is a research scientist at and director of the New England offices of ISCIENCES, LLC. 

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