Green Building Overview and Issues

Green Building Overview and Issues
March 12, 2021
Buildings, whether residential, commercial, government, or special-use, are core components of
the nation’s infrastructure. Their construction, operation, and demolition are increasingly
Corrie E. Clark
recognized as major sources of environmental impact. Without significant transformation of
Analyst in Energy Policy
building construction and operations, that impact is expected to increase with population growth

and changes in other demographic and economic factors. One strategy for achieving that
transformation is most widely known by the term green building.

In general, green building can be characterized as integrated building practices that significantly reduce the environmental
footprint of a building in comparison to standard practices. Descriptions of green building generally focus on a number of
common elements, especially siting, energy, water, materials, waste, and health. Serviceability or utility is also an explicit
design element for a class of green buildings known as high-performance buildings.
One of the most salient features of green building is integration of the various elements. Although individual elements can be
addressed separately, the green building approach is more comprehensive, focusing on the environmental footprint of a
building over its life cycle, from initial design and construction to operations during the building’s useful life, through
eventual demolition and its aftermath.
The desire to integrate the various elements of green building has led to the development of rating and certification systems
to assess how well a building project meets a specified set of green criteria. The best-known system is Leadership in Energy
and Environmental Design (LEED). Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, it focuses on site, water, energy,
materials, and indoor environment. Recently, green building practices have found their way into model building codes and
standards. These model codes and standards are then adapted and incorporated into enforceable municipal and state building
codes. The federal government has no enforcement responsibilities of building codes, but does play a role in the
development, adoption, and compliance of codes by state and local governments.
Green building has received substantial attention from government, industry, and public interest groups. Several federal laws
and executive orders have provisions relating to green building. Among these are the energy policy acts (EPACTs) of 1992
and 2005 (P.L. 102-486 and P.L. 109-58), the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA, P.L. 110-140), the
Energy Act of 2020 (Division Z of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, P.L. 116-260), Executive Order (E.O.) 13834,
E.O. 13990, and E.O. 14008. EISA and other policy instruments require all federal agencies to implement green building
practices. However, several agencies have programs and activities that have a focus that goes beyond reducing the
environmental impacts of the facilities used by that agency—for example, by performing research or facilitating the green-
building activities of nonfederal entities. Among those agencies are the General Services Administration, the Environmental
Protection Agency, the Office of Federal Sustainability, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the
Departments of Defense, Energy, and Housing and Urban Development.
Green building raises issues relating to performance, cost, market penetration, and the approach itself. Among the questions
Congress may face with respect to such issues are the following: How well are current 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 its efforts to facilitate and support the adoption and effective implementation of green
building measures? What priorities should Congress give to the different elements of green building? What actions should
Congress do to facilitate the growth of the scientific and technical knowledge base relating to green building?

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Introduction ..................................................................................................................................... 1
What Is Green Building? ................................................................................................................. 2
Elements of Green Building ............................................................................................................ 5
Energy ....................................................................................................................................... 6
Water ......................................................................................................................................... 8
Materials .................................................................................................................................... 8
Waste ......................................................................................................................................... 9
Health ...................................................................................................................................... 10
Siting ........................................................................................................................................ 11
Serviceability........................................................................................................................... 12
Integration ............................................................................................................................... 13
Balance Among Elements ................................................................................................. 13
Balance Across Stages ...................................................................................................... 13

Green Certifications and Standards ............................................................................................... 14
Green Rating Systems and Certifications ................................................................................ 14
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) ............................................... 15
Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method
(BREEAM) .................................................................................................................... 16
Green Globes .................................................................................................................... 16
Living Building Challenge ................................................................................................ 17
Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) BEST .......................................... 17
Element-Focused Programs .............................................................................................. 17

Federal Government Use of Certification Systems ................................................................. 19
Green Building Codes and Standards...................................................................................... 20
Legislative and Policy Framework ................................................................................................ 24
Green Building Requirements ................................................................................................. 25
Guiding Principles for Federal Leadership in High Performance Sustainable
Buildings ........................................................................................................................ 26
Renewable Energy Goal .......................................................................................................... 27
Energy Efficiency Provisions .................................................................................................. 28
Programs and Activities of Selected Federal Agencies ................................................................. 29
Select Green Building-Related Programs at Federal Agencies ............................................... 30
Assessing Green Building Efforts ................................................................................................. 32
Market Penetration .................................................................................................................. 32
Cost ......................................................................................................................................... 33
Performance ............................................................................................................................ 36
Factors Affecting Performance ......................................................................................... 36
Selected Studies for Energy .............................................................................................. 38
Selected Studies: Health Performance .............................................................................. 40
Measurement ........................................................................................................................... 41
Progress Toward Federal Goals ............................................................................................... 43
Issues for Congress ........................................................................................................................ 45
Federal Green Buildings: Oversight and Legislation .............................................................. 45
Adoption and Implementation of Green Building ................................................................... 46
Financial Incentives .......................................................................................................... 46
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Codes and Standards ......................................................................................................... 46
Priorities Among Elements of Green Building ....................................................................... 47
Knowledge Base and Workforce Development ...................................................................... 47
Special-Use Buildings ............................................................................................................. 48

Figure 1. Selected Agency Progress Toward Selected Green Building Goals for FY2019 ........... 44

Table 1. Selected Policies Related to Green Building ................................................................... 24
Table 2. Percentages of Total Federal Building Floorspace Owned or Leased Under the
Jurisdiction of Selected Agencies, 2016 ..................................................................................... 30

Appendix. Federal Green Building Programs ............................................................................... 49

Author Information ........................................................................................................................ 57

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Green Building Overview and Issues

The environmental impacts of human activity have been a source of controversy and concern for
many years. 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 few decades,
however, concerns have increased greatly about greenhouse gases, resource depletion, and
degradation of ecological services such as water supply. Over that time, the impacts of buildings
have come under increasing scrutiny.
There are many different kinds of buildings—residential, commercial, government, and those
with special uses such as schools and hospitals—and they form a large and core component of the
nation’s infrastructure. The construction, characteristics, operation, and demolition of buildings
are now recognized as a major source of environmental impact, including direct effects on the
humans who use them. U.S. buildings consume vast amounts of resources annually in the form of
electricity for lighting and temperature control, drinkable water for indoor and outdoor use, and
construction materials with diverse supply chains and manufacturing processes; they also produce
substantial waste streams throughout their life cycles, from construction to daily operations to
demolition. Such resource use can impose high environmental and financial costs. For example,
residential and commercial buildings account for about 40% of energy consumption in the United
States, producing approximately 35% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and costing
consumers more than $420 billion a year in energy bills.1
A portion of those combined energy bills can be attributed to a lack of energy efficiency. How
energy efficient a building must be is set by building energy codes. Energy codes assure that
energy use and emissions are both being reduced over the life of a newly built or renovated
building. Total annual energy savings directly related to model building energy codes are
estimated at $5.6 billion in 2019 dollars.2 Energy codes are not set at the federal level, but
adopted and enforced by local and state governments. They are a subset of a larger group of
building codes (e.g., fire, safety) that regulate almost every aspect of a building’s operation,
maintenance, and lifecycle. This regulation is seen by many as necessary due to the impact the
built environment has on the natural environment and the building occupants.
A building’s location and interaction with its surrounding environment influences its ecological
and human health impacts. Buildings create impervious surfaces that can have substantial effects
on stormwater management and associated health and environmental impacts. A building’s
proximity to public transportation affects the energy required to transport occupants to and from
the premises. If an office is not accessible by walking or public transit, for example, occupants
may need to commute by car, contributing to traffic delays, smog, and greenhouse gas emissions.
Occupant health and productivity is also affected by building features that determine indoor air
quality. People spend almost 90% of their time indoors, and the air in buildings often has

1 Department of Energy (DOE), Energy Information Administration (EIA), “Table A2. Energy Consumption by Sector
and Source,” Annual Energy Outlook 2021, February 2021,;
DOE, EIA, “Table A3. Energy Prices by Sector and Source,” Annual Energy Outlook 2021, February 2021,; and DOE, EIA, “Table A18. Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide
Emissions by Sector and Source,” Annual Energy Outlook 2021, February 2021,
2 O.V. Livingston, P.C. Cole, and D.B. Elliott, et al., Building Energy Codes Program: National Benefits Assessment,
, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, PNNL-22610, October 2013, p. 5.1. CRS adjusted the dollars from
$5.0 in 2012 dollars according to U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Gross Domestic Product: Chain-Type Price Index
[GDPCTPI], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis;,
December 23, 2020.
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substantially higher concentrations of pollutants than the air outside, contributing in extreme
cases to a phenomenon known as “sick building syndrome.”3 In light of the Coronavirus Disease
2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, concerns over occupant health also include the potential risks of
transfer of airborne pathogens in indoor spaces.4
These and other undesirable environmental and health impacts can be addressed for construction,
renovation, and operations of both new and existing buildings. Green building is a tool for
transforming the ways in which buildings are designed, built, operated, and demolished that has
generated substantial interest in recent decades. Since emerging as a relatively novel concept in
the 1990s, green building has grown into what many consider a respected approach to building,
with an increasing number of stakeholders. They include, among others, private construction
firms, building owners and occupants, green building certification and standards-developing
organizations, federal and state lawmakers, local code officials, and a variety of government
agencies. Policies by these green building stakeholders can come in many forms and include
goals such as reduction of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, or increasing
energy efficiency and incorporating on-site renewable energy generation.
This report discusses the concept of green building, related major federal policies and programs,
and associated issues. Topics covered include how green building is defined, what it consists of,
the major areas of environmental impact it seeks to address, an overview of the tools available for
ensuring that a building conforms to green criteria, outstanding issues in the implementation of
green building, an overview of the major statutory and executive authorities that address it, and
programs in federal agencies that involve one or more elements related to it.
What Is Green Building?
Environmentally sensitive building is not a particularly recent phenomenon,5 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),6 followed within a few years by the founding of the U.S. Green Building
Council (USGBC)7 and other organizations. The most prominent federal green building project in

3 N. Klepeis, W C. Nelson, W R. Ott, J. P. Robinson, A. M. Tsang, P. Switzer, J V. Behar, S C. Hern, and W H.
Engelmann. “The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS): A Resource for Assessing Exposure to
Environmental Pollutants,” Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology, vol. 11, no. 3 (2001), pp.
4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers Responding to
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), May 2020
, May 6, 2020,
community/guidance-business-response.html; CDC, COVID-19 Employer Information for Office Buildings, July 9,
2020,; ASHRAE,
Filtration/Disinfection,; Occupational
Safety and Health Administration, Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, OSHA 3990-03 2020, 2020, pp.
5 For a brief history, see, for example, Robert Cassidy, ed., “White Paper on Sustainability,” Building Design and
Supplement, November 2003, 48 p.,
BD%2BC%202003%20White%20Paper%20on%20Sustainability.pdf; Osman Attmann, Green Architecture: Advanced
Technologies and Materials
, McGraw-Hill’s GreenSource Series (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010).
6 American Institute of Architects (AIA), “AIA/COTE: A History Within a Movement,” 2008,
7 The U.S. Green Building Council ( is a U.S. nonprofit cross-sector organization (including
representatives of industry, government, and academia) founded in 1993. The Sustainable Buildings Industry Council
(, a trade association, also became involved in green building in the 1990s. The
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that decade was the “Greening of the White House.”8 From those beginnings, the concept of
green building has expanded to encompass both the movement to promote environmentally
conscious design principles and the set of practices and strategies by which builders seek to
reduce harmful impacts of the built environment.
There is no single consensus definition of green building; efforts exist along a design and
performance 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.”9
In contrast, some practitioners aim to provide buildings with environmental impacts that are
greatly reduced from those of typical buildings. Examples include the so-called “zero-impact”
building, which is intended to have no net environmental impact, including but not limited to net-
zero energy use; and the “minus-impact” building, which would provide a net environmental
benefit. Most green building efforts have less ambitious reduction goals.
In general, green building might best be characterized as an integrated approach to building
design, construction, and operations that significantly reduces 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.10
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, and as
more green buildings are constructed, the performance requirements for a green building
increase.11 Second, it is not limited to only one factor, such as energy consumption, but involves
integration across several, as is discussed below. The green building approach can be applied to
any class of building: large or small, commercial or residential.
Green builders seek to achieve improvements in environmental performance through a variety of
techniques and strategies, from the implementation of innovative technologies (such as energy-
efficient heating and cooling systems) to design features intended to influence occupant behavior
(such as placing stairways prominently to encourage their use). Some of these techniques will be
discussed in more detail below. Decisions about which of these techniques will be used are often
made in the design and planning phase, but can impact the environmental footprint of a building

international World Green Building Council ( was founded several years later, in 1999. That
organization and others, such as the International Initiative for a Sustainable Built Environment (
may be especially important for green building in China, India, and other developing nations.
8 See The White House, “Greening of the White House,” November 1999,
9 Greenwashing refers to the false or exaggerated promotion of a product as green or sustainable.
10 See, for example, Commission for Environmental Cooperation, “Green Building in North America,” 2008,
Related terms include ecological footprint, which refers to impacts on ecosystems, often measured as the acreage
required to absorb the impact; see for example, Aaron Best et al., “Potential of the Ecological Footprint for Monitoring
Environmental Impacts from Natural Resource Use” (European Commission, DG Environment, May 2008),; and Global Footprint Network, “Ecological
Footprint,” 2017, Another term is carbon footprint,
which can be characterized as the net amount of greenhouse gases being produced as a result of an activity; see, for
example, James Morton Turner, “Counting Carbon: The Politics of Carbon Footprints and Climate Governance from
the Individual to the Global,” Global Environmental Politics 14, no. 1 (2014), pp. 59–78.
11 The “moving target” of performance requirements can result in older green buildings losing their “green” status
without undergoing renovations to meet new green performance targets.
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throughout its lifecycle. As a result, green building techniques are most often applied to new
construction, though there is a growing incidence of green renovation and retrofit projects.
The term green building is often used interchangeably with others such as sustainable building,
and that practice is followed in this report. However, the terms may also be used in ways that are
not exactly synonymous. For example, sustainable building may be described as a form of green
building, but with a more stringent goal of indefinitely maintaining environmental footprints that
are small enough that they will not impede future human activity and the functioning of
Another term often used interchangeably with green building is high-performance building.
However, high-performance building usually involves other factors such as security 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
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
Additional objectives may also be considered in the design of high-performance buildings,
including aesthetics and historical preservation.15
Section 401 of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 (P.L. 110-140, 42
U.S.C. §17061(13)) further refined the concept by establishing a detailed definition for a high-
performance green building
. According to Section 401 of EISA, a high-performance green
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;

