impact of human activity has been a source of controversy and concern for decades. Much of the focus over that time has been on impacts such as pollution and the destruction or degradation of wildlife habitats and ecosystems. Over the past several years, however, concerns have increased greatly about greenhouse gases, resource depletion, and degradation of ecological services such as water supply.
The construction, characteristics, operation, and demolition of buildings are
increasingly recognized as a major source of environmental impact, including direct effects on humans:
- Buildings account for about a third of energy consumption world-wide, and 40% in the United States, with residential buildings contributing slightly more than half of that percentage.1 From 1980 to 2006, total building energy consumption in the United States increased more than 46%. Whether such growth rates will continue in the future is uncertain.2
- Use of water by buildings in the United States grew by more than 26% between 1985 and 2005.3 Such increases in water use are occurring in the context of stresses to the water supply caused by recent droughts and growing concerns about drying trends in the climates of western states.4
- Building demolition and construction accounted for 60% of nonindustrial waste tonnage in the United States in 1996, with about one-fourth recovered through processing or recycling.5
- Buildings produce almost 40% of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, with a projected increase in such emissions of more than 1% per year through 2030.6
- Some characteristics of buildings are known to affect several aspects of human health and productivity, such as the incidence of allergies and respiratory illness. Most people spend far more time inside buildings than outside, and the air in buildings often has substantially higher concentrations of pollutants than the air outside.7 "Sick building syndrome" has been estimated to affect as much as a quarter of office workers. Temperature and lighting have been found to have significant effects on worker performance.8
- Buildings and the built environment9 with which they are associated create impermeable surfaces that have substantial impacts on storm-water management, resulting in greatly increased run-off, decreased natural water storage, and increased pollution.10
- The location of a building can have significant transportation and ecological impacts. For example, if an organization constructs a new green building for its offices, but chooses a location with no access to public transportation, the additional energy required for transportation by private vehicle may exceed energy savings from the operation of the building itself.11
Without significant transformation of building construction and operations, such impacts are expected to increase with population growth and changes in other demographic and economic factors. One significant tool in efforts to achieve the desired transformation is green building. While it is widely considered desirable, the concept is used in a variety of different ways, and its application also raises concerns about actual performance, cost, and the sufficiency of the approach to solve the problems it is intended to address.
This report discusses what the concept of green building means, major federal policies and programs relating to green building, and associated issues, including some that may confront the 111th Congress.
What Is Green Building?
Environmentally sensitive building is not a particularly recent phenomenon,12 but the modern practice of green building began emerging in the 1990s. One milestone in the United States was the formation in 1990 of the Committee on the Environment within the American Institute of Architects (AIA), 13 followed within a few years by the founding of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) 14 and other organizations. The most prominent federal green building project in that decade was the "Greening of the White House." 15 The subsequent growth and diversity of the green building movement in the United States and other countries has led to some uncertainty in characterizing what green building actually is.16 Different proponents and practitioners use the term to denote various practices along a continuum. What some call green building is barely distinguishable from standard building practices. At the extreme, the term can be used in an almost meaningless way, purely as a marketing tool. Such practices are sometimes called "greenwashing."
Other practitioners aim to provide buildings with drastically reduced environmental impact. The extreme approach at this end of the scale is the so-called "zero-impact" building, which is intended to have no net environmental impact, including but not limited to zero net energy use; 17 or even a "minus-impact" building, which would provide a net environmental benefit .
In general, green building might best be characterized succinctly as integrated building practices that significantly reduce the environmental footprint of buildings in comparison to standard practices. The environmental footprint is the overall impact of a structure or activity on the environment, including the human environment. 18
This characterization captures two common features of the various meanings given to the term. First, green is a relative concept—a green building is one that is greener than average. Second, it is not limited to only one factor, such as energy consumption, but involves integration across several, as is discussed below.
While green building is often used interchangeably with sustainable building and related terms, the latter may be better thought of as a form of green building, but with a more stringent goal of buildings that will indefinitely maintain environmental footprints that are small enough that they will not impede future human activity and the functioning of ecosystems. 20
Another term often used interchangeably with green building is high-performance building. However, high-performance building usually involves factors such as
cost in addition to environmental ones. There are two federal statutory definitions:
a building that integrates and optimizes all major high-performance building attributes, including energy efficiency, durability, life-cycle performance, and occupant productivity,
a building that integrates and optimizes on a life cycle basis all major high performance attributes, including energy conservation, environment, safety, security, durability, accessibility, cost-benefit, productivity, sustainability, functionality, and operational considerations.
Additional objectives may also be considered in the design of high-performance buildings, including aesthetics and historical preservation.23
The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA, P.L. 110-140) further refined the concept by establishing a detailed definition for high-performance green buildings. (See text box on p. 6).
Descriptions of green building generally focus on a number of common elements, especially energy, water, materials, waste, and health.24 Siting is also a common element, particularly with respect to transportation, ecology, and smart growth.25 The siting element is increasing in prominence as more attention is focused on the built environment beyond the building itself. Most descriptions do not explicitly discuss serviceability or the related elements of productivity and functionality, but that may be because those are assumed to be integral elements of any building design. However, they are included explicitly among the objectives for high-performance buildings. Other elements, such as disaster resistance, may also be considered. This objective has also risen in prominence in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 2001, Hurricane Katrina, and other disasters.
A reduced energy footprint is probably the most widely cited element of green building.26 Goals include
- energy efficiency and curtailment, through such means as energy-efficient appliances and lighting, and weatherization; and
- use of alternative, renewable sources of energy, such as solar or geothermal power or combustion of biomass.