12 These characterizations draw most heavily on descriptions in some documents from the Building Science
Corporation ( Some observers may argue for other characterizations of
“sustainable building,” such as “zero-impact.”
13 42 U.S.C. §16194(a).
14 42 U.S.C. §17061(12).
15 Dan Prowler and Stephanie Vierra, “Whole Building Design,” Whole Building Design Guide, August 17, 2017,
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(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
Elements of Green Building
Descriptions of green building generally focus on specified elements.16 Commonly cited elements
are energy, water, materials, waste, and health.17 Another is siting, particularly with respect to
transportation, ecology, smart growth, and resiliency.18 The siting element has increased in
prominence over the last several years as more attention has focused on the built environment
beyond the building itself and as climate change has increased the frequency of natural disasters
in primarily coastal regions. Lastly, serviceability is included explicitly among the objectives for
high-performance buildings, which may also consider other elements such as disaster and climate
The goals of a given green building project may vary depending on the needs of the stakeholders,
including a building’s expected occupants. As a result, different elements may be prioritized in
different projects. Local factors such as climate zone and flood risk may influence the design
process in ways that affect the relative emphasis placed on the various elements discussed below.
Emphasis on increased performance in one element may come at the expense of decreased
performance in another element. Many green building elements are interdependent. For example,
material selection for environmentally preferable products can affect occupant health, which in
turn can affect productivity. A building with on-site renewable energy generation may be well-
prepared to function during periods when power is unavailable from utilities, such as after a

16 These elements may also be referred to by other terms such as attributes, life-cycle parameters, performance areas, or
impact categories.
17 Different sources may emphasize different factors. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists
the following components: energy efficiency and renewable energy, water efficiency, environmentally preferable
building materials and specifications, waste and toxics reduction, indoor air quality, and smart growth and sustainable
development (Environmental Protection Agency, “Components of Green Building,” February 20, 2016, The Living Future Institute has developed the
“Living Building Certification” with seven “performance areas”: place, energy, materials, water, health and happiness,
equity, and beauty (International Living Future Institute, “Living Building Challenge,” 2017,
18 Smart growth is defined differently by different organizations, but it generally refers to a common a set of planning
strategies aimed at managing growth to improve livability and economic viability while reducing environmental
impact. For a detailed discussion, see Environmental Protection Agency, “Our Built and Natural Environments, A
Technical Review of the Interactions Among Land Use, Transportation, and Environmental Quality, Second Edition,”
June 2013,
19 Most descriptions do not explicitly include a serviceability, productivity, or functionality element, but that may be
because those would be commonly expected to be integral elements of any building design.
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natural disaster. On-site stormwater management can facilitate the provision of other ecological
A reduced energy footprint is probably the most widely cited element of green building.20
Techniques include
 energy efficiency and conservation,21 through such means as energy-efficient
appliances and lighting, weatherization,22 and daylighting;23
 use of alternative, renewable sources of energy, such as solar or geothermal
power or combustion of biomass;
 utilization of energy storage technologies, often in combination with on-site
renewable energy generation; and
 participation in smart-grid innovations, such as demand-response programs.24
Energy is widely considered a crucial element because of the economic costs and environmental
impacts associated with energy use. In a 2015 report on energy technologies, the Department of
Energy (DOE) estimated that buildings using the best available energy efficiency technologies
would consume about half as much energy on average as those in the current building stock.25
Federal law sets numeric requirements for reductions in energy use by federal buildings.26
Although the energy intensity27 of such buildings declined by more than 25% from 2003 to 2019,
in 2019 the federal government did not meet the federal goal of a 30% reduction in energy
intensity compared with a 2003 baseline.28
An ambitious energy reduction target for buildings is net-zero energy consumption. A Net-Zero
Energy Building (NZEB) meets all of its energy consumption requirements through a
combination of energy efficiency and the use of onsite renewable energy sources such as wind,

20 See, for example, Government Accountability Office, “Green Building: Federal Initiatives for the Nonfederal Sector
Could Benefit from More Interagency Collaboration,” GAO-12-79, November 2, 2011,
GAO-12-79; Alex Lukachko and Joseph W. Lstiburek, “Towards Sustainability—Green Building, Sustainability
Objectives, and Building America Whole House Systems,” Research Report (Building Science Corporation, February
8, 2008),
sustainability-objectives-and-building-america-whole-house-systems-research/view. This report compared the different
emphases among several national green building programs for residences. It found that energy efficiency was the only
issue that was a primary focus for all, with indoor environmental quality the next most important.
21 Energy efficiency means using less energy to perform the same function, whereas energy conservation refers to
practices that reduce consumption, often by changing behavior. Using a lightbulb that produces the same amount of
light with less energy would be an example of energy efficiency, while turning off the light when leaving a room would
be an example of energy conservation.
22 Weatherization is the process of fortifying a building, usually a home, from the natural elements (precipitation,
sunlight, wind, etc.) to reduce energy consumption and increase energy efficiency.
23 Daylighting refers to the practice of designing windows and skylights to utilize sunlight for indoor lighting needs.
24 See the textbox “Smart Buildings and the Internet of Things” below for more on demand-response and building
smart-grid integration.
25 DOE, “Quadrennial Technology Review: An Assessment of Energy Technologies and Research Opportunities,”
September 2015,
26 See the section on “Legislative and Policy Framework” below.
27 Building energy intensity is measured in annual British thermal units (Btu) per gross square foot.
28 Office of Federal Sustainability, “Facility Energy Use,”
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biofuels, and geothermal power. NZEBs may sometimes rely on delivered energy from an energy
network such as the electricity grid, but they produce and export enough renewable energy to the
network to fully offset what they draw from it. EISA directed DOE to establish an initiative to
develop net-zero energy commercial buildings, with the goal of achieving net-zero energy in all
U.S. commercial buildings by 2050.
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.29
Smart Buildings and the Internet of Things
Increasingly, green building design is incorporating internet-connected technologies. The spread of Internet access
and falling prices for web-enabled technologies have given rise to what has become known as the “Internet of
Things” (IoT). The term refers to networks of “smart” objects that communicate with each other and with
computers through the internet. A smart object is any noncomputer device with a unique identifier and internet
connectivity. The IoT and smart technologies have impacted the operations of sectors, such as manufacturing,
transportation, energy, and government services. In the context of buildings, IoT has led to the development of a
new generation of “smart buildings.”30
Smart buildings incorporate resource monitoring, data analytics, and automation to manage building operations
more efficiently.31 More than 80% of the energy used by a building throughout its life, from construction to
demolition, is associated with operations.32 Examples of smart building technologies that target environmental
performance include networked energy and water meters, connected thermostats, and automated leak and fault-
detection sensors, all of which can be used in concert to optimize a building’s resource use.33 Building systems may
also be networked with the electricity grid, water infrastructure, and waste col ection systems to leverage
operational efficiencies at the campus, neighborhood, or city scale.34 For instance, buildings can monitor and
respond to real-time electricity pricing signals from the grid to shift consumption to periods of low demand and
high supply. This process is known as demand-response, and it can be used by smart grids to reduce the use of
inefficient power plants during periods of peak demand, increasing efficiency and minimizing overall emissions of
pol utants.
Smart building technologies and ful y integrated building systems have the potential to reduce the amount of
operational energy consumed in a building. Congress may wish to facilitate the development and adoption of these
technologies. One option could be to increase funding for federal R&D programs in building technologies. Other

29 For example, some energy-efficiency measures may also negatively impact indoor air quality. For examples of other
impacts that potentially outweigh savings from energy efficiency, see Alex Wilson and Rachel Navaro, “Driving to
Green Buildings,” Environmental Building News 16, no. 9 (2007): 1–18,
30 CRS Report R44227, The Internet of Things: Frequently Asked Questions, by Patricia Moloney Figliola.
31 The Energy Act of 2020 (Division Z of the FY2021 Omnibus and COVID Relief and Response Act, P.L. 116-260)
defines “smart building” as “ a building, or collection of buildings, with an energy system that—(A) is flexible and
automated; (B) has extensive operational monitoring and communication connectivity, allowing remote monitoring and
analysis of all building functions; (C) takes a systems-based approach in integrating the overall building operations for
control of energy generation, consumption, and storage; (D) communicates with utilities and other third-party
commercial entities, if appropriate; (E) protects the health and safety of occupants and workers; and (F) incorporates
cybersecurity best practices.”
32 National Institute of Standards and Technology, “Embedded Intelligence in Buildings Program,” July 17, 2017,
33 Jennifer King and Christopher Perry, “Smart Buildings: Using Smart Technology to Save Energy in Existing
Buildings,” American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Feb 2017,
34 Jim Sinopoli, “Smart Controls,” Whole Building Design Guide, August 15, 2016,
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options could include authorizing a program specifically for smart building technologies or providing incentives to
encourage the adoption of smart building technologies.
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.35 Reductions
can be achieved through such measures as reduced-flow plumbing fixtures,36 recycling of
wastewater,37 and xeriscaping.38
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 stormwater where it is generated.”39
Among the methods used are reduction in impervious surfaces through landscaping, use of porous
materials and green roofs, and use of holding ponds, swales, rain gardens, and similar measures.
Such techniques for water management are sometimes referred to collectively as green
(see the section on “Environmental Protection Agency,” below).
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,40 embodied carbon,41 and health.
“Environmentally preferable” or “green-labelled” 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.42 The energy intensity of making, packaging, and transporting a
product is its embodied energy. Since the energy used to create the products is most likely carbon-

35 See CRS Report R43407, Drought in the United States: Causes and Current Understanding, by Peter Folger.
36 Federal manufacturing standards for certain plumbing products were established by the Energy Policy Act of 1992
(P.L. 102-486).
37 Much wastewater from buildings can be reused in other applications on site, although some treatment may be
required or preferred. For example, grey water, which is residential wastewater from sources other than kitchens and
toilets, can be reused for irrigation and in toilets.
38 Xeriscaping is landscaping that eliminates the need for supplemental water from irrigation.
39 Anne Guillette, “Low Impact Development Technologies,” Whole Building Design Guide, November 3, 2016, Low-impact building is sometimes used as a
synonym for low-impact development and sometimes as a synonym for green or sustainable building.
40 For a discussion of the term in the context of building construction, see Ben McAlinden, “Embodied Energy and
Carbon,” Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), May 15, 2015,
41 Embodied Carbon is defined similarly to embodied energy as the summation of all carbon emissions that are
associated, directly or indirectly, with the delivery of a service or product.
42 Some federal agencies have developed guidance for obtaining such products (see, for example, Environmental
Protection Agency, “Sustainable Marketplace: Greener Products and Services,” March 9, 2017,
greenerproducts; General Services Administration, Sustainable Facilities Tool, “Green Procurement Compilation,”
2017,; U.S. Department of Agriculture, “BioPreferred,” 2017,
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based like coal, natural gas, gasoline, etc., the higher the embodied energy of a product, the
higher the embodied carbon. The production of concrete, which is a common building material,
contributes as much as 10% of global carbon emissions.43 For some buildings, a portion of the
concrete could include less energy-intensive materials such as fly ash, slag sand, and even
recycled glass.44 Even more advanced concrete technology is being developed that can actually
sequester carbon dioxide through reaction with naturally found minerals, a process known as
carbonation.45 Building materials may also be designed to reduce health risks such as those from
formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
There is some debate about what constitutes an environmentally preferable material. The lack of a
consistent vocabulary for describing the sustainability attributes of materials, as well as
inconsistencies in the measurement methodologies and reporting frameworks used by various
eco-labelling systems, can make it difficult to determine whether a given material is preferable to
a substitute.46
The environmental impacts from a building’s waste stream over its life cycle can be mitigated by
waste-reduction efforts, which fall broadly into four main categories: source reduction, reuse,
recycling, and waste-to-energy.47 The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that in
2017 569 million tons (U.S. short tons) of construction and demolition (C&D) debris were
generated in the United States from construction, renovation, and demolition activities, which is
more than two times the amount of municipal solid waste generated in the same year (268 million
tons).48 Construction and demolition debris can be reduced through more efficient use of

43 Siegel, R.P. “Low-Carbon Concrete Can Fight Global Warming,” American Society of Mechanical Engineers,
February 18, 2020,
44 Ehrlich, Brent. “A New Standard for Replacing Cement with Recycled Glass,” GreenBuilding, June 8, 2020,; Kim et al. “Assessment of
the CO2 Emission and Cost Reduction Performance of a Low-Carbon-Emission Concrete Mix Design Using an
Optimal Mix Design System,” Renewable and Sustainably Energy Reviews, vol. 25, September 2013, pp. 729-741,
45 Kashef-Haghighi, Sormeh; Ghoshal, Subhasis. “CO2 Sequestration in Concrete through Accelerated Carbonation
Curing in a Flow-Through Reactor,” Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research, vol. 49, no. 3, 2010, pp. 1143–
46 Jorge L. Contreras, Meghan Lewis, and Hannah Roth, “Toward a Rational Framework for Sustainable Building
Materials Standards,” Standards Engineering 63, no. 5 (September 2011),
Standards/links/576bdd1908aead4e3adcfd2c.pdf. See also “Programs and Activities of Selected Federal Agencies,
below, for a discussion of some of the federal programs aimed at developing standards for, and facilitating the
procurement of, environmentally-preferable materials.
47 Waste-to-energy refers to the recovery of usable forms of energy from waste materials through processes such as
combustion, gasification, and others. EPA ranks waste management strategies from most to least preferred as follows:
source reduction and reuse, recycling/composting, energy recovery/waste-to-energy, and treatment and disposal
(Environmental Protection Agency, “Sustainable Materials Management: Non-Hazardous Materials and Waste
Management Hierarchy,” August 10, 2017,
48 The estimate for construction and demolition debris accounted for waste generated from construction, renovation,
and demolition of buildings, roads, and bridges. Municipal solid waste—commonly referred to as trash—can include
waste packaging, food, yard trimmings, electronics, and large bulk items such as furniture and appliances. See
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: 2017 Fact Sheet: Assessing
Trends in Material Generation, Recycling, Composting, Combustion with Energy Recovery and Landfilling in the
United States
, November 2019,
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materials (source reduction) and recycling or reuse of waste products.49 In addition to
construction, renovation, and demolition activities, buildings also can generate waste during
normal operations and maintenance. Some options to reduce waste generated during operations
and maintenance can be pursued during the design and construction stage of a building while
other options may require occupant engagement and participation. For example, landscaping can
be designed to recycle waste such as lawn clippings through mulching and composting and to
reduce or eliminate applied chemicals for grounds maintenance. The installation of high-
efficiency boilers and furnaces can reduce the emission of atmospheric pollutants. Building
owners also could engage occupants in waste diversion efforts through programs to encourage
recycling, composting, or otherwise reducing waste generation.
Several factors can influence the health impacts of buildings. For some, the health effects are
obvious, such as the presence of indoor air pollutants like mold, radon, carbon monoxide,
asbestos, and VOCs. Indoor air quality (IAQ) can have a significant impact on occupant health,
given that people spend a large amount of their time indoors.50 Primary techniques for
maintaining high IAQ include ensuring adequate ventilation; providing air filtration; and using
materials without heavy metals, VOCs, asbestos,51 or other potentially toxic substances. Beyond
IAQ, the overall indoor environmental quality (IEQ) may also have significant impacts on the
health of building occupants.52
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is increased interest in the interconnections between
building ventilation and public health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, most infections of SARS-CoV-2 (the coronavirus that causes COVID-19) are spread
through close contact, not airborne transmission; however, circumstances under which airborne
transmission of the coronavirus appears to have occurred include enclosed spaces, prolonged
exposure to respiratory particles, and inadequate ventilation or air handling.53 Poor ventilation in
buildings, including a lack of sufficient fresh outdoor air, has been linked with transmission of the
virus.54 Increasing outdoor air ventilation may decrease transmission rates of airborne illnesses
like COVID-19; however, this should be weighed against other potential risks in areas with high
concentrations of air pollution.55

49 Environmental Protection Agency, “Sustainable Management of Construction and Demolition Materials,” June 30,
50 EPA defines IAQ as the air quality within and around buildings and structures, as it relates to the health and comfort
of occupants. For more information, see Environmental Protection Agency, “Introduction to Indoor Air Quality,” 2020,
51 Asbestos is present in many older buildings and is still used in some construction materials (Environmental
Protection Agency, “Learn About Asbestos,” December 19, 2016,
52 GSA defines IEQ, very simply, as the conditions within a building. Most often, this usually includes factors such as
IAQ, lighting, acoustics, temperature and humidity, and amount of open space. For more information on IEQ, visit
General Services Administration, Sustainable Facilities Tool, “Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ),” 2017,
53 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Scientific Brief: SARS-CoV-2 and Potential Airborne
Transmission,” October 5, 2020,
54 Lu J, Gu J, Li K, et al. “COVID-19 Outbreak Associated with Air Conditioning in Restaurant, Guangzhou, China,
2020,” Emerging Infectious Diseases, vol. 26, no. 7 (2020), pp. 1628-1631, doi:10.3201/eid2607.200764.
55 L.D. Knibbs, L. Morawaska, S.C. Bell, P. Grzybowksi, “Room Ventilation and the Risk of Airborne Infection
Transmission in 3 Health Care Settings Within a Large Teaching Hospital,” American Journal of Infection Control,
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Outsized emphasis on energy efficiency, without careful consideration of the potential effects on
IAQ, has been shown to reduce ventilation rates in green buildings.56 One of the most common
methods for reducing energy costs is by sealing the building envelope to reduce the amount of
heat loss or gain from the building. This practice of reducing air leaks stops indoor air from
escaping the building and taking with it the energy used to maintain the temperature of the air.
However, in doing this without also increasing ventilation, the air can become more stagnant and
air pollutants can accumulate. Despite the potential risk of poorer IAQ, green buildings have
shown the potential to outperform standard buildings in terms of IAQ and overall occupant health
(see “Selected Studies: Health Performance” section for more information).
Where a building is situated can have significant effects on its environmental footprint.57 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 services58 and
native species of plants and animals. The orientation of building and surface in relation to the sun
and general wind direction, and the building’s proximity to trees and other plantings, affect its
heating and cooling requirements.
Climate-related risk factors may also be incorporated into siting decisions. Risks from sea-level
rise, flooding, and extreme weather events, all of which may be affected by climate change, are of
increasing concern to builders, particularly in coastal areas.59 Resilience to these hazards can
increase the useful life of a building and allow it to function when other public services like
transportation and utilities are not available. For this reason, the Government Accountability
Office (GAO) recommended in 2016 that there should be a government wide effort to “provide
the best available forward-looking climate information to standards-developing organizations for
their consideration in the development of design standards, building codes, and voluntary

vol. 39, no. 10 (2011), pp. 866-872,; G. Buonanno, L.
Stabile, and L. Morawska, “Estimation of Airborne Viral Emission: Quanta Emission Rate of SARS-CoV-2 for
Infection Risk Assessment,” Environment International, vol. 141 (2020), 105794.
j.envint.2020.105794; T. Ruan, D. Rim, “Indoor Air Pollution in Office Buildings in Mega-Cities: Effects of Filtration
Efficiency and Outdoor Air Ventilation Rates,” Sustainable Cities and Society, vol. 49 (2019), 101609.
56 A.P. Patton, L. Calferon, Y. Xiong, Z. Wang, et al., “Airborne Particulate Matter in Two Multi-Family Green
Buildings: Concentrations and Effect of Ventilation and Occupant Behavior,” International Journal of Environmental
Research and Public Health
, vol. 13, no. 1 (2016), p. 144,
See also the NIST Report, Dusting Poppendieck et al., “Long Term Air Quality Monitoring in a Net-Zero Energy
Residence Designed with Low Emitting Interior Products,” Building and Environment, vol. 94 part 1 (December 2015),
pp. 33-42,
57 The WBDG Sustainable Committee, “Optimize Site Potential,” Whole Building Design Guide, May 18, 2017,
58 Ecological services refer to services that natural sites in their undeveloped state may provide such as air and water
purification, erosion control, recreation, and habitat for beneficial plants, animals, and microorganisms. Site
development using standard design and construction practices can severely reduce such services.
59 For a discussion of how sea-level rise impacts coastal development, see CRS Report R44632, Sea-Level Rise and
U.S. Coasts: Science and Policy Considerations
, by Peter Folger and Nicole T. Carter. For a discussion of coastal
resilience to flooding, see CRS In Focus IF10225, Coastal Flood Resilience: Policy, Roles, and Funds, by Nicole T.
Carter, Harold F. Upton, and Francis X. McCarthy. For a discussion of climate-change science and impacts, see CRS
Report R43229, Climate Change Science: Key Points, by Jane A. Leggett.
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certifications.”60 Approaches to resilience include such practices as resistant construction;61
locating critical mechanical components on upper levels away from potential flood waters; on-site
backup power generation, such as through solar panels and wind turbines; connection with a
microgrid;62 rainwater harvesting; and water recycling capabilities.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, climate change is projected to
increase the duration, severity, and frequency of heat waves in the United States.63 Siting
decisions that preserve pre-development vegetation and add to green spaces around buildings can
improve the surface temperatures of the immediate built environment, which could reduce
cooling-related energy consumption and the energy-associated GHG emissions.64 In addition to
energy, water, and climate related benefits, several studies have found a link between the presence
of vegetation surrounding a building and occupants’ overall health.65
A building that is not useful to its occupants is unlikely to be worth its cost, no matter how small
the environmental footprint. Therefore, productivity and other measures of utility comprise an
important element of green building that is not always discussed. A large percentage of U.S.
workers spend their days in offices, and studies have suggested that IEQ strongly influences
worker comfort and productivity.66
There is some evidence that green buildings can lead to improved productivity among
occupants.67 However, that is not always the case. For example, poor acoustic performance has
been repeatedly observed in certified green buildings, suggesting that trade-offs do sometimes

60 “Improved Federal Coordination Could Facilitate Use of Forward-Looking Climate Information in Design Standards,
Building Codes, and Certifications,” Government Accountability Office, GAO-17-3, February 2016,
61 “Resistant construction” often refers to the construction of buildings that can withstand the forces imposed on them
during seismic events; it can more generally refer to construction practices that resist failure from hazards such as
earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding, subsidence, and wildfires.
62 A microgrid is a localized energy grid that can provide energy to communities without being connected to the larger
grid system.
63 “Climate Change and Extreme Heat Events,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pp. 8-9,
64 Xu et al., “Quantifying the Direct Benefits of Cool Roofs in an Urban Setting: Reduced Cooling Energy Use and
Lowered Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” Building and Environment, vol. 48, February 2012, pp. 1-6,
65 Roe, J.J.; Thompson, C.W.; Aspinall, P.A.; Brewer, M.J.; Duff, E.I.; Miller, D.; Mitchell, R.; and Clow, A., “Green
Space and Stress: Evidence from Cortisol Measures in Deprived Urban Communities,”. International Journal of
Environmental Research and Public Health
, 2013, 10, 4086–4103; Vries, S.; Verheij, R.A.; Groenewegen, P.P.; and
Spreeuwenberg, P., “Natural Environments—Healthy Environments? An Exploratory Analysis of the Relationship
Between Greenspace and Health,” Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 2003, 35, 1717–1731; Brown,
S.C.; Perrino, T.; Lombard, J.; Wang, K.; Toro, M.; Rundek, T.; and Kardys, J., “Health Disparities in the Relationship
of Neighborhood Greenness to Mental Health Outcomes in 249,405 US Medicare Beneficiaries,” International Journal
of Environmental Research and Public Health
, 2018, 15, 430.
66 Yousef Al Horr et al., “Occupant Productivity and Office Indoor Environment Quality: A Review of the Literature,”
Building and Environment 105 (August 2016): 369–89, doi:10.1016/j.buildenv.2016.06.001.
67 Greg Kats et al., “The Costs and Financial Benefits of Green Buildings: A Report to California’s Sustainable
Building Task Force” (Sustainable Building Task Force, October 2003),
green_buildings.pdf; and Piers MacNaughton et al., “The Impact of Working in a Green Certified Building on
Cognitive Function and Health,” Building and Environment 114 (March 1, 2017): 178–86,
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occur between serviceability and other elements. While serviceability is not generally considered
as a separate element in green-building design, it is explicitly identified as an objective for high-
performance buildings and has received increasing attention in green certification systems.68
One of the most salient features of green building is integration. The green building approach
considers integration across (1) elements, to improve performance in multiple impact areas, and
(2) stages, to minimize environmental impacts throughout the building’s lifecycle.69 An integrated
approach that focuses 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. Integration and performance with respect to several
elements can be enhanced by the appropriate use of information technology in building
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.71 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. In other
cases, it may make sense to prioritize certain elements at the expense of others due to cost or
feasibility constraints, local environmental factors, or occupant priorities.
Balance Across Stages
A focus on 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. 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.72 Far more energy is used in operating a building than in