Energy is widely considered a crucial element because of the economic costs and environmental impacts associated with energy use. Costs are of growing concern because of uncertainties about fossil-fuel supplies and other factors. Pollution-related concerns include not only health effects but potential contributions to global warming. According to one study, the greatest opportunity to reduce energy demand globally is by improving energy use in residential buildings, through currently available technology.27
Federal law sets numeric requirements for reductions in energy use by federal buildings.28 The total energy consumption by such buildings declined by more than 10% between 1998 and 2005. Nevertheless, 2005 consumption slightly exceeded the federal goal.29
Given its importance, energy is sometimes mistakenly treated as the predominant or even the sole element to be considered in green building. However, while a green building almost always addresses the energy element, a building that focuses solely on energy may not be a green building: It could have other environmental impacts that outweigh any benefits from its reduced use of energy.30
Definitions of Green Building
Green building, green architecture, sustainable building, high-performance building, and low-impact development are among the terms used to denote practices that reduce the environmental impact of components of the built environment. In the absence of a common consensus usage, a comparison of different terms and interpretations may be useful:
Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-140):
The term ''high-performance green building'' means a high-performance building that, during its life-cycle, as compared with similar buildings (as measured by Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey or Residential Energy Consumption Survey data from the Energy Information Agency)—
(A) reduces energy, water, and material resource use; (B) improves indoor environmental quality, including reducing indoor pollution, improving thermal comfort, and improving lighting and acoustic environments that affect occupant health and productivity; (C) reduces negative impacts on the environment throughout the life-cycle of the building, including air and water pollution and waste generation; (D) increases the use of environmentally preferable products, including biobased, recycled content, and nontoxic products with lower life-cycle impacts; (E) increases reuse and recycling opportunities; (F) integrates systems in the building; (G) reduces the environmental and energy impacts of transportation through building location and site design that support a full range of transportation choices for users of the building; and (H) considers indoor and outdoor effects of the building on human health and the environment, including—
(i) improvements in worker productivity; (ii) the life-cycle impacts of building materials and operations; and (iii) other factors that the Federal Director or the Commercial Director consider to be appropriate.
Note: This is the only definition in federal law and therefore should be broadly applicable to federal efforts. However, its applicability may be somewhat limited in that it refers specifically to high-performance green buildings rather than green buildings in general.
Environmental Protection Agency:
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.
Office of the Federal Environmental Executive:
Green building [is] the practice of (1) increasing the efficiency with which buildings and their sites use energy, water, and materials, and (2) reducing building impacts on human health and the environment, through better siting, design, construction, operation, maintenance, and removal—the complete building life cycle.
Sustainable Buildings Industry Council:
A sustainable building is one in which the site, design, construction, occupancy, maintenance, and deconstruction of the building are accounted for in ways that promote energy, water, and material efficiencies, while providing healthy, productive, and comfortable indoor environments and long-term benefits to owners, occupants, and society as a whole.
Building Science Corporation:
'Green building' is a label for the process of design and construction which aims to produce buildings that are less damaging to the environment—and the people that use them—than most buildings currently built today. [It] focuses on incremental steps to solve known and measurable problems with ... current practice.
'Sustainable building' ... refers more precisely to the goal of designing and constructing buildings that have no net impact on the environment, such that a total built environment composed of similar buildings could co-exist with the world's ecological balance indefinitely. [It] seeks models for an unidentified future state of society.
King County, Washington:
Green building, or sustainable building, is defined by King County as design, construction and operation practices that significantly reduce resource consumption and environmental impacts through sustainable site planning, energy efficiency, water conservation, waste minimization, pollution prevention, using resource-efficient materials, [and]providing enhanced indoor environmental quality for occupants.
Low Impact Development (LID) is an approach to land development that focuses on how water enters a site, is stored on-site, and leaves a site. Land development that incorporates LID practices minimizes impervious surface, protects and enhances native vegetation and soils, and manages stormwater at its source.
Sources: Environmental Protection Agency, "Green Building: Basic Information," April 18, 2008, http://www.epa.gov/ greenbuilding/ pubs/ about.htm .
Office of the Federal Environmental Executive," The Federal Commitment to Green Building: Experiences and Expectations," 2003, http://www.epa.gov/ greenbuilding/ pdf/ 2010_fed_gb_report.pdf .
P.L. 110-140, §401(13).
Sustainable Buildings Industry Council, "What is Sustainability? What is Beyond Green? What is a High-Performance Building?" 2008, http://www.sbicouncil.org/ displaycommon.cfm? an= 1& subarticlenbr= 124 .
Building Science Corporation, Towards Sustainability: Green Building, Sustainability Objectives, and Building America Whole House Systems, Research Report (Building Science Corporation, February 2008), p.4, http://www.buildingscience.com/ documents/ reports/ rr-0801-towards-sustainability2014green-building-sustainability-objectives-and-building-america-whole-house-systems-research/ view? searchterm= rr-0801 .
King County Department of Development and Environmental Services, "Green Building & Low Impact Development: Frequently Asked Questions," Bulletin 55, May 15, 2008, http://www.kingcounty.gov/ property/ permits/ publications/ ~/ media/ property/ permits/ documents/ bulletins/ 55.ashx .
Reducing water usage in buildings can provide cost savings. It can also aid management of water resources, especially in arid areas and in response to periodic drought elsewhere.31 Reductions can be achieved through such measures as reduced-flow plumbing fixtures,32 recycling of wastewater,33 and landscaping designed to reduce irrigation requirements.
Water management may also include how the building and associated land handle rain, on-site water, and run-off. Development designed to ensure that the way a site handles water is similar to how it did so before development is called low-impact development, which "uses natural and engineered infiltration and storage techniques to control storm water where it is generated."34 Among the methods used are reduction in impervious surfaces through landscaping, use of porous materials, green roofs (see text box on page 9), and so forth; and use of holding ponds, swales, rain gardens, and similar measures.
The materials used in a building, during both construction and operations, can contribute substantially to the building's environmental footprint. The choice and use of materials affects resource depletion, pollution, embodied energy,35 and health. "Environmentally preferable" or "green" products can reduce the impact. Such materials may have significant recycled content, be made from renewable biological resources (so-called "biobased" products), or be created with processes that use low amounts of energy and produce low amounts of pollutants.36 They may also be designed to reduce health risks such as those from volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde.
The environmental impact of waste from standard demolition and construction processes can be reduced through more efficient use of materials and recycling of waste products.37 Landscaping can be planned to reduce or eliminate chemical pollutants from grounds maintenance and to recycle waste such as lawn clippings through mulching and composting. High-efficiency boilers and furnaces can reduce the production of many atmospheric pollutants. Operational solid waste such as paper and foodstuffs can be recycled or otherwise processed to reduce their environmental impact.
Several factors can influence the health impacts of buildings. For some, the health effects are obvious, such as use of materials without heavy metals, VOCs, asbestos,38 or other potentially toxic substances. However, other factors, such as lighting, climate control, and ergonomic design, can also have significant impacts on the health of building occupants.39
Where a building is situated can have significant effects on its environmental footprint.40 For example, siting of buildings near transportation hubs can facilitate the use of public transportation and reduce impacts from private automobiles. Site selection may also take into account the ecological sensitivity of potential sites, to minimize adverse impacts on ecological services41 and native species of plants and animals. The orientation of building axes and surfaces, and the building's proximity to trees and other plantings, affect its heating and cooling requirements (see text box on page 12).