68 See, for example, Taryn Holowka, “Indoor Environmental Quality and LEED V4,” U.S. Green Building Council,
August 15, 2017,
69 This is called a cradle-to-grave approach.
70 One example of this is the use of interconnected “smart” devices that can communicate via sensors and perform data
analytics without human-machine interfacing. See also, ASHRAE, “An Introduction to Building Information Modeling
(BIM): A Guide for ASHRAE Members,” November 3, 2009,
71 See, for example, the documents available at Building Science Corporation, “Building Science Digests,” 2017, Note that inadequate
sealing of a building envelope may also permit external pollutants to enter a building and may compromise moisture
control, depending on climate and other factors.
72 Tables 1.6.2 and 1.6.3 in Department of Energy, “2011 Buildings Energy Data Book,” March 2012,
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constructing one;73 however, choices made during construction may need to be balanced with
planning for the postoccupancy stage. An integrated approach can reduce such problems by
facilitating an assessment of the impact from actions at one stage on all the others.
Green Certifications and Standards
Over the last few decades, formal systems and tools were developed that set criteria for green and
sustainable buildings. Methods were also developed for assessing whether new construction or
renovation projects meet those criteria. The systems and tools fall into one or more of three main
categories: rating systems, certifications, and codes and standards. Rating and certification
systems are voluntary and build upon the minimum requirements for building design and
construction as defined through building codes and standards, which are adopted into law by state
and local governments to ensure the safety of occupants and to optimize building performance.
Green Rating Systems and Certifications
Given the range and interconnections of elements involved, determining whether a building is
green or sustainable is not straightforward—there is no simple metric for determining how well a
building meets the desired criteria. To address this problem, in the 1990s, some professional
organizations in the building sector developed rating and certification systems that helped to
standardize and define green building practices and raised public awareness of them.
The term rating system is often used interchangeably with certification system, although they
refer to somewhat different concepts. Rating systems assign points to buildings for meeting
established criteria in various green building design categories. These points are summed for an
overall score. Often, based on the overall score, the building is assigned to one of a number of
ranked tiers indicating the level of rigor of the criteria this building attains (e.g., Bronze, Silver,
Gold, Platinum). By contrast, certification has no point system, but provides validation that a
building meets or exceeds specified design or performance requirements.
Both rating and certification systems are arguably most objective when an independent entity
conducts the assessment and awards the certification. Such a third party must be independent of
the builder, owner, contractor, and designer, as well as the organization that developed the rating
system or standard.74
A handful of organizations currently offer rating and certification for green buildings. Different
ratings systems emphasize different aspects of green building. Therefore, whether one or another
is more appropriate may depend on local conditions and priorities. Systems also differ in the
types of buildings for which they offer guidelines and certification; some focus primarily on new
construction, while others are more geared toward existing buildings. Many systems combine
both rating and certification into a single system.
bd4c-796b3e14bc65/download/2011bedb.pdf. The embodied energy also tends to be higher for concrete.
73 National Institute of Standards and Technology, “Embedded Intelligence in Buildings Program,” July 17, 2017,
74 Stephanie Vierra, “Green Building Standards and Certification Systems,” Whole Building Design Guide, December
9, 2016,; Contreras, Lewis, and
Roth, “Toward a Rational Framework for Sustainable Building Materials Standards.”
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Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)
A handful of organizations currently offer rating and certification for green buildings. By far the
most prevalent certification system within the United States is Leadership in Energy and
Environmental Design (LEED), developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. When it launched
in 1998, LEED was among the first voluntary, consensus-based certification systems in the
United States. It quickly became widely recognized as a benchmark for green building design.75
The number of LEED certifications has increased annually since the first certification was
awarded in 2000.76 As of November 2019, 100,000 commercial projects had been certified by
LEED worldwide.77
USGBC has expanded the categories of building certifications offered. Building certification
categories include new commercial construction, existing buildings, building interiors, homes,
whole neighborhoods, and entire cities and communities. Some special-use buildings, such as
schools, hospitals, and data centers,78 pose unique challenges to green building in regards to
resource-use patterns. As a result, different categories of special-use buildings require green-
building design and construction that is tailored to fit their particular needs and priorities. In
addition to certification for construction or renovation projects, certification also is available for
operations and maintenance of existing buildings, with a three-year recertification cycle.79 Such
operations and maintenance certifications can apply to those buildings that received building
certifications when newly constructed.
LEED focuses primarily on seven green building elements: location and transportation,
sustainable sites, water, energy, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and
integrative process.80 It also has credit categories for innovation and for regional priority, which
considers specific factors of importance to sustainability within a specified region.
To be LEED-certified, a building must meet a set of mandatory basic requirements for most
elements and must also receive a designated number of the total points that can be earned within
each element from optional items. A building’s total score determines its level of certification:
Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum. While a “checklist” approach allows building owners to
selectively accumulate points, the points do not necessarily translate into improvements in
building energy performance.81 However, it permits an assessment of compliance and can

75 Jenny Richards, “Green Building: A Retrospective History of LEED Certification” (Institute for Environmental
Entrepreneurship, November 2012),
76 U.S. Green Building Council, “About LEED,” July 2017,
77 U.S. Green Building Council, “LEED Reaches New Milestone, Surpasses 100,000 Commercial Green Building
Projects,” November 7, 2019,
78 Data centers are facilities—buildings or parts of buildings—used to store, manage, and disseminate electronic
information for a computer network. Data centers house servers, which are computers used to perform network-
management functions such as data storage and processing, and communications equipment and devices to connect the
servers with the network. These facilities may range in size from small rooms called server closets, or even parts of
rooms, within a conventional building, to large dedicated buildings called enterprise-class data centers. Larger centers
may be purpose-built or retrofitted.
79 U.S. Green Building Council, “USGBC Now Offers Recertification for All LEED Projects,” November 15, 2018,
80 Benjamin, Heather, “Green Building 101: What Is LEED?” (U.S. Green Building Council, September 2017),
81 See, for example, Andrew J. Nelson and Ari Frankel, “Building Labels vs. Environmental Performance Metrics:
Measuring What’s Important about Building Sustainability” (RREEF Real Estate, October 2012),
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facilitate the kind of integrated consideration of elements that many observers regard as a
hallmark of green building. Another criticism of LEED is that the new certification is based on
data from modeling the proposed design and not on post-occupancy energy use data or other
metrics.82 Some LEED-certified buildings have been shown to underperform relative to the
models when analyzing post-occupancy energy data, and some perform better than similar non-
LEED-certified buildings.83
The LEED rating system is updated periodically; the most recent version, LEED v4.1, was
released in January of 2019.84 Also in 2019, USGBC launched a campaign called the Living
Standard in an effort to go beyond building certification and standards and to redefine green
building to include a more community-based approach.85
Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method

The Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) is a
British system developed in 1990. Though BREEAM rating systems have been used
internationally since then, only the BREEAM In-Use certification has been introduced in the
United States, beginning in 2017. BREEAM In-Use is an online rating system for existing
commercial building performance. Unlike LEED, BREEAM In-Use has no prerequisites; any
existing building can use it to benchmark performance and certify subsequent improvements.
BREEAM ratings are Acceptable, Pass, Good, Very Good, Excellent, and Outstanding, which are
signified by between one and six stars. Rating levels are based on a building’s score across nine
impact categories: management, health and well-being, energy, transport, water, materials, waste,
land use, and ecology and pollution.86 To remain valid, certifications must be renewed annually.
Green Globes
Green Globes was developed in Canada by the Green Building Initiative. It is based on
BREEAM, and has an associated standard (see “Green Building Codes and Standards”). A
building may earn between one and four Globes based on the number of points earned out of a
possible total of 1,000. Points are distributed across five elements—site, energy, water efficiency,
materials, and indoor environment—plus project management.87 Like BREEAM In-Use, Green
82 Barth, Brian. “Is LEED Tough Enough for the Climate-Change Era?” Bloomberg, June 5, 2018,
83 Scofield, John H. “Efficacy of LEED-Certification in Reducing Energy Consumption and Greenhouse Gas Emission
for Large New York City Office Buildings,” Energy and Buildings, vol. 67, December 2013, pp. 517-524,
84 Stanley, Sarah. “USGBC Opens Registration for LEED v4.1 for New Construction and Interior Spaces” (U.S. Green
Building Council, January 2019).
85 For more information on Greenbuild’s Living Standard, visit
86 For more information on the impact categories and the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment
Method (BREEAM) In-Use, Version 6, see
87 Green Globe has several different standards for categories including new construction, core and shell, and existing
buildings. For more information on the elements and point allocation for Green Globe New Construction 2019, see
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Globes has no mandatory provisions or prerequisites that must be met before certification can be
considered; certification and rating level are based solely on the number of points earned.
Living Building Challenge
The International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge offers three certifications:
Living Building Certification, Petal Certification, and Zero Energy Building Certification.
Criteria for certification fall into seven performance areas, referred to as “Petals”: place, water,
energy, health and happiness, materials, equity, and beauty. Living Building Certification requires
a building to meet requirements in all seven performance areas. Petal Certification requires
compliance with no fewer than three of the seven Petals, one of which must be water, energy, or
materials.88 Zero Energy Certification requires a building to generate all of its energy needs on
site without using combustion. Unlike new-building certification under the other rating systems,
which occurs upon completion of construction, certification under the Living Building Challenge
also requires a 12-month assessment of actual building performance.
Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) BEST
BOMA BEST is a Canadian certification system for the environmental performance and
management of existing buildings. In the newest version of BOMA BEST Sustainable Buildings
3.0, there are 10 key areas that are assessed to obtain certification: Energy, Water, Air, Comfort,
Health and Wellness, Custodial, Purchasing, Waste, Site, and Stakeholder Engagement. Building
owners, managers, and operators answer a survey-based assessment of their building, and based
on those results can qualify for any of the five levels of certification: Certified (19% on the
assessment), Bronze (20-49%), Silver (50-79%), Gold (80-89%), or Platinum (90-100%). All
buildings must meet certain minimum BEST Practices (or requirements) before being considered
for a certification and all assessment is verified by a third party to ensure validity.
Element-Focused Programs
In addition to the comprehensive green certification systems discussed above, some programs
certify that a building has taken steps to improve environmental performance for a single element
or a limited number of performance areas. One of the most recognized single element programs is
ENERGY STAR, a voluntary labeling program that focuses on energy efficiency, which is
discussed below in “ENERGY STAR.” Another certification, the DOE’s Zero Energy Ready
Homes program, addresses energy and energy efficiency specifically for homes. Homes certified
under this program are certified by a third party organization to be at least 40%-50% more energy
efficient than a typical new home.89
Single element programs can address elements other than energy efficiency. WaterSense is a
similar voluntary labelling program for water-efficient products administered by the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). WaterSense products are verified to be at least 20%
more water-efficient than the average product on the market by an independent third-party
certifier.90 Another voluntary program administered by EPA is Indoor airPLUS,91 which builds

88 For more information on the Living Building Challenge 4.0 and Petals, see
89 Department of Energy, “Guidelines for Participating in the DOE Zero Energy Ready Home Program,” 2020,
90 Environmental Protection Agency, “WaterSense,” July 24, 2017, For more
information WaterSense, see CRS In Focus IF11128, WaterSense® Program: Congressional Authorization, by Elena
H. Humphreys.
91 Environmental Protection Agency, “Indoor AirPLUS,” June 9, 2017,
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upon ENERGY STAR requirements and provides additional specifications to protect indoor air
quality. Indoor airPLUS certification requires homes to install moisture control systems; heating,
ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems; combustion-venting systems; radon resistant
construction; and low-emitting building materials to meet EPA indoor air quality standards.
Other certification programs emphasize a few elements in combination. For example, Passive
House/PHIUS+ focuses on certifying new home construction that reduces the energy
consumption of a house but does not necessarily offset the consumption with on-site renewable
energy generation.92 As of 2015, PHIUS+ certification automatically earns the project EPA’s
indoor airPLUS and DOE’s Zero Energy Ready Home certifications.93 Another example is the
International WELL Building Institute’s (IWBI’s) WELL standard, which emphasizes human
health and wellness.94 WELL focuses on 11 features ranging from water and air quality to
accessibility issues. Many of the programs overlap and partner with each other for a more holistic
approach to building.
ENERGY STAR is an internationally recognized voluntary labeling program for energy-efficient
products, homes, buildings, and manufacturing plants.96 It is jointly managed by the EPA and
DOE. The program’s portfolio has expanded over time. In 1995, ENERGY STAR was expanded
to include labeling for buildings and new homes.97
ENERGY STAR provides several programs that are relevant to homes and residential buildings.
EPA and DOE work with manufacturers to identify appliances and other products used by
consumers in the home that are cost-effective and energy efficient. Those products that meet
certain criteria can receive an ENERGY STAR label. Among the product categories included are
office equipment; home electronics; HVAC; appliances; lighting; and windows. ENERGY STAR
has also partnered with home builders to create ENERGY STAR-qualified homes. If they meet
certain requirements, several residence types can qualify for a certification with ENERGY STAR
including any single-family home, townhome, or duplex new construction, manufactured and
multifamily housing, and homes that are undergoing gut rehabilitation.98 Additionally, ENERGY
STAR works with lenders to encourage the use of Energy-Efficient Mortgages and “green loans”
to promote energy-efficient housing.99

92 Visit for more information about PHIUS+.
93 Passive House Alliance, “PHIUS+ 2015: Passive Building Standard—North America,” 2020,
94 “WELL v2 Overview,” International WELL Building Institute, 2018,
95 This section focuses on ENERGY STAR as it pertains to homes and buildings. For more information on the overall
program, see CRS In Focus IF10753, ENERGY STAR Program, by Corrie E. Clark.
96 ENERGY STAR, “Buildings and Plants,” 2017,
97 Other program additions that are relevant to buildings include manufacturing facilities in 2006 and manufactured
homes in 2007.
98 Manufactured homes are defined as homes built in a factory that are subject to the federal Manufactured Home
Construction and Safety Standards (also known as the HUD Code). For more information on ENERGY STAR
programs related to new homes and other residential types, visit
99 An energy-efficient mortgage (EEM) can be used to purchase or refinance an energy-efficient home or to finance
energy-efficient improvements to an existing home. The EEM accounts for cost savings from the lower utility bills of
an energy-efficient home. This can be used by a lender to offer more favorable financing terms to a borrower. For more
information, see ENERGY STAR, “Energy Efficient Mortgages,”
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ENERGY STAR developed a tool for commercial building owners or managers called Portfolio
Manager. Portfolio Manager allows owners and managers to track energy and water usage,
normalize consumption for their specific business activity (accounting for hours, workers, and the
climate), and compare their performance to typical commercial building performances.100 In
addition, EPA offers partnerships to businesses and other organizations that make top-level
managerial commitments to adopt superior energy management. Partners commit to assess energy
use within their organizations and use an integrated approach in upgrading buildings. The
Portfolio Manager can be used to calculate an ENERGY STAR score from 1 to 100 to compare a
building’s performance with similar buildings nationwide. A score of 50 is the median energy
performance of buildings, while a score of 75 or better indicates that a building may be eligible
for ENERGY STAR certification.101
In addition to benchmarking for building owners, ENERGY STAR developed a program for
commercial building tenants that voluntarily achieve high levels of energy efficiency. This
program, called ENERGY STAR Tenant Space, launched in 2020. Tenants interested in being
recognized must commit to metering energy use and meeting certain lighting and equipment
efficiency standards, among other requirements. The tenant space must be either a general
administrative office, financial office, or a non-diagnostic medical office.102
Federal Government Use of Certification Systems
Several federal statutes and policies impose green building requirements on federal offices and
agencies,103 and some agencies have been using third-party green building certification systems
since the late 1990s. While no certification system meets all of the federal requirements for green
buildings, the General Services Administration (GSA) has recommended that agencies use third-
party green certification systems,104 and some federal agencies have found the use of third-party
certification systems to have benefits that include simplifying compliance with federal guidelines,
reducing the need for additional staff, and providing a recognizable label to communicate
sustainability efforts within the agency and to the public.105 Several agencies have elected to
establish internal policies on certification under one of the available rating systems.106
EISA required the Secretary of Energy, in consultation with GSA and the Department of Defense
(DOD), to identify a third-party certification system and level that the Secretary “determines to be

100 “Typical” commercial building performance is based upon the Energy Information Administration’s Commercial
Buildings Energy Consumption Survey.
101 ENERGY STAR, “How the 1-100 ENERGY STAR Score Is Calculated,”
102 Examples of non-diagnostic medical offices include a doctor’s office or dentist’s office without diagnostic
equipment. For more information on ENERGY STAR Tenant Space, see
103 See the section on “Legislative and Policy Framework.”
104 Dan Tangherlini, Administrator, General Services Administration, “Letter to Ernest Moniz, Secretary of Energy,”
October 25, 2013,
105 Government Accountability Office, “Federal Green Building: Federal Efforts and Third-Party Certification Help
Agencies Implement Key Requirements, but Challenges Remain,” GAO-15-667 (July 2015),
106 Agencies that have adopted a green rating system include the Department of Defense, DOE, GSA, the Department
of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and EPA. Ibid.; and U.S. Department of Agriculture, “2016
Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan,” June 30, 2016,
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the most likely to encourage a comprehensive and environmentally-sound approach to
certification of green buildings” (42 U.S.C. §6834(a)(3)(D)(i)(III)). The Secretary’s
recommendation is to be reviewed and updated every five years, taking into account the results of
a study to be conducted by the Director of GSA’s Office of Federal High-Performance Green
Buildings, which was also established by EISA (42 U.S.C. §17092). As of 2019, GSA has
expanded the certifying organizations it recommends to federal agencies to include LEED, Green
Globes, Living Building Challenge, BOMA BEST, and BREEAM for existing federal
buildings.107 For major renovation or new construction federal buildings, GSA recommends that
LEED version 4.0 or Green Globes be used as they both fit DOE requirements.108
Instead of specifying a particular rating system, the 2014 Department of Energy rulemaking on
green building certification sets out minimum criteria for a rating system to be eligible for use by
federal agencies. Those agencies choosing to pursue third-party certification must choose a
system that meets those criteria.109
Many states also require green building certification or the equivalent for government buildings,
and many cities or counties have such requirements for buildings in the commercial sector. Some
jurisdictions also provide grants or tax incentives for some green building certifications.110 While
rating and certification systems are not necessarily mandatory, they can serve as testbeds for
objectives and practices that have subsequently been incorporated into mandatory building codes
and standards.
Green Building Codes and Standards
Building codes specify minimum design and construction requirements for new construction and
major renovation buildings. Historically, they have focused primarily on health and safety, but
they can cover many other aspects of a building’s design or construction, from aesthetics to
resource use. Beyond certain federally mandated minimum requirements, it is left to state and
local governments to determine the contents of the codes that regulate buildings within their
jurisdictions.111 This allows flexibility with the codes to meet the priorities of a specific region.
For instance, California jurisdictions may apply stricter seismic codes as that area is more prone
to earthquakes than other areas of the country. Rather than create and revise their own codes,
however, many state and local jurisdictions adopt or modify national model codes generated by
code development organizations such as the International Code Council (ICC). ICC is a nonprofit
association that develops model codes and standards for buildings and structures. These model
codes, if adopted by governments, can serve as minimum performance standards for buildings.
ICC is responsible for the development of a comprehensive family of integrated International

107 Murphy, Emily. “GSA High-Performance Building Certification System Review Letter to Sec Energy,” General
Services Administration, September 16, 2019,
108 Ibid.
109 10 C.F.R. §433.300.
110 Daniel C. Matisoff, Douglas S. Noonan, and Mallory E. Flowers, “Policy Monitor—Green Buildings: Economics
and Policies,” Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, vol. 10, no. 2 (July 2016): 329–46,
111 The Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPACT 1992, P.L. 102-486) established a baseline for energy efficiency in
building codes. For a history of the development of ASHRAE energy efficiency standards and their inclusion in U.S.
law, see Gordon Holness, “Achieving Energy Performance—Going Beyond Codes and Standards,” April 4, 2011,
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Codes, covering a number of building sectors.112 The ICC International Building Code (IBC) and
the International Residential Code (IRC) are widely used in the United States. Federal agencies
are required by law to comply with one of the nationally recognized model building codes and
other nationally recognized codes to the maximum extent feasible.113 Model building codes are
updated every three years, so if the code is updated to a higher efficiency measure, the federal
agencies’ standard also must be adjusted accordingly. In addition, Congress has directed the
Secretary of the DOE to establish federal building energy standards by rule.114
Both model codes and mandatory building codes often incorporate technical standards for
specific components or features. Those standards are created by recognized standards
development organizations (SDOs); a standard can be considered as “a set of guidelines and
criteria against which a product can be judged.”115 Just as a building may be certified under a
rating system, a building that has achieved a given standard may be certified as having met the
criteria of that standard. While most standards are not themselves mandatory, they, along with
model codes,116 may be incorporated into mandatory codes or laws.117 This section discusses
comprehensive green building codes and standards that address multiple green building elements.
Codes and standards may also address single elements; for example, building energy codes and
standards pertain to energy efficiency.118
DOE’s Building Energy Codes Program (BECP)
DOE’s BECP engages with national model building energy codes in several ways.119 The program submits code
change proposals for the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC)120 and ASHRAE Standard 90.1.121 It also

112 ICC develops building codes through the ICC Governmental Consensus Process, which includes regulators in the
code-development process. See International Code Council, “CP28-05—Code Development,” December 11, 2015,
113 Requirements for federal agencies to comply with nationally recognized model building codes are found in 40
U.S.C. §3312 as authorized in §3312 of an act to revise, codify, and enact without substantive change certain general
and permanent laws, related to public buildings, property, and works, as title 40, United States Code, “Public Buildings,
Property, and Works” (P.L. 107-217).
114 The Secretary of the DOE is directed to establish federal building energy standards under the Energy Conservation
and Production Act (EPCA, P.L. 94-385, 42 U.S.C. §6834).
115 Dan Prowler and Stephanie Vierra, “Whole Building Design,” Whole Building Design Guide, August 17, 2017, See text box “Whole Building Design Guide,” below, for
further information.
116 Model codes are building codes prepared by groups of experts that have no legislative or rulemaking authority.
Model codes gain the force of law when they are adopted as requirements by a jurisdiction (Melvyn Green, Building
Codes for Existing and Historic Buildings
[Hoboken, N.J: Wiley, 2012]).
117 For example, the mandatory building code of the District of Columbia for construction, alteration, maintenance, and
so forth includes by reference the International Building Code, a model code created by the International Code Council,
and technical standards developed by organizations such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. See
District of Columbia Government, “District of Columbia Construction Codes Supplement of 2013,” May 2014,
118 DOE has a role in the development, adoption, and compliance of building energy codes as discussed in the textbox
“DOE’s Building Energy Codes Program (BECP).”
119 DOE, Building Energy Codes Program,
120 The IECC is a model code developed by ICC that is very often adopted by state and local governments for minimum
building energy efficiency requirements. For more information about BECP and the 2018 IECC, see the BECP
presentation “2018 IECC Commercial Scope and Envelope Requirements” at
121 Standard 90.1 is the energy efficiency standard of the standard-developing organization ASHRAE for buildings
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conducts analysis of building energy efficiency and cost savings, and formulates underlying evaluation
methodologies. Under the Energy Conservation and Production Act (ECPA, P.L. 94-385), after a new version of
the IECC or ASHRAE Standard 90.1 is issued, DOE is directed to assess and make a determination of whether the
energy savings from each updated version wil improve energy efficiency in buildings. If this determination is
positive, each state must certify that they have reviewed their commercial and residential codes. In the case of
residential buildings codes, the state only needs to review them to determine whether it is appropriate to revise
them to meet or exceed the elements of the updated model code. But for commercial building codes, the state
must update them after review in accordance with the revised standard and demonstrate that these updated
commercial codes meet or exceed the standard. The program provides technical assistance for the adoption of
these new code changes. DOE does not have the authority to enforce the adoption of any model energy building
codes. This authority lies with the states and localities. BECP provides resources and training on code changes,
which can aid builders, architects, engineers, and contractors in complying with newly adopted mandatory building
codes in their state and locality. BECP has created two compliance software packages called REScheck and
COMcheck, which allow builders to quickly determine whether new homes, additions, and alterations or new
commercial buildings and high-rise residential buildings meet the requirements of the IECC and ASHRAE Standard
90.1, as well as several state-specific codes.
Green building codes specify additional requirements for environmental design and performance
that go beyond, and, in some cases, can be layered on top of existing building codes. They are
occasionally referred to as “beyond-code” or “above-code” options, because they exceed
minimum building code requirements. Governments adopting green building model codes can
choose to make them mandatory or treat them as voluntary measures for meeting green building
For both green building codes and standards, specific requirements may be achievable by
multiple pathways. Prescriptive pathways specify the precise method of achieving a given
requirement, whereas performance pathways allow designers flexibility in their methods provided
that the projected or modelled end results meet the necessary requirements. A newer option is
outcome-based requirements, which establish a performance target that must be met and verified
through measurement and reporting after construction ends.
Green building standards are sometimes described as code-intended, indicating that they are
written in mandatory, code-enforceable language. In this manner, they may be adopted by
jurisdictions, either as they are written or with modifications made by the adopting entity. Both
codes and standards are developed through a consensus process that involves multiple
stakeholders,122 but SDOs typically require accreditation by a body such as the American
National Standards Institute (ANSI), ensuring that their development process adheres to a set of
approved procedures.123 ANSI standards also require that certification be performed by a third
Whole Building Design Guide

except for low-rise residential buildings. For an online, read-only version of the Standard, visit
122 The number and types of stakeholders involved in the consensus process differs between code developing
organizations and standards setting organizations.
123 American National Standards Institute, “ANSI Essential Requirements: Due Process Requirements for American
National Standards,” January 2020,
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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 col aboration among federal agencies and
many private-sector and nonprofit organizations. It is hosted by the National Institute of Building Sciences.124
The WBDG describes its goals as fol ows: “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.”125 The most relevant goal for green building is the sustainability goal. 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.
This whole-building approach 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.
In addition to developing model building codes and standards, ICC and ASHRAE are also the two
main developers of national green building model codes and standards in the United States.126
Their efforts are discussed below.
In 2012 the ICC released the International Green Construction Code (IgCC),127 self-described as
“the first model code to include sustainability measures for the entire construction project and its
site.”128 The IgCC functions as an overlay code, meaning that it is compatible, and can be adopted
in conjunction with, other ICC codes governing building safety and other features. The most
recent revision was released in 2018.129 Municipalities choosing to adopt the IgCC as an overlay
may choose from among various compliance pathways and options in order to make the
mandated requirements more or less strict, as well as to account for local climate and other
pertinent factors.
The IgCC covers most building types, with the exception of low-rise residential buildings. The
IgCC refers low-rise residential builders to the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard
(NGBS), an ANSI standard developed in partnership with ASHRAE and the National Association
of Homebuilders (NAHB). The NGBS is structured as a rating system, much like LEED, but can
be adopted by ordinance, much like a model code.130
ASHRAE, USGBC, and the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IES) jointly
released Standard 189.1, a high-performance green building standard for nonresidential buildings
and residential buildings of more than three stories.131 Standard 189.1 functions as a code-

124 Whole Building Design Guide website:
125 Dan Prowler and Stephanie Vierra, “Whole Building Design,” Whole Building Design Guide, August 17, 2017,
126 Melissa A. Beutler et al., eds., Green Building and the Construction Lawyer: A Practical Guide to Transactional
and Litigation Issues
(Chicago, Illinois: Forum on Construction Law, 2014). ASHRAE was formerly known as the
American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.
127 IgCC is developed in cooperation with the American Institute of Architects, ASTM International, ASHRAE, the
Illuminating Engineering Society, and USGBC. The ICC has also developed the International Energy Conservation
Code focused primarily on encouraging building energy efficiency.
128 International Code Council, “Overview of the IgCC,” 2017,
129 “International Green Conservation Code,” Sept 2018,
130 National Association of Home Builders, “ICC 700 National Green Building Standard,” 2020,
131 ASHRAE, “Standard 189.1-2014—Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings,” 2014,
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intended standard and is offered as a compliance option under the IgCC. The standard contains
requirements in the following areas: site sustainability; energy efficiency and renewable energy;
water-use efficiency; indoor environmental quality; and building impacts on the atmosphere,
materials, and resources. Elements of Standard 189.1 have been incorporated into the building
requirements for Department of Defense properties.132
In 2018, the ICC and ASHRAE fully integrated Standard 189.1 to serve as the technical content
of the new version of the IgCC. Called “IgCC powered by 189.1,” the new code also aligns with
the LEED rating system, providing the market with a streamlined set of beyond-code tools.133 In
addition to such national efforts, several state, local, and tribal authorities have developed their
own green building codes.
Legislative and Policy Framework
Several federal laws, executive orders, and other policy instruments have provisions relating to
green building. Selected relevant policies are listed in Table 1, and selected requirements by topic
(i.e., green building, renewable energy, and energy efficiency) are described below. The list of
laws 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. This report also does not include discussion of state and
local policies, which have substantial influence on green building efforts within those
Table 1. Selected Policies Related to Green Building
Public Law (P.L.) or
Executive Order (E.O.)
Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPACT 1992)
P.L. 102-486
Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT 2005)
P.L. 109-58
Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA)
P.L. 110-140
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA)
P.L. 111-5
Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2015
P.L. 114-11
Energy Act of 2020 (Division Z of the Consolidated
P.L. 116-260
Appropriations Act, 2021)
Efficient Federal Operationsa
E.O. 13834
Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring
E.O. 13990
Science To Tackle the Climate Crisis
Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad
E.O. 14008
Source: CRS.
a. E.O. 13834, Efficient Federal Operations, was partially revoked by E.O. 13990, Protecting Public Health and the
Environment and Restoring Science To Tackle the Climate Crisis, on January 20, 2021.