Green and Cool Roofs
The use of extensive plantings on rooftops, called "green roofs," is one way to reach some of the goals of green building. The practice appears to be more common in Europe than in the United States. Proponents cite several benefits:
Increased roof longevity. Plantings can help insulate an impervious roof membrane from the deleterious effects of the elements, such as sun, wind, and ice, thereby increasing the useful life of the membrane.
Energy savings. The plantings serve as an insulating barrier, thereby reducing energy required for heating and cooling.
Other benefits. Plantings may provide benefits in stormwater management, recycling of wastewater, and provision of social amenities, if the roof is accessible to building occupants.
Potential disadvantages of green roofs include the following:
Cost. The installation cost of a green roof may be twice that of a conventional roof but will vary with several factors, including the kinds of plantings and other features chosen.
Maintenance. Green roofs will require maintenance similar to other plantings. For example, they may require watering, if local rainfall is insufficient.
Damage from plants. Improper design or implementation might lead to problems such as leakage of water into the building or root penetration into the roof structure.
Feasibility. The roof structure must be sufficiently strong and intact to support the weight of the plantings, and must meet other structural requirements. Also, green roofs do not appear to be generally feasible on steeply sloped roofs and are usually found on flat or gently sloped rooftops.
Cool or reflective roofs are those made with materials that reflect light rather than absorbing it. Usually those materials are lighter in color than typical roofing materials, and their use reduces the amount of heat created from solar radiation striking the roof. Cool roofs can be less expensive and easier to install and maintain than green roofs, but their potential benefits are more limited than green roofs.
Since green and cool roofs are used on building structures, specific guidelines and standards are available for them. The LEED rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (see p. 11) includes optional credits for such roofs.
Source: Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, "About Green Roofs," December 8, 2009, http://www.greenroofs.org/ index.php/ about-green-roofs ; Environmental Protection Agency, "Cool Roofs," September 16, 2009, http://www.epa.gov/ heatisld/ mitigation/ coolroofs.htm ; Bryan Urban and Kurt Roth, Guidelines for Selecting Cool Roofs (Department of Energy, July 2010).
A building that is not useful to its occupants is unlikely to be worth its cost, no matter how much less an environmental footprint it has than other buildings. Therefore, productivity and other measures of utility comprise an important element of green building. Some evidence exists that green buildings can lead to improved productivity among occupants.42 While this element is not generally considered as a separate element in green-building design (see, for example, Table 1 ), it is explicitly identified as an objective for high-performance buildings.
Resistance to hazards such as earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding, subsidence, and forest fires can increase the useful life of a building and permit it to function when services such as transportation and utilities are not available. Efforts may include approaches such as resistant construction and on-site power generation, such as through photovoltaic and wind-turbine technology, and water recycling capabilities.
One of the most salient features of green building is integration. Although the elements described above could be and often are addressed separately for each stage in a building's life cycle, the green building approach focuses on how the set of elements affects the environmental footprint of a building throughout its life cycle, from site selection, initial design, and construction, to operations during the building's useful life, through eventual demolition and its aftermath.43
This approach, with its focus on the whole building, can lead to better assessment of the overall environmental impact of a building. It also permits explicit assessment of and balance among potentially competing goals, and it allows planners to examine how different elements and stages interact and to develop an integrated strategy. Balance Among Elements
A focus on one element at the expense of others can be counterproductive. For example, energy efficiency can be improved by sealing the building envelope to prevent conditioned air from escaping. But an absence of air exchange can result in increased concentration of pollutants in the building and can impede moisture control, fostering the development of mold and deterioration of building materials.
44 Addressing both energy efficiency and health requires either a compromise or technologies such as active ventilation with heat exchange. A green building approach reduces the risk of unanticipated problems by forcing an examination of how actions affecting each element impact others, so that an overall optimization can be achieved. Nevertheless, in some cases, such as many renovations, only one or a few factors might be feasible to address. Balance Across Stages
A focus on only one stage in the life
-cycle of a building can lead to savings at that stage but losses at another. For example, in the absence of sufficient data on the environmental impacts of developing, manufacturing, installing, using, and eventually disposing of alternative building materials, a choice that appears to be environmentally sound may in fact not be. Thus, use of concrete walls provides more insulation on average than use of wood, but has much higher net emissions of carbon dioxide over its life cycle. 45 A green building approach can reduce such problems by facilitating an assessment of the impact from actions at one stage on all the others.
Many factors are also clearly interdependent. For example, use of environmentally preferable products can affect occupant health, which in turn can affect productivity. A zero-net-energy building may be well-prepared to function during periods when power is unavailable from utilities, such as after a natural disaster. On-site stormwater management can facilitate the provision of ecological services.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)
The relationships among the various elements of green building, and the lack of a single, readily apparent metric for determining how well a building conforms, among other factors, have led to the development of rating and certification systems used to assess how well a building meets green criteria. The best known system within the United States is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), with support from the federal government and other sources.
LEED is a consensus-based certification system focusing on seven green building elements: site, water, energy, materials, indoor environment, innovation, and regional environmental priorities.46 There are separate LEED rating systems for several different building categories: new commercial construction, existing buildings, homes, schools, and others.
LEED provides third-party certification to one of four levels (certified, silver, gold, and platinum). It therefore permits a building to be labeled as environmentally superior to others and in that way is analogous to environmental labeling programs such as the federal Energy Star program (see text box on p. 28).
To be certified, a building must meet a set of mandatory basic requirements for most elements47 and must also receive a designated number of the total points that can be earned within each element from optional items (see Table 1 for an example). While this "checklist" approach has been criticized (see below), it permits comparatively simple assessment of compliance and facilitates the kind of integrated consideration of factors that is a hallmark of green building.
It is generally recognized among experts in forestry and horticulture that urban plantings of various types can provide a range of environmental and other benefits. Among the benefits commonly reported are the following:
Temperature. In warm weather, plants can provide shade and also help to cool an area through the evaporation of water from their leaves (evaporative cooling). Also, large plants such as trees can save on heating costs in cold weather by reducing the effects of wind.
Air quality. Plants can trap airborne pollutants (especially trees with large surface areas) and sequester carbon in their leaves and other parts.
Water quality. Plants can reduce storm-water run-off and soil erosion.
Noise. Plants can absorb sound from vehicles and other sources of urban noise, thereby reducing noise pollution.
Social and economic benefits. Trees and other plants can provide recreational opportunities, aesthetic benefits, habitat for urban wildlife, increased property values and occupancy rates, increased customer visits to businesses, and even reduction in crime.