132 Department of Defense, “United Facilities Criteria: High Performance and Sustainable Building Requirements,”
UFC 1-200-02, (December 1, 2016),
133 U.S. Green Building Council, “Streamlining for Building Code Makes It Easier to Achieve Green Projects: Building
Professionals Move Toward a Unified Green Code by Streamlining and Simplifying the Code Enigma,”
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Green Building Requirements
The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA, P.L. 110-140) provided both a general
legislative framework for federal green building efforts, including a definition of high-
performance green building,134 and specific actions and requirements. For federal buildings, EISA
increased the building energy efficiency goal for federal agencies, such that each agency would
be required to reduce their total energy consumption from federal buildings to 30% (relative to
2003) by 2015.135 EISA also set more stringent energy goals for new construction and major
renovations, requiring these buildings to reach an 80% reduction in fossil fuel-generated energy
by 2020, and zero-net fossil fuel-generated energy use by 2030. EISA also set general water-
conservation guidelines and stormwater runoff requirements for federal property development.
EISA directed the General Services Administration to establish an Office of Federal High-
Performance Green Buildings to recommend to the Secretary of Energy rating and certification
systems that could be used by agencies for meeting federal green building requirements.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA, P.L. 111-5) provided $4.5 billion
to convert GSA facilities to high-performance green buildings.136 It also provided $250 million to
the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for green retrofits of multifamily
housing. In addition, of the $4 billion that ARRA provided to HUD for public housing, HUD
directed $600 million for the “Creation of Energy Efficient, Green Communities.”137
The Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2015 (P.L. 114-11) directed GSA to develop model
leasing provisions to encourage the implementation of energy and water efficiency measures by
tenants in commercial buildings. GSA may use those provisions for leases involving federal
agencies, and it must make them available to state and local governments for their own use.
On January 27, 2021, President Biden issued Executive Order (E.O.) 14008, Tackling the Climate
Crisis at Home and Abroad
.138 Among other provisions, E.O. 14008 established a national climate
task force. One of the task force’s responsibilities is to develop a plan to leverage federal
procurement authorities to facilitate a carbon pollution-free electricity sector no later than 2035.
E.O. 14008 also directs the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality and the Director of the
Office of Management and Budget to ensure that investments in federal infrastructure reduce
climate pollution and that federal permitting decisions consider the effects of greenhouse gas
emissions and climate change.

134 The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT 2005) defined a high-performance building as “a building that integrates
and optimizes all major high-performance building attributes, including energy efficiency, durability, life-cycle
performance, and occupant productivity” (§914(a)). EISA 2007 built upon that definition for “high-performance green
building,” as discussed in the section “What Is Green Building?”
135 See EISA, sec. 431.
136 ARRA provided almost $800 billion through extensive discretionary spending, mandatory spending, and revenue
provisions for existing and some new programs in the 15 Cabinet-level departments and 11 independent agencies. For
more on ARRA, see CRS Report R40537, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-5): Summary
and Legislative History
, by Clinton T. Brass et al.
137 Of the $4 billion, $3 billion was directed for formula grants and $1 billion for competitive grants. Department of
Housing and Urban Development (HUD), “HUD’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) for
the Capital Fund Recovery Competition Grants; Revised to Incorporate Changes, Corrections, and Clarifications,” June
3, 2009,, p. 20.
138 Executive Order E.O. 14008, “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad,” 86 Federal Register 7619,
February 1, 2021,
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Guiding Principles for Federal Leadership in High Performance Sustainable

In 2006, representatives of 19 federal agencies and offices139 signed a memorandum of
understanding (MOU) titled “Federal Leadership in High Performance and Sustainable
Buildings.”140 The MOU was developed concurrently with the enactment of EPACT 2005 and
contained the first set of five core Guiding Principles for federal high performance and
sustainable buildings: employ integrated design principles, optimize energy performance, protect
and conserve water, enhance indoor environmental quality, and reduce environmental impact of
materials. Subsequent revisions of the Guiding Principles were issued in 2008 and, most recently,
in 2020141 to reflect progress in green building design and to address a broader set of issue areas,
including the health and productivity of building occupants. The revision in 2016 added a sixth
overarching principle to the list: assess and consider climate change risks.142 The revision in 2020
modified this principle to assess and consider building resilience.

139 Those agencies were the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, the Interior, Health and Human
Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, and Veterans
Affairs; and the Council on Environmental Quality, the Environmental Protection Agency, the General Services
Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Office of Personnel Management, and the
Tennessee Valley Authority.
140 Department of Defense et al., “Federal Leadership in High Performance and Sustainable Buildings Memorandum of
Understanding,” 2006,
141 Council on Environmental Quality, “Guiding Principles for Sustainable Federal Buildings and Associated
Instructions,” December 2020,
142 Council on Environmental Quality, “Guiding Principles for Sustainable Federal Buildings and Associated
Instructions,” February 2016,
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Guiding Principles143
The six Guiding Principles for Federal Leadership in High Performance Sustainable Building are

Employ Integrated Design Principles. This principle includes use of a col aborative and integrated
process for all stages from planning through operation for each building or modernization project,
incorporation of design choices and operational components that improve environmental performance,
consideration of the entire life cycle of the building, and the development of plans that accommodate
temporary changes to operational conditions due to emergencies or other significant events.

Optimize Energy Performance. This involves complying with federal building energy efficiency standards,
establishing an energy performance goal for the entire building, including reduction in energy costs of 20%-
30% below existing standards, and employing strategies to use life cycle cost-effective renewable electric and
thermal renewable energy. It also includes installing building level meters to track and measure performance
annually in comparison to ENERGY STAR benchmarks.

Protect and Conserve Water. This involves minimizing the use and waste of indoor potable water,
purchasing water conserving products and ensure optimized indoor water operations, installing building level
water meters including leak detection, using water efficient landscaping and water efficient irrigation
strategies to track and reduce potable outdoor water consumption, using drought-tolerant native landscaping
where practicable, and maximizing the use of alternative sources of water to the extent practicable.

Enhance the Indoor Environment. This principle requires meeting established standards for
temperature, humidity, and ventilation; control ing moisture to prevent damage and mold; maximizing
opportunities for daylight except where not appropriate; using appropriate lighting controls and task lighting;
using low-emitting materials and products; taking other steps to protect air quality in the building;
encouraging integrated pest management; and designing building features and integrating programs and
initiatives to promote voluntary health and wellness opportunities for occupants.

Reduce the Environmental Impact of Materials. This involves using materials with recycled and
biobased (renewable and sustainable) content that is at or above recommended levels, complying with
requirements for substitutes for ozone-depleting compounds, complying with hazardous waste management
requirements during construction and operations, and reducing the landfil ing of wastes by recovering,
reusing, and recycling materials.

Assess and Consider Building Resilience. This principle involves identifying and assessing current and
future potential regional risks to ensure resilient building design and operations and reduce potential
vulnerabilities; incorporating resilient design and operational adaptation strategies; avoiding or mitigating the
short- and long-term adverse impacts associated with projected climate changes and acute weather events,
including storms, wildfires, droughts and floods; and balancing options to address risks against mission
criticality, cost, and security needs over the building’s intended service life.
Renewable Energy Goal
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT 2005, P.L. 109-58), among other provisions, established
a renewable electricity goal for the federal government. Of the total electric energy consumed by
the federal government, 7.5% was required to be from a renewable energy source by FY2013
under EPACT 2005 (see 42 U.S.C. §15852).144 EPACT 2005 allows the amount of renewable
energy to be considered as doubled if it is produced and consumed on-site, or produced on federal
lands or Indian lands and consumed at a federal facility.145

143 Council on Environmental Quality, “Guiding Principles for Sustainable Federal Buildings and Associated
Instructions,” December 2020,
144 For a discussion of progress on this goal, see section “Progress Toward Federal Goals” in this report.
145 While EPACT 2005 section 203 does not mention “renewable energy certificates” or RECs, federal agencies use
RECs to guarantee that an amount of electricity purchased comes from renewable sources. A REC is a tradable
commodity equivalent to 1 megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity generated by renewable energy. For more information,
see Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), Office of Federal Sustainability, “Implementing Instructions for
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Energy Efficiency Provisions
Congress has introduced and amended energy efficiency requirements over time. Many of these
requirements pertain to federal, commercial, and residential buildings. The Energy Policy Act of
1992 (P.L. 102-486) contained various incentives and requirements relating to the efficient use of
energy and water in buildings. It included provisions related to energy efficiency in federal
buildings and public housing, a pilot program for mortgages for energy-efficient housing, the
development of energy-efficient technologies, and energy and water efficiency requirements for
appliances, plumbing fixtures, and building materials. EPACT 1992 reauthorized programs for
state energy conservation and weatherization assistance, and it also contained provisions relating
to state building energy codes.146
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT 2005, P.L. 109-58) built upon EPACT 1992. EPACT
2005 set energy and water conservation standards for various specific products. It also formally
codified the ENERGY STAR labeling program as a joint program of DOE and EPA,147 and
established public information and education programs relating to energy conservation. The act
requires federal agencies to purchase products that either have an ENERGY STAR label or are
designated as energy-efficient by the Department of Energy.148 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. 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
EISA further built upon existing energy and water conservation standards. Title III set efficiency
standards for electric lighting and various appliances and equipment. Appliance and equipment
standards include those for residential refrigerators, freezers, refrigerator-freezers, metal halide
lamps, and commercial walk-in coolers and freezers.149 Title V focused on energy efficiency in
government and public institutions and established the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block
Grant (EECBG) program, among other provisions. The EECBG was authorized to help reduce
energy use and carbon emissions at the local and regional level. ARRA provided $3.2 billion in
funding for the EECBG in addition to other funding provisions such as funding for state energy
programs ($3.1 billion) and weatherization assistance ($5 billion).

Executive Order 13834 Efficient Federal Operations,” April 2019,
eo13834_instructions.pdf ; CEQ, Office of Federal Sustainability, “Federal Renewable Energy Certificate Guide,” June
146 For a summary, see “National Legislation on Building Energy Codes,” Table 7.3.5 in Department of Energy, “2008
Buildings Energy Data Book,” November 2008, Most states now have energy codes,
although specific requirements vary.
147 EPA established the program in 1992 using its statutory authority under the Clean Air Act. For more information,
see CRS In Focus IF10753, ENERGY STAR Program, by Corrie E. Clark.
148 The Department of Agriculture also administers a labeling and procurement program, for biobased products. The
program was established in the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-171) and most recently
revised in the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-334), also known as the 2018 Farm Bill. The two main
purposes of the program are to aid in the mandatory purchasing requirements for federal agencies and their contractors
and to serve as a voluntary labeling initiative for biobased products. For more information on this program, visit
149 CRS In Focus IF11354, Department of Energy Appliance and Equipment Standards Program, by Corrie E. Clark.
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The Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2015 (P.L. 114-11) addressed energy and water
conservation standards and building energy efficiency. It established energy conservation
standards for grid-enabled water heaters used as energy storage or demand-response assets,
among other provisions. The act also amended EISA to add provisions regarding improving
energy efficiency in tenant spaces. These include directing DOE to study the feasibility of
improving energy efficiency in commercial buildings through the implementation of energy
efficiency measures in discreet spaces within those buildings; directing the DOE’s Energy
Information Administration (EIA) to collect additional occupant energy-use information as part of
its Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Surveys; and directing EPA to develop a Tenant
Star recognition label as a part of the ENERGY STAR program.150
Title I of the Energy Act of 2020 (Division Z of P.L. 116-260) addressed several building energy
efficiency issues. It designates DOE as the lead federal agency to coordinate and provide
information on existing federal programs that could assist states, local educational agencies, and
schools in initiating, developing, and financing energy efficiency, renewable energy, and energy
retrofitting projects for schools. It directs the Secretary of Energy and the Director of the Office
of Management and Budget (OMB) to develop a utilization metric for data center energy
efficiency and to establish performance goals related to the energy use of information technology
used by federal agencies. In addition each agency is to develop an implementation strategy for the
maintenance, purchase, and use of energy-efficient and energy-saving information technologies at
federal facilities. Title I of the act also established a smart building accelerator program, created a
smart energy and water efficiency pilot program, and authorized the Federal Energy Management
Program. Among other energy efficiency provisions, Title I of the act also amended and
reauthorized the weatherization assistance program; the act clarified that renewable energy
technologies are included in the definition of weatherization materials and authorized DOE to
account for the non-energy benefits of weatherization improvements—such as improvements to
health and safety—when determining appropriate standards and procedure.
Programs and Activities of Selected Federal
The federal government owns or leases about 3 billion square feet of floorspace in the United
States, consuming 353 trillion British thermal units (Btus) and costing $6.3 billion in energy
bills.151 The Department of Defense has the largest percentage of floorspace of federal agencies
(see Table 2). EISA and other policy instruments require all federal agencies to implement green
building practices for buildings they control. Several federal offices provide guidance and support
for the implementation of those requirements.152