Most of the above benefits have been demonstrated in specific instances through various research projects in urban areas, although the degree to which they may apply in any given case will vary. Attempts to measure the benefits have yielded results such as the following:
- Reductions in energy costs for air conditioning of approximately 15-25% in summer, and 7% heating-energy reduction in winter from reductions in wind speed;
- Removal of pollutants including nitrogen, sulfur, and carbon oxides (including carbon dioxide), heavy metals, ozone, and an approximately 10% or higher reduction in particulate pollutants;
- Up to 20% reduction in run-off of water during storms, and up to 95% reduction in sediment run-off; and
- 10–20% increase in property values.
Caution is required in interpreting such examples, since the actual effects will depend on a wide range of factors, from the kinds of plantings and species used to the local climate and other conditions. Also, the benefits may be disputed by some observers. For example, it might be argued that use of light-colored surfaces reflects sunlight and provides a reduction in ambient temperature equivalent to the ameliorating effects of plants. In addition, there are costs and potential disadvantages associated with plantings, including the following:
Costs of plantings. Species, size of plants, location, and other factors can influence how much urban plantings cost to establish.
Maintenance. These costs will vary with the kinds and locations of plantings, and includes such activities as pruning, irrigation, pest control, recycling or disposal of fallen leaves and other plant residue, and fire protection. Plantings that are improperly planned or maintained can create significant problems—for example, densely planted areas can provide cover for criminal activity.
Damage. Plants can cause damage to structures such as sidewalks, sewerage and other underground infrastructure, especially through root growth, and trees or large branches may cause damage to buildings, vehicles, power lines, and other property and utilities if they fall, such as during storms.
Air quality. Pollen produced by plants can cause allergic reactions, and volatile organic compounds that in some cases can contribute to, rather than reduce, certain kinds of pollution such as ozone.
As with the benefits of plantings, the actual costs and disadvantages will depend on a wide range of factors.
Sources: Southern Center for Urban Forest Research & Information, USDA Forest Service, Urban Forestry Manual, September 2006, available at http://www.urbanforestrysouth.org.
Chris Hastie, "The Benefits of Urban Trees," Warwick (England) District Council, July 2003, available at http://library.tree-care.info/ docs/ BenefitsOfTrees.zip .
David J. Nowak, "The Effects of Urban Trees on Air Quality," USDA Forest Service, Syracuse, New York, July 2003, available at http://www.fs.fed.us/ ne/ syracuse/ TREE%20Air%20Qual.pdf .
Table 1. LEED for New Construction
Construction activity Pollution prevention
Water use reduction
Energy and atmosphere
Fundamental commissioning of the building energy systems Minimum energy performance Fundamental refrigerant management
Materials and resources
Storage and collection of recyclables
Indoor environmental quality
Minimum indoor air quality performance Environmental tobacco smoke control
Innovation and design process
Regional environmental priorities
Source: U.S. Green Building Council, "LEED 2009 for New Construction and Major Renovations," April 2010, http://www.usgbc.org/ ShowFile.aspx? DocumentID= 7244 .
Notes: Points are awarded for specified credits under each element, such as alternative transportation, water-efficient landscaping, green power, use of regional materials, and use of daylighting.
LEED's prospective approach can be beneficial. Good initial design is essential to ensure high performance. Retrofitting existing buildings to reduce their environmental footprints can be costly and imperfect. For that and other reasons, the most effective green building efforts are likely in most cases to involve new buildings. Even so, a substantially smaller environmental footprint is feasible for much of the existing building stock.
The rating system is regularly updated, with the most recent revision released in 2009. That release increased weightings for energy- and greenhouse-gas-related measures, and added a regional element to address local environmental requirements.48
The rate of LEED certification has increased annually since the first certification in the year 2000.49 As of November 2008, more than 5,000 buildings and other projects in the United States were LEED-certified,50 most of them commercial and government buildings,51 and they include more than 241 federal projects, according to USGBC.52
Several other systems exist for guiding the construction of green buildings,53 but they are not yet widely used in the United States. The National Association of Home Builders has developed a National Building Standard for residential construction. Unlike rating systems such as LEED, this consensus standard, released in 2009, was developed under the auspices of and approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).54 In 2010, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), together with USGBC and the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IES), released a high-performance green building standard for nonresidential buildings.55
Selected Issues in Green Building
Green building raises issues relating to performance, measurement, cost, market penetration, and approach. These are briefly described below.56
Much of the focus of green building efforts, including rating systems such as LEED, has been on design and construction specifications. Actual performance is expected to be better than conventional buildings, but few assessments have been done. Consequently, it is not certain if a nominally green building, even one that is certified, will perform in a manner that is significantly better or worse than a conventional building.
A study of energy use by more than 100 LEED-certified buildings found that most buildings performed well above the national average.57 However, about one in seven performed worse than average. Since the average improvement was 24%, the study appears to support the efficacy of the LEED approach.
However, the study has been criticized as misleading because of purported sample bias, inappropriate baselines for comparison, and other concerns. Consequently, some observers have raised doubts about whether such buildings actually consume less energy than similar, uncertified buildings on average.58 Because other rating systems are not widely used in the United States, little information is available on the performance of buildings constructed under those systems in the U.S. market.
A General Services Administration (GSA) study of 12 green federal buildings, most of which had received LEED certification, found that the buildings studied performed better than the national average in energy use.59 This study also examined operating costs, occupant satisfaction, water use, and carbon emissions. It found that the buildings studied performed better than national averages in all those categories as well.
While the few available performance results for green buildings appear to be at least somewhat encouraging, many uncertainties remain. That is not surprising given the recent onset of integrated green building efforts, the relatively long lead times for construction, and the long life cycles of buildings. As experience with green buildings accumulates, their performance benefits and disadvantages should become clearer.
Performance measurement is important for ensuring that green buildings meet the environmental targets claimed for them and to assess ways to improve those targets;60 but efforts to measure the performance of green buildings are not yet well-developed for most elements. Some, such as energy and water use, are comparatively easy to measure quantitatively, for example through metering. Others may be difficult to quantify and may be possible to evaluate only on the basis of the presence or absence of certain features or through other more qualitative measures.61
Building systems may also be commissioned—that is, independently assessed to ensure they are designed, installed, tested, and capable of being operated as planned.62 Available data support the contention that commissioning improves environmental performance, especially for energy use.63 The process can be used not only for new buildings, but also existing ones, either during retrofitting or continuing operations.