150 While the Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2015 refers to the program as “Tenant Star,” in practice, the
program is referred to as ENERGY STAR Tenant Space, as discussed in the section “ENERGY STAR.”
151 Gross square footage, energy consumption, and energy spending data are all found in DOE’s Comprehensive
Annual Energy Data and Sustainability Performance for FY2019. Agencies are required to report this data to satisfy
energy management requirements in National Energy Conservation Policy Act (42 U.S.C. §8253-8258), EPACT 2005,
and EISA. For the full dataset for FY2019, visit The data
presented are for all buildings; however, only goal-subject buildings are required to comply with federal sustainability
goals. The number of buildings was approximately 250,000 in FY2016, according to GSA. FY2016 was the last year
that GSA reported both civilian non-civilian real property data (GSA, “FY2016 Federal Real Property Profile Open
Data Set,”
152 These include the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), DOE, EPA, GSA, and OMB. See the appendices in
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Table 2. Percentages of Total Federal Building Floorspace Owned or Leased Under
the Jurisdiction of Selected Agencies, 2016
Percent of Total
Department of Defense
General Services Administration
Department of Veterans Affairs
Department of Energy
Department of the Interior
Source: GSA, “FY2016 Federal Real Property Profile Open Data Set,”
Notes: Percentages do not sum to 100 due to rounding. Although the Federal Real Property Profile data that is
compiled by GSA is typically considered the authoritative source for federal property data, beginning in FY2017,
the open data set only provides information for civilian agencies (see GSA, “FY2017 Federal Real Property
Profile Open Data Set”). In addition, it is acknowledged to have outstanding issues with reliability and data
col ection. See GAO, “High Risk: Managing Federal Real Property,” accessed July 25, 2017,
Select Green Building-Related Programs at Federal Agencies
Several agencies have programs and activities that have a broader focus than reducing the
environmental impacts of the facilities of that agency. Descriptions of selected examples are
included below.153 This report does not discuss green building within individual agencies,
although such efforts may be significant. For descriptions of selected programs, see Appendix.
General Services Administration154
Green Proving
Conducts evaluations of next-generation building technologies.
Recommends those technologies that meet agency standards for deployment throughout
GSA’s property holdings.
Facility Management
Assists agencies in improving the operations and management of federal buildings.
Department of Energy155
Building America
Partners with the building industry on research and development that focuses on a
whole-building, integrated approach to improving energy savings in residential buildings.

Government Accountability Office, “Federal Green Building: Federal Efforts and Third-Party Certification Help
Agencies Implement Key Requirements, but Challenges Remain.”
153 Selection was based on the perceived prominence and influence of those programs on the implementation of green
154 GSA, “About GSA’s Green Proving Ground (GPG) Program,”
sustainability/emerging-building-technologies/about-gsas-proving-ground-gpg; GSA, “Facility Management Institute,”
July 24, 2020,
155 DOE, “Building Performance Database,”
bpd; DOE, “Federal Energy Management Program,” 2020,
program; DOE, Better Buildings Initiative, “About the Better Buildings Alliance,”; DOE, “Commercial Buildings Integration,” July 24,
2020,; DOE, “Building America: Bringing
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Better Buildings
Promotes energy efficiency in commercial buildings through col aboration with members
of the U.S. commercial building community.
Building Performance
Provides public access to data on the energy performance of commercial buildings.
Dataset Project
Commercial Buildings Implements initiatives related to energy savings in commercial buildings.
Integration program
Federal Energy
Assists federal agencies in implementing energy savings and other goals and statutory
Management Program requirements.
Provides training and guidance to facilitate procurement, construction, operations, and
maintenance of energy projects.
Environmental Protection Agency156
Assists federal agencies in meeting green purchasing requirements.
Preferable Purchasing
Green Infrastructure
Assists communities through a public-private partnership to implement green
Col aborative
Builds and shares knowledge on emerging green infrastructure technologies and policy
Smart Location
Col ects nationwide geographic data.
Database Program
Measures neighborhood characteristics such as housing density, neighborhood design,
and transit accessibility to produce a measurement of a location’s siting efficiency.
Sustainable Materials
Provides resources for governments and businesses on assessing and reducing material
Management Program use, purchasing recycled materials, and increasing recycling and reuse of construction and
demolition materials.
Department of Defense157
Unified Facilities
Provides planning, design, construction, sustainment, restoration, and modernization
Criteria program
criteria in accordance with DOD Directive 4270.5, Military Construction.
Department of Housing and Urban Development158
Better Buildings
Provides a financial incentive to HUD-insured or HUD-assisted properties to encourage
portfolio-wide utility benchmarking and implementation of energy efficiency measures.
Management Add-on

Building Innovations to Market,”
156 EPA, “Green Infrastructure Collaborative,”
collaborative; EPA, “Sustainable Materials Management,”; EPA, “About the
Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program,”
preferable-purchasing-program; EPA, “Smart Location Mapping,”
157 Whole Building Design Guide, “Department of Defense: Unified Facilities Criteria Program,”
158 HUD, “Mark-to-Market,”; HUD,
“Energy Efficient Mortgage Program,”
energy-r; HUD, “Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes (OLHCHH),”
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Energy Efficient
Provides resources for governments and businesses on assessing and reducing material
Mortgage Program
use, purchasing recycled materials, and increasing recycling and reuse of construction and
demolition materials.
Enables homeowners and buyers to finance the cost of energy efficiency improvements
Preferable Purchasing
through their Federal Housing Administration-insured mortgage.
Healthy Homes and
Provides grants as a pilot program within the Healthy Homes Initiative to demonstrate
whether the coordination of remediation activities with weatherization activities achieves
cost savings and improved outcomes for the safety and quality of homes.
National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST)159
Net-Zero Energy
Focuses on developing building metrics for overall building sustainability and reducing
building energy usage through improvements in specific component areas.
Buildings Program
Sustainable and
Focuses on improvements in measurement science and data relating especial y to
intelligent building systems, sustainably engineered materials, and achieving net-zero
energy buildings with high indoor air quality.
Materials, and
Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)160
Office of Federal
Coordinates policy to promote energy and environmental sustainability across all
Assessing Green Building Efforts
The rise in prominence of green building since the 1990s has raised questions about its impacts.
Those questions cover a broad range of issues, including market penetration, cost, actual building
performance, the underlying measurement science, the extent to which legislative goals are being
met, and the general approach and implementation of green building. Those issues are discussed
Market Penetration
The building industry is a substantial component of the U.S. economy. In 2019, the total value of
construction and renovation work in the United States exceeded $1.3 trillion and accounted for
more than 6% of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP).161 The percentage of the overall
construction market devoted to green building has grown substantially in recent years, 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. In 2005,

159 NIST, “Net-Zero Energy, High-Performance Buildings Program,”
energy-high-performance-buildings-program; NIST, “Strategic Goal: Sustainable and Energy-Efficient Manufacturing,
Materials, and Infrastructure,”
160CEQ, “The Office of Federal Sustainability,”
161 U.S. Census Bureau, “US Census Bureau Construction Spending Survey,” June 2019,
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according to one analysis, 5% of commercial office square footage in 30 markets in the United
States was certified “green” or “efficient.” By 2019, the percentage had increased to 42%.162
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, green construction spending in the United States had been
growing faster than general construction spending as a whole.163 Spending on green construction
more than tripled from $39 billion in 2008 to $129 billion in 2014.164 One analysis projected that
green building activities would generate $303.4 billion in GDP between 2015 and 2018.165 The
COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected the green construction industry among other industrial
sectors. Reportedly, both nonresidential green construction spending and residential green
construction globally are expected to decline from 2019 to 2020 and to recover by 2023.166 Many
expect new institutional construction to be a large future driver of green building growth in the
United States, primarily due to certification requirements for public buildings and schools.167
At the same time, there remains a large portion of the U.S. residential and commercial building
stock that was not constructed according to green building criteria and for which rapid retrofitting
or replacement to meet those criteria does not seem feasible.168
Green building efforts can impact the financial performance of a building by affecting initial
construction costs, operating expenses, rental rates, and property values, among other factors.
Actual and perceived costs of implementing green building measures have a strong bearing on
design and construction decisions. However, information on true costs is not always easy to

162 CBRE, “U.S. Green Building Adoption Index for Office Buildings,” 2019,
163 Booz Allen Hamilton, “Green Building Economic Impact Study” (U.S. Green Building Council, September 2015),
164 Ibid.
165 Ibid.
166 For the nonresidential green construction, spending was expected to decline from $85.1 billion in 2019 to $79.1
billion in 2020 and to recover to an estimated $103.1 billion in 2023. For the single-family residential green building
market, which includes construction, sales, and maintenance, spending was expected to decline from $119.6 billion in
2019 to $116.5 billion in 2020 and to recover to an estimated $151.0 billion in 2023. See “Global Single-Family
Housing Green Buildings Market 2020-2030: Growth and Change Amid COVID-19—,”
BusinessWire, (August 19, 2020),
Family-Housing-Green-Buildings-Market-2020-2030-Growth-and-Change-Amid-COVID-19—; “Single-Family Housing Green Buildings Global Market Report 2020-30: Covid 19 Growth
and Change,” Globe Newswire (July 24, 2020),
167 Dodge Data and Analytics, “World Green Building Trends 2016: Developing Markets Accelerate Global Green
Growth,” SmartMarket Report (2016),
168 According to one 2008 estimate, about 3% of the building stock (more than 300 billion square feet) in the United
States is built new or renovated each year, with a growth rate in the stock of about 1% per year, and a projection that
about three-quarters of the stock will be new or renovated by 2035 (Steven Winter, “Green Residential Building in
North America: A Perspective from the United States,” Background Paper [Commission for Environmental
Cooperation, 2008],
en.pdf). In 2012, commercial buildings had a median age of 32 years. Approximately half of such buildings had been
built before 1980, and 12% since 2003 (EIA, “A Look at the U.S. Commercial Building Stock: Results from EIA’s
2012 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS),” March 4, 2015,
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obtain, and such informational barriers can distort perceptions about the economic costs and
benefits of green building. Moreover, researchers have noted that the flexibility inherent in
designing individual green buildings makes generalizing about the cost performance of the
market segment as a whole difficult.169 As a result, empirical evidence of the financial
performance of green building investments is limited.
It is widely believed that the initial costs of green buildings are higher than for conventional
buildings. A survey of construction industry professionals found that higher perceived initial cost
was among the top three obstacles for green building in the United States.170 Such higher costs
can result from several sources. Not only can many features, such as high-efficiency appliances
and high-performance windows, 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
expensive in its own right.
There is some indication, however, that the costs for constructing green buildings are not
substantially higher than those of standard construction. A DOE review of the existing literature
on green-certified buildings concluded that the available research shows construction costs for
green buildings to be comparable to those of conventional buildings.171 The use of integrated
design may also result in some reductions in initial costs,172 and some studies support that
Proponents of green building assert that operational cost savings will eventually recoup any
initially higher investment. One way green buildings can create operational cost savings is by
reducing usage of utility resources, and, in some cases, through selling site-generated renewable
energy back to the grid. GSA, for instance, claims to have saved over $340 million in energy and
water costs between FY2008 and FY2015 from efficiency improvements.174 More than two dozen
studies support the contention that green certification is associated with reduced utility
expenses.175 However, utility costs, such as electricity, gas, and water and sewerage bills, make up
approximately 19% of a commercial building’s operating costs,176 and evidence is mixed on

169 Daniel C. Matisoff, Douglas S. Noonan, and Mallory E. Flowers, “Policy Monitor—Green Buildings: Economics
and Policies,” Review of Environmental Economics and Policy 10, no. 2 (July 2016): 329–46,
170 Dodge Data and Analytics, “World Green Building Trends 2016: Developing Markets Accelerate Global Green
171 Waypoint and JDM Associates, “Energy Efficiency and Financial Performance: A Review of Studies in the Market”
(Department of Energy, December 2015),
172 Robert Cassidy, ed., “White Paper on Sustainability,” Building Design and Construction Supplement, November
2003, 48 p.,
173 Greg Kats et al., “The Costs and Financial Benefits of Green Buildings: A Report to California’s Sustainable
Building Task Force” (Sustainable Building Task Force, October 2003),
174 GAO, 2016 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan, June 30, 2016),
175 Waypoint and JDM Associates, “Energy Efficiency and Financial Performance: A Review of Studies in the Market”
(Department of Energy, December 2015),
176 Alex Herceg and Aditya Ranade, “Cash Is King: Assessing the Financial Performance of Green Buildings,” ACEEE
Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Industry (July 14, 2015),
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whether green certification reduces overall operating expenses.177 There are also some studies that
suggest green-labeled buildings command price premiums on the real estate market, both in the
amount that renters are willing to pay to use the space, and in terms of overall market value.178
However, there are more studies suggesting that willingness to pay to rent a green residential
space is not as straightforward. Even with perceived IEQ benefits compared to conventional
residential spaces, some potential renters are not willing to pay extra to work or live in a green
Some features of real estate markets can reduce incentives for investments in green building. For
example, building owners, especially homeowners, often move after a few years,180 reducing the
time for a return on their initial investment through potential utility savings. The effect can be
exacerbated if the building is rented or leased. The financial return on green building investments
made by owners would depend on the premium they could charge current or new tenants. The
return for investments by tenants would depend on the length of their tenure—only long-term
tenants would be likely to benefit from making such an investment.181 This is sometimes called
the principal/agent or split-incentive problem.182
Many potential beneficiaries of green building renovations may be limited by constraints on the
availability of capital for such investments, even outside the residential sector. Such constraints
are reported with respect to such significant users of energy as educational institutions, hospitals,
and municipalities.183
Cost barriers to increase the adoption of green building may continue to decrease as the practice
becomes more widespread and economies of scale lower the initial cost differential. Also,
financial incentives, offered by some states and municipalities, may help to defray higher initial
costs, making green building investments more financially attractive. Some observers 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”184 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.