Given the life expectancy of buildings—in most cases far longer than occupancy by any given resident—measurement of performance is important not only initially but over the entire lifespan of the building. In the absence of such regular measurement and adjustment, environmental performance is likely to deteriorate over time for many elements. Eventually, some form of standard life-cycle assessment may be feasible for whole buildings.64
In addition to certification and commissioning, an organization can develop an environmental management system (EMS), for which international standards are available.65 To be certified under the standards, an organization must have an explicit environmental policy that includes commitments to conform to relevant environmental requirements, continuously improve environmental performance, and prevent pollution, among other things. Such commitments are arguably far easier to meet if the EMS includes performance measurement.
The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-140) and Executive Order 13423 (discussed below) require that federal agencies measure the performance of their buildings against specified targets, especially with respect to energy use. Targets are more stringent for new construction than existing stock. Energy performance is to be measured against a baseline of consumption levels in 2005. Determination of an accurate baseline may be difficult in the absence of adequate measurement of energy use. Executive Order 13514 (also discussed below) requires the use of performance scorecards to track agency compliance with the goals laid out in the order.
Despite the recognized importance of measurement and the availability of options and resources for its application, uncertainties and gaps exist that can make effective application challenging. Consensus may not exist on specific measurement goals or metrics. Reliable and consistent data may be difficult to obtain. Measurement science relating to green building is an active area of research, but some observers believe that current efforts are inadequate. The National Science and Technology Council lists the development of appropriate measurement science as the top research need for progress in green building.66
It is widely believed that the initial costs of green buildings are higher than for conventional buildings. Such higher costs can result from several sources. Not only can many features, such as high-efficiency appliances and lighting, be more expensive than conventional approaches, but design costs may be higher, and if the building is to be certified, the process may be time-consuming and cumbersome.
However, proponents of green building assert that operational cost savings will eventually recoup any initially higher investment. The use of integrated design may also result in some reductions in initial costs.67 Some evidence exists to support that claim.68 However, information on true costs is not always easy to obtain, and such informational barriers can distort perceptions about the economic benefits of green building.
Some observers also argue that costs beyond simple monetary expenditures should be considered. Such thinking has led to the use of concepts such as the "triple bottom line"69 in literature on green building. The term refers to the inclusion of social and environmental returns, in addition to financial ones, in assessing business performance.
The structure of real estate markets can exacerbate cost problems. Building owners, especially homeowners, often move after a few years,70 reducing the time they would require for a return on their initial investment through operational savings. Although green building investments may increase the resale value of the building, such projected increases are uncertain and may not be sufficiently attractive. The problem is exacerbated if the building is rented or leased, especially if the tenant pays for utilities. Owners would have little incentive to make green building investments, because they would receive little financial return, and the return received by tenants would depend on the length of their tenure—only long-term tenants would be likely to benefit from making such an investment.71 This is sometimes called the principal/agent problem.72
Finally, many potential beneficiaries of green building are subject to severe capital constraints on such investments, even outside the residential sector. Such constraints are reported to be a problem with respect to such significant users of energy as educational institutions, hospitals, and municipalities.73
Cost barriers to the use of green building may decrease as the practice becomes more widespread if economies of scale lower any initial cost differential. Also, financial incentives may change in response to increasing demand.
The prevalence of green building has increased substantially, spurred by a variety of factors from government requirements to the prospect of attractive investment returns to increasing concerns about environmental degradation and quality of life. However, green buildings still comprise a relatively small portion of building construction. In 2005, according to one analysis, only 2% of new residential and commercial construction in the United States consisted of green building. That percentage has been projected to reach 5% or more by 2010, although that projection did not take into account the recent economic downturn, which may affect the trends in adoption of green building.74 The significance of this relatively small amount of reported market share also does not take into account existing building stock, little of which was constructed according to green building criteria, and which will only slowly be retrofitted or replaced.75
The building industry is a substantial component of the U.S. economy. In 2006, the value of building construction and renovation exceeded $1 trillion and accounted for more than 9% of U.S. gross domestic product.76 Therefore, greater market penetration of green building may have significant economic impacts. However, any such increase may require significant changes in attitudes about green building among both building professionals and clients.77
Although green building is widely considered a positive development, some observers have expressed concerns about the approach. Some of those criticisms have been directed at rating and certification systems, for the reasons described above among others. Current efforts in general have been criticized. Some argue that they are not sufficiently integrative—they do not provide sufficient integration across elements or stages in the building's life cycle—or that they are too incremental in scope.78 Others have argued that mere mitigation of environmental impacts is not sustainable, and that new approaches are preferable, for example based on maintenance or even enhancement of ecosystem services.79 Such approaches would arguably need to go beyond individual buildings and include other components of the built environment.80
There is also concern among some observers about misperceptions about green building, especially a failure to appreciate the integrative nature of the effort required. Instead, some may regard it as something that can simply be added on to a construction project, rather than being an integral part of the project from its inception onward.
The scientific and technological knowledge base for green building is also limited, which is not surprising given the recent origin of the discipline. These limitations make it difficult to identify the most appropriate approaches. Substantial research is considered by many as needed to improve the knowledge base relating to all elements of green building.81
Such issues can be compounded by differences in goals and perspectives among different proponents of green building.82 Identifying objective, rather than subjective, criteria and approaches may also be difficult, especially for elements of green building such as siting, that are not as amenable to quantitative evaluation as others, such as energy.
Legislative and Policy Framework
Several federal laws, executive orders, and other policy instruments have provisions relating to green building. Selected relevant provisions are described below. However, the list presented in this report is not exhaustive. For example, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA), as amended (42 U.S.C. §6901 et seq.), requires agencies to procure products with recycled content. In addition, several bills have been introduced in the 111th Congress that would address various aspects of green building (see, for example, H.R. 2454, H.R. 5019, S. 1462, and S. 1733). Also, this report does not include discussion of state and local policies, which have substantial influence on green building efforts within those jurisdictions.
Energy Policy Act of 1992
The Energy Policy Act of 1992 (P.L. 102-486), known as EPACT 1992, contained incentives and requirements relating to efficient use of energy and water in federal, commercial, and residential buildings. It included, among other matters, provisions relating to state building energy codes,83 energy efficiency in federal buildings and public housing, a pilot program for mortgages for energy efficient housing,84 the development of energy efficient technologies, and energy and water efficiency requirements for appliances, plumbing fixtures, and building materials.
Energy Policy Act of 2005
Among other provisions, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-58), known as EPACT 2005, required the development of energy and water conservation programs for congressional buildings, and a reduction in energy consumption by federal buildings of 20% (relative to 2003) by 2015;85 promoted the procurement of energy-efficient products by federal agencies; established a testbed program for advanced building efficiency; set an energy consumption target for new federal buildings of 30% below existing standards; and required the application of sustainable-design principles to new and replacement federal buildings. It also continued authorization of DOE's weatherization assistance program.
The act set an improvement goal of 25% by 2012 from a 1990 base for state energy conservation plans. It also authorized funding for states to administer rebate programs for residential energy-efficient appliances, to assist local governments in improving energy efficiency in public buildings, and for other state activities, including incentives to states to establish building energy-efficiency codes that meet or exceed established standards.
It established the Energy Star labeling program as a joint program of DOE and EPA,86 and established public information and education programs relating to energy conservation. It also set energy and water conservation standards for various specific products. The act requires agencies to purchase products that either have an Energy Star label or are designated as energy-efficient by the Department of Energy.87
EPACT 2005 set energy-efficiency standards for public housing and directed the Department of Housing and Urban Development to develop a strategy for energy conservation and efficiency. The act also provided various tax incentives to businesses and individuals for energy and water efficiency.
Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007
The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-140), known as EISA, provided both a general legislative framework for federal green building efforts, including a definition of high-performance green building88 (see text box on page 6), and specific actions and requirements. Titles III, IV, and V relate most specifically to green building.89
Title III set efficiency standards for various appliances and electric lighting. It also required the use of energy-efficient lighting in facilities leased by the General Services Administration (GSA), and further directed that such facilities adhere to energy efficiency and renewable energy requirements to be set by GSA.
Title IV has provisions relating to residential, commercial, federal, and certain other kinds of buildings.
Residential. The act increased funding for DOE's program to provide assistance to low-income families for weatherization of residences, to improve energy efficiency. It required a feasibility study by DOE of the unfunded state rebate programs for energy efficiency and renewable energy that EPACT 2005 had authorized. It also established energy-efficiency standards for manufactured housing such as mobile homes.
Commercial. The act creates an Office of Commercial High-Performance Green Buildings within DOE to facilitate the development of green commercial buildings, including zero-net-energy buildings, in partnership with other federal and with nonfederal entities.
Federal. EISA increased the overall rate of required reduction in total energy consumption of federal buildings in each agency, from 20% (relative to 2003)90 to 30% by 2015. It set more stringent energy goals for new construction and major renovations, requiring them to reach a 65% reduction by 2015, and zero-net energy use by 2030; and it required the identification and use of a green building certification system for such structures. 91 It also set general water-conservation guidelines and storm-water runoff requirements for property development.
Federal buildings must undergo regular evaluations of energy and water use, with
OMB issuing scorecards twice per year on agency performance in energy management. The life cycle over which energy costs are assessed was extended from 25 to 40 years.
Any new major equipment installed must be energy efficient, and the act accelerated the use of energy-efficient lighting and other cost-saving technologies in GSA facilities. Any buildings leased by a federal agency must have a recently earned Energy Star
The act also established an Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings within GSA to coordinate and facilitate the development of such buildings in the federal sector. GAO is to perform audits of implementation of these requirements.
Other. The act contains provisions to facilitate the greening of schools, with emphasis on environmental health and energy efficiency. It also authorized energy-efficiency assistance for state and local public facilities and institutions of higher learning. It required the Department of Housing and Urban Development to use updated energy-efficiency standards for public and assisted housing. It also established green building research and demonstration projects through GSA, DOE, and EPA.
Title V contains energy-efficiency provisions relating to the U.S. Capitol complex,
93 and amended provisions in law relating to energy savings performance contracts. 94 It also specified certain actions to promote energy efficiency at executive branch agencies and in the supply of electricity and natural gas by utilities, and for state and local governments to develop and implement strategies for energy efficiency and conservation.
Other relevant provisions in the
bill include authorization of research and development (R&D) relating to energy efficiency and renewable energy, and loans and other activities to help small businesses improve energy efficiency.
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-5, ARRA) provided $4.5 billion to convert
facilities of the General Services Administration (GSA) to high-performance green buildings. It also provided $250 million to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for green retrofits of housing. It permitted states to use a portion of provided education funds for green renovations of public schools. It also provided funds to various agencies for energy-efficiency improvements to buildings.
Executive Order 13423
In January 2007, prior to the enactment of EISA in December of that year, President Bush signed Executive Order 13423, Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management.95 It replaced several executive orders promulgated in the Clinton Administration (13101, 13123, 13134, 13148, and 13149).
The order contains goals for energy efficiency in federal buildings similar to those in EISA and the executive orders it superseded, and it lays out more specific goals than does that act for reduction in water use by agencies (16% by 2015). It establishes, as a basis for new construction and major renovations, the guiding principles set forth in the interagency memorandum of understanding, "Federal Leadership in High Performance and Sustainable Buildings" (see below); and it requires that by 2015, 15% of federal buildings conform to those principles. It gives responsibility for implementing the policy in the executive order to the Federal Environmental Executive.96
Executive Order 13514
In October 2009, President Obama signed Executive Order 13514, Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance.97 The order sets goals for greenhouse gas production, water consumption, and green building. It requires reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by federal agencies through several means, including "reducing energy intensity in agency buildings." By FY2020, agencies are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions relative to FY 2008, and reduce potable water use by 26% relative to FY2007 and other water by 20% relative to FY2010. All new construction and major renovations are to comply with the "Guiding Principles for Federal Leadership in High Performance and Sustainable Buildings,"98 and by FY 2015 at least 15% of existing buildings are to comply, with annual progress toward 100% compliance.
Interagency Green Building Memorandum of Understanding
In 2006, representatives of 17 federal agencies and offices99 signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) titled "Federal Leadership in High Performance and Sustainable Buildings."100 The MOU was developed concurrently with the enactment of EPACT 2005.101 The heart of the agreement is a statement of five "guiding principles" for high performance and sustainable buildings:
Employ Integrated Design Principles.
This principle includes use of an integrated project team; incorporation of relevant performance goals for "siting, energy, water, materials, and indoor environmental quality ;" consideration of the entire life cycle of the building; and methods to verify that performance goals are met.
Optimize Energy Performance.
This involves establishment of an energy performance goal for the entire building, including reduction in energy costs of 20%-30% below existing standards; and measures to track performance in comparison to Energy Star benchmarks.
Protect and Conserve Water.
This involves reducing indoor use of potable water by 20% and outdoor use by 50% in comparison to baselines, and reducing runoff.
Enhance Indoor Environmental Quality. This principle requires meeting established standards for temperature, humidity, and ventilation; controlling moisture to prevent damage and mold; providing daylight in most spaces that is at least 2% above the amount available directly; using dimming and glare controls; using materials that emit low amounts of pollutants; and taking other steps to protect air quality in the building.
Reduce Environmental Impact of Materials. This involves using materials with recycled and biobased (renewable and sustainable) content that is at or above recommended levels, eliminating ozone-depleting compounds, and recycling at least half of construction waste where possible.
The guiding principles serve as a basis for the building policies in E.O. 13423 and related instructions for implementation and are included in E.O. 13514.
Programs and Activities of Selected Federal Agencies
The federal government owns or leases about half a million buildings, comprising about 3 billion square feet in floor space102 ( Table 2 ). EISA and other policy instruments require all federal agencies to implement green building practices for buildings they control. This report does not discuss green building within individual agencies, although such efforts may be substantial.103 However, several agencies have programs and activities that have a broader focus than the facilities of that agency. This section of the report discusses selected examples. 104
General Services Administration
The General Services Administration (GSA)
provides facilities for about 60 federal agencies,105 managing about 6% of federal floorspace and a roughly equal amount of leased space.106 The agency requires that all of its new construction and major renovation projects be LEED-certified.107 GSA was a leader in the efforts to develop sustainable design principles for the federal government, culminating in the development of the Whole Building Design Guide (see text box on page 26).108
EISA (§436) required GSA to establish an Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings, to coordinate activities relating to such buildings across federal agencies. The office is housed in the Public Buildings Service. Although GSA's focus is on federal buildings, the office is also tasked with coordinating activities with the Department of Energy's Office of Commercial High-Performance Green Buildings established by §421 of EISA.
Table 2. Percentages of Total Federal Building Floorspace Under the Jurisdiction of Various Agencies, 2005
% of Total
Department of Defense
US Postal Service
General Services Administration
Department of Energy
Most of the Department of Energy's green building activities relate to energy, through the Building Technologies Program (BT) and the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).109
BT sponsors and performs R&D to improve both commercial and residential energy efficiency. It is also involved in the development of energy codes and enforcement of equipment standards,110 transfer of relevant technologies to the marketplace, and integrated design of energy efficient buildings. A major focus for the program in the next several years will be on enabling the development of cost-effective zero-net-energy buildings for the residential and commercial sectors.111
BT has several notable programs, including the following:
- Building America,112 an R&D program in partnership with the building industry. It focuses on a whole-building, integrated approach to improving energy savings in residential buildings.
- The High-Performance Commercial Buildings program is a public-private partnership program that uses a whole-building approach to improve energy savings in commercial buildings.113
- Energy Star is a joint program with EPA that uses voluntary labeling to promote energy-efficient products (see text box on p. 28).
- The Buildings Energy Data Book114 provides data on energy consumption and other building-related topics for the residential, commercial, and federal sectors. It is updated annually.
Whole Building Design Guide
The Whole Building Design Guide (WBDG) is a web-based portal providing information on an integrated approach to the design, construction, and operation of buildings. It is a collaboration among 11 federal agencies and many private-sector and nonprofit organizations. It is hosted by the National Institute of Building Sciences, with federal funding provided by the Department of Defense (the Navy began the WBDG in 1997), The General Services Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Energy (four of the five largest managers of federal floorspace—see Table 2 ), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
The site describes the goals of the approach as follows: "Whole Building Design provides the strategies to achieve a true high-performance building: one that is cost-effective over its entire life cycle, safe, secure, accessible, flexible, aesthetic, productive, and sustainable." The most relevant goal for green building is the last. The guide provides design guidance to federal agencies for all seven goals, as well as a broad range of information and resources to the federal government, the building industry, and the public.
The whole-building approach promoted by the site involves not only integrated design but also integration of the teams of people involved, including architects, owners, contractors, operators, community members, and other stakeholders. The portal provides tools and other resources to promote and facilitate such integration.
Sources: Whole Building Design Guide, "WBDG - The Whole Building Design Guide," n.d., http://www.wbdg.org/ index.php ; OFEE, "The Federal Commitment to Green Building," 2003, http://www.epa.gov/ greenbuilding/ pdf/ 2010_fed_gb_report.pdf .
FEMP115 assists federal agencies in implementing energy savings and management, including the designation required by EPACT 2005 of energy-efficient products for purchase by agencies. It provides assistance with procurement, construction, operations, and maintenance. It also chairs the Interagency Sustainability Working Group, which is responsible for assisting agencies in implementing sustainable building design, including technical guidance for implementation of the sustainable buildings requirements in E.O. 13423. FEMP collects data and issues reports annually on energy consumption by agencies and related topics.116
Among other DOE entities, the Energy Information Administration collects and reports on data relating to energy, including that used by buildings, most notably the residential and commercial energy consumption surveys.117 Some of DOE's national laboratories also perform R&D relating to green buildings.
Environmental Protection Agency
Along with DOE, the Environmental Protection Agency has the broadest range of programs and activities relating to green building, addressing a wide range of elements. Notable programs and activities include the following: 118
- Energy. EPA originated the Energy Star program
(see text box on page 28 ). The agency's Green Power Partnership supports the procurement of power from renewable resources by government and private-sector organizations.
- Water. EPA administers
Water Sense, a voluntary labeling program established in 2006 to promote water efficiency. Manufacturers may earn Water Sense labels for their products, and landscape-irrigation professionals can be certified under the program.
- Materials. The Construction Initiative, part of the agency's Resource Conservation Challenge,119 is a collaborative public/private partnership program aimed at increasing recycling and reuse of materials in construction activities. The Lifecycle Building Challenge is a competition to promote building materials reuse.
The Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) Program assists federal agencies in meeting green purchasing requirements and includes an online database of environmental information about products and services.120 The Comprehensive Procurement Guideline program identifies recycled products that comply with RCRA requirements.
- Waste. The Industrial Materials Recycling Program provides information aimed at reducing construction and industrial waste and promoting its recycling and reuse. The Greenscapes program promotes and provides information on waste reduction in landscaping operations.
- Health. EPA supports activities such as R&D and awards programs to develop safer and more environmentally friendly chemicals, including "green chemistry" technologies. The Indoor
Environments Program provides information and tools to ensure the protection of indoor environmental quality in schools, residences, and commercial buildings.
- Siting. The Green Infrastructure Partnership and related activities promote landscaping and building techniques such as green roofs (see text box on p. 9) to reduce stormwater runoff and maintain or restore the natural hydrology of a building site. The agency also has a variety of programs and activities relating to smart growth and sustainability.
Recognizing the broad range of separate programs and activities relating to green building, EPA has announced a green building strategy to improve coordination among its programs and encourage broader adoption of green building practices. Objectives include improved standards and metrics, enhanced research, wider understanding about green building, and increased use of the approach.121
Energy Star is a voluntary labeling program established by EPA in 1992. It is now a joint EPA/DOE program. It is designed to overcome market barriers to the adoption of energy-efficient products and services.
Residential: The agencies work with manufacturers to identify appliances and other products that are cost-effective and energy efficient. Products meeting the criteria receive an Energy Star label. The agencies provide information directly to consumers about the thousands of labeled products. Among the product categories included are office equipment, home electronics, heating and cooling (HVAC), appliances, lighting, and windows. The program has also partnered with builders to create Energy Star-qualified homes and with lenders to encourage the use of "green mortgages" to promote energy efficient housing.
Commercial: EPA offers partnerships to businesses and other organizations that make top-level managerial commitments to adopt superior energy management. Partners continually assess energy use within their organizations and use an integrated approach in upgrading buildings. EPA provides standardized measurement tools and a recognition program to assist and promote these efforts.
Federal: EPACT 2005 requires federal agencies to purchase either Energy Star products or those designated as energy efficient by FEMP. EISA requires additionally that federal agencies lease only facilities with a recent Energy Star label.
Source: EPA, "ENERGY STAR – The Power to Protect the Environment through Energy Efficiency," July 2003, http://www.energystar.gov/ ia/ partners/ downloads/ energy_star_report_aug_2003.pdf .
Office of the Federal Environmental Executive
The position of Federal Environmental Executive was established in 1993 by Executive Order 12873. Executive Order 13423 broadened that position to include an Office of Federal Environmental Executive (OFEE),122 and extended the duties to include monitoring of implementation by agencies of the order, including its green building requirements, and advising the Council on Environmental Quality.
National Institute of Standards and Technology
The green building efforts of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are housed in the institute's Building and Fire Research Laboratory.123 The Healthy and Sustainable Buildings program focuses on improvements in measurement science and data relating especially to energy efficiency and indoor air quality. The Cybernetic Building Systems program focuses on automation technology relating to green building. One notable result of NIST's work is the Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability tool (BEES),124 a software tool that uses life-cycle assessment methods to facilitate the selection of environmentally preferable building products.
Department of Housing and Urban Development
The Green Initiative in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is a voluntary program to encourage green building in the rehabilitation of certain residential housing.125 The department's Healthy Homes program focuses on improving indoor environmental quality in housing for low-income families.126
The cross-sector Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH) is coordinated by HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research. Its goals are to promote green building127 and other innovations in housing technology by reducing regulatory and other barriers to their use, disseminating information, and fostering research.
Issues for Congress
Four of the questions Congress and the Obama Administration are expected to face with respect to green building are
- How well are current federal green building programs working? How effective are current methods for coordinating the green building activities of different agencies?
- To what extent and by what means should Congress extend federal efforts to facilitate and support adoption and implementation of green building measures throughout the United States?
- What priorities should Congress give to the different elements of green building, especially those such as siting that have received less attention in the past?
- What actions should Congress take to facilitate the growth of scientific and technical knowledge relating to green building?
If Congress wishes to take additional action on such questions, it could do so through appropriations, new statutory requirements, and tax law. It could also review current and proposed agency programs, regulations, and policies.
Oversight of Federal Green Building Programs
There appears to have been little direct congressional oversight to date of federal green building programs.128 That is not surprising given the recent establishment of such programs and the broad range of federal agencies involved in the efforts, among other factors.
Congress may wish to examine how well federal agencies are implementing green building programs, and what impacts those efforts are having on the adoption of green building practices nationwide. In addition to oversight of the activities of individual agencies, it may also be useful to examine how well agency efforts are being coordinated.
Adoption and Implementation of Green Building
In addition to programs and activities such as those described above,
the federal government also supports the availability of mortgages that promote energy efficiency, through the Federal Housing Administration, the Veterans Administration, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac. Lenders who provide such mortgages may also become Energy Star partners (see text box on p. 28).
If Congress finds that such measures are not adequate, it could consider such steps as providing stronger mortgage and tax incentives, broadening the scope of mortgage and tax incentives to include elements of green building in addition to energy, funding the rebate program authorized by EPACT 2005,
129 and specific appropriations to speed adoption of green building in areas where market penetration has been lagging, such as residential renovation. Congress could also consider regulatory actions, although such efforts might be complicated by federalism issues and differences in regional requirements relating to climate and other variables.
also consider identifying ways in which current green building efforts in federal agencies could be enhanced. In addition to accelerating green building for new and existing stock, Congress might consider whether programs and activities are sufficiently integrated within agencies such as EPA and DOE, and whether activities across agencies are sufficiently harmonized, such as through participation by additional agencies in the WBDG..
Priorities Among Elements of Green Building
Among the elements of green building discussed in this report, energy has received far more attention than any other. This priority is not surprising, given
increasing concerns about fossil fuel imports, strategic vulnerability, global warming, and the high and inefficient levels of use of energy by most of the current building stock in the United States. Nevertheless, Congress may wish to examine whether federal efforts in green building are effectively balanced among the component elements. If they are not, existing programs relating to particular elements could be strengthened or new ones established.
In addition, Congress may wish to explore whether the incremental approach embodied in most green building activities is sufficient to address national needs, or if some modification
, such as a stronger emphasis on sustainable building (in the sense it is used in this report), would be preferable.
Development of the scientific and technological knowledge base for green building is supported by R&D funded by both federal and private-sector sources. Levels of funding from both sources may be suboptimal to address the needs currently identified.
one recent study, green building has received less than 0.5% of total funding for federal nondefense R&D. 130 Also, despite its economic importance, the construction sector invests in R&D at a much lower rate than the industry average. 131
Funding for R&D relating to the different elements of green building
is disparate. About 75% of total, federal and nonfederal, green building R&D funding from 2002 to 2005 was energy-related, with 20% for materials and resources, and the remaining 5% for other elements and in integrative and economic R&D. Given the range of green building elements and the need for improved knowledge about them, as well as the accepted importance of integration and economics to successful green building efforts, Congress may wish to consider whether federal funding levels and priorities should be modified, and whether to create incentives for increasing private-sector R&D funding.