177 Waypoint and JDM Associates, “Energy Efficiency and Financial Performance: A Review of Studies in the Market”
(Department of Energy, December 2015),
178 Ibid.
179 Maryam Golbazi et al., “Willingness to Pay for Green Buildings: A Survey on Students’ Perception in Higher
Education,” Energy and Buildings, vol. 216 (June 2020),
180 Between 11% and 13% of Americans move every year. (U.S. Census Bureau, “U.S. Mover Rate Remains Stable at
About 12 Percent Since 2008,” The United States Census Bureau, March 18, 2015,
181 Such arguments about cost problems are often cited as a barrier to wider implementation of green building. See, for
example, DOE, Building Technologies Office, “Multi-Year Program Plan.”
182 Florian Bressard et al., “Curbing Global Energy Demand Growth: The Energy Productivity Opportunity”
(McKinsey Global Institute, May 2007),
183 Ibid.
184 John Elkington, Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business, Conscientious Commerce
(Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 1998).
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Although many consider green building to be a positive development, other observers have
expressed concerns about the approach. Some of those criticisms have been directed at rating and
certification systems. The certification process is more rigorous for some systems than for others,
and critics have pointed out that many systems do not set caps on performance metrics such as
energy use, making claims to sustainability relative. Some argue that the design criteria 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.185 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.186
Such approaches would arguably need to go beyond individual buildings and include other
components of the built environment.187 Such issues can be compounded by differences in goals
and perspectives among different stakeholders.188 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.
In evaluating the efficacy of green building efforts, how the new green building construction or
retrofit performs over time must be discussed. Much of the focus of green building, including
rating systems such as LEED, has primarily been on design and construction specifications.
Historically, actual environmental performance of green buildings was not incorporated into
certification requirements for most rating systems. However, LEED has included an Operations
and Maintenance (O&M) certification for existing buildings since 2008 that requires building
owners to submit energy performance data that demonstrate they meet the criteria. In LEED v4,
buildings must submit 12 months of continuous energy data which shows they’re in the 75th
percentile or above in terms of energy efficiency of the national average for their building type.189
Factors Affecting Performance
There are many factors that can affect operations and potentially degrade the performance of a
building after it has received its green rating. Such factors include inadequate maintenance of
systems, alterations to prescribed building controls, and unintended changes in building use and
occupancy. Consequently, it is not certain that a nominally green building, even one for which the
design and construction are certified, will perform in a manner that is significantly better or worse
than a conventional building. Some examples of certified green buildings have been shown to be

185 Anya Kamenetz, “The Green Standard?,” Fast Company, December 19, 2007,
magazine/119/the-green-standard.html; and Andrew J. Nelson and Ari Frankel, “Building Labels vs. Environmental
Performance Metrics: Measuring What’s Important about Building Sustainability” (RREEF Real Estate, October 2012),
186 Sarah Nugent et al., “Living, Regenerative, and Adaptive Buildings,” Whole Building Design Guide, August 5,
2016,; Victor Olgyay and Julee Herdt,
“The Application of Ecosystems Services Criteria for Green Building Assessment,” Solar Energy, vol. 77, no. 4,
(October 2004): 389–398.
187 For example, LEED has developed a Neighborhood Development rating system to assess sustainability of the built
environment at the neighborhood scale.
188 For example, environmental groups are likely to have different goals and perspectives than builders or occupants.
189 “LEED v4 for Building Operations and Maintenance,” U.S. Green Building Council, Jan. 5, 2008,
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extremely resource-intensive postoccupancy. Other studies have identified that changes in
postoccupancy operations and maintenance can lead to reductions in anticipated benefits.190
Studies that have evaluated actual green building performance are discussed later in this section.
However, even where greater resource-use efficiency can be demonstrated, savings may be offset
by other factors. For example, green building efforts and related energy efficiency initiatives
appear to have helped reduce energy-use intensity (see “Measurement,” below) in U.S. homes
built since 2000. Yet, because these homes have increased in size by 25% since the 1960s, they
consume the same amount of energy as homes built in the 1960s.191
The energy performance of green buildings has received the most scrutiny. Researchers have
shown that there is often a significant difference between the predicted or modeled energy use of
a building and its measured performance.192 This difference is sometimes referred to as a
“performance gap.” Closing that gap is of ongoing interest and concern to the construction
In response to such concerns, rating system developers have placed increasing emphasis on
postoccupancy performance assessment. LEED v4 sought to address critiques centered on the
one-time assessment nature of certification by requiring installation of building-level energy and
water meters, the data from which are to be compiled and reported to USGBC for the first five
years following certification. Other systems, such as BREEAM In-Use and the Living Building
Certification, explicitly include performance parameters within the criteria for certification (see
“Green Certifications and Standards,” above). Building codes are also moving toward
incorporating performance outcomes into requirements: the 2015 IgCC included an outcome-
based compliance pathway for energy usage, allowing builders to meet requirements through
actual performance.193
Building systems may also be commissioned—that is, independently assessed to ensure they are
designed, installed, tested, and capable of being operated as planned.194 Available data appear to
support the contention that commissioning improves environmental performance, especially for
energy use.195 The process can be used not only for new buildings, but also existing ones, either
during retrofitting or continuing operations.

190 Richard Conniff, “Why Don’t Green Buildings Live Up to Hype on Energy Efficiency?,” Yale E360, August 25,
2017,; Sam Roudman,
“Bank of America’s Toxic Tower,” The New Republic, July 29, 2013,
191EIA, “Highlights from the 2015 RECS: Energy Consumption, Expenditures, and End-Use Modeling,” July 31, 2018,
p. 11,
192 Shi et. al, “Magnitude, Causes, and Solutions of the Performance
Gap of Buildings: A Review,” Sustainability, February 2019,
193 Institute for Market Transformation, “Outcome-Based Pathway Is Voted into the 2015 IgCC” (press release,
November 20, 2014),
194 Whole Building Design Guide, “Building Commissioning,” November 12, 2016,
195 See, for example, Evan Mills, “Building Commissioning: A Golden Opportunity for Reducing Energy Costs and
Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the United States,” Energy Efficiency 4, no. 2 (May 1, 2011): 145–73,
doi:10.1007/s12053-011-9116-8; Kramer, H., Lin, G., Curtin, C. et al., “Building Analytics and Monitoring-Based
Commissioning: Industry Practice, Costs, and Savings,” Energy Efficiency 13, 537–549 (2020).
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In addition to certification and commissioning, an organization can develop an environmental
management system (EMS), for which international standards are available.196 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.197 Similarly, there are
building energy management systems (BEMS) that optimize a building’s energy use through the
use of computer-based controls. In general, having a BEMS may lead to greater energy savings,
depending on building type.198
Networked building monitoring and diagnostic tools are increasingly prevalent. Such tools can
allow early fault detection in critical building equipment as well as providing resource use
analytics, allowing building managers to more effectively respond to changing use patterns in real
time. (See Smart Buildings subsection in “Issues for Congress.”) For example, GSAlink, a GSA-
developed building diagnostic tool, has been used to identify over 33,000 instances of sub-
optimal equipment performance within GSA holdings alone.199
Selected Studies for Energy
Many studies have attempted to measure and evaluate green building performance. However, a
lack of consensus on the criteria for defining green building, as well as on the outcomes to be
measured, complicates comparisons between studies.200 Generally, the evidence that green
buildings perform significantly better than conventional buildings is mixed. Recent studies have
shown green buildings to exhibit a wide range of measured energy performance, with some
buildings performing far below design expectations.201 In general, however, the studies seem to
conclude that buildings with green certifications perform better than buildings without one. The
selected studies discussed below primarily use LEED ratings as the criteria for inclusion. Because
other rating systems are not as prevalent in the United States, little information is available on the
performance of buildings constructed under those systems in the U.S. market.
A study of energy use by more than 100 LEED-certified buildings found that, on average, they
performed 24% better than other buildings.202 About one in seven performed worse than average.

196 The standard is ISO 14001. See International Organization for Standardization, “ISO 14001 Family—
Environmental Management,” August 21, 2017, EPA
has promoted testing and adoption of this standard by local governments and nonprofit organizations Environmental
Protection Agency, “Frequent Questions About Environmental Management Systems,” Overviews and Factsheets
(January 23, 2017),
197 For more information on ensuring buildings meet performance objectives, see WBDG Functional/Operational
Committee, “Meet Performance Objectives,” Whole Building Design Guide, October 25, 2016,
198 Lee, Dasheng, Cheng, Chin-Chi, “Energy Savings by Energy Management Systems: A Review,” Renewable and
Sustainable Energy Reviews
, vol. 56, April 2016, pp. 760-77,
199 GAO, 2016 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan, June 30, 2016,
200 Melissa A. Beutler et al., eds., Green Building and the Construction Lawyer: A Practical Guide to Transactional
and Litigation Issues
(Chicago, Illinois: Forum on Construction Law, 2014).
201 New Buildings Institute, “High Performance Buildings Measured Performance and Key Performance Indicators,”
CEC-500-08-049 (March 2013),
202 Cathy Turner and Mark Frankel, “Energy Performance of LEED for New Construction Buildings” (New Building
Institute, March 4, 2008),
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Some criticized this study as misleading because of purported sample bias, inappropriate
baselines for comparison, and other concerns.203 A follow-up assessment using the same data
concluded that primary energy savings from LEED certification were nonexistent for lower levels
of certification and 13% better than average for Gold and Platinum-certified buildings.204
A longitudinal study of 16 low-income green residential buildings with 310 individual units
tracked building energy and cost savings performance for over three years. All of the buildings in
the study were located in the state of Virginia and all were EarthCraft-certified205 green buildings.
Data collected for building energy performance included monthly electricity use (kWh),
construction type (new or renovated), occupant type (family or senior), technology level, climate,
and conditioned floor area data. The study also collected voluntary behavioral surveys, and utility
account data from individual units to compare with statewide average energy use for a cost
savings analysis. The results of the study indicate a stable and consistent energy performance
across the three-year period for the EarthCraft-certified multifamily residential buildings. The
study also calculated an average annual cost savings per unit of $648, which translates to 26.6%-
37.5% cost savings.
A GSA study of 22 green federal buildings, most of which had received LEED certification,
found that, on average, the buildings studied performed better than the national average in all
measured performance areas, including energy use, water use, operating costs, occupant
satisfaction, and carbon emissions.206 Some buildings performed worse than the national average
in certain areas, however.
The performance gap of green buildings is supported by a literature review of over 900 papers on
green building performance across the world that showed many green buildings saved less energy
than expected.207 Despite the performance gap, this literature review found that, except in rare
occasions, green buildings performed better than conventional buildings. The review also found
that, in the United States, occupants were generally unsatisfied with the thermal and acoustic
performance of green buildings. Some have criticized this review article for not accounting for
energy losses due to transmission of energy, redundancies in the datasets compared, and improper
averaging of buildings’ performances in some papers.208 Taking these issues into account, the

203 Joseph W. Lstiburek, “Prioritizing Green—It’s the Energy Stupid,” BSI-007, Insights (Building Science
Corporation, November 2008),
energy-stupid. Another report found discrepancies between LEED ratings and the results of modeling that examined
impacts expected over the entire life of the building. (Chris W. Scheuer and Gregory A. Keoleian, “Evaluation of
LEED Using Life Cycle Assessment Methods,” NIST GCR 02-836 [National Institute of Standards and Technology,
September 2002],
204 John Scofield, “A Re-Examination of the NBI LEED Building Energy Consumption Study” (2009 International
Energy Program Evaluation Conference, Portland, OR, 2009),
205 EarthCraft is a program that certifies above-code, high performance buildings. Their multifamily certification aligns
closely with requirements for states’ Qualified Allocation Plan (QAP) for Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC)
projects. For more information, see
206 General Services Administration, “Green Building Performance: A Post Occupancy Evaluation of 22 GSA
Buildings,” August 2011,
207 Geng et al., “A Review of Operating Performance in Green Buildings: Energy Use, Indoor Environmental Quality
and Occupant Satisfaction,” Energy and Buildings, vol. 183, 15 January 2019, pp. 500-14,
208 John Scofield, “Comment on ‘A Review of Operating Performance in Green Buildings: Energy Use, Indoor
Environmental Quality and Occupant Satisfaction’ by Geng et al.,” Energy and Buildings, vol. 194, 1 July 2019, pp.
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writer of the criticism argues that the review would conclude that green buildings perform no
better than conventional buildings. The authors of the review paper disagreed with these technical
critiques and posit that even taking into account some of the critic’s suggested analysis, green
buildings still perform better than conventional buildings, on average.209
As discussed, there is disagreement in the green building community about how effective LEED
certifications are at reliably demonstrating superior energy performance. Depending on the level
and type of certification, energy performance varies. However, sample sizes were small and may
not be representative of the overall performance of green-certified buildings. Performance data is
often proprietary and therefore inaccessible to researchers conducting evaluations. Greater access
to building performance data is frequently cited as a prerequisite to more comprehensive
performance assessments.210
Selected Studies: Health Performance
While energy performance is one key element of any green building, another element, occupant
health, is becoming an increasingly important factor. The extent that a certified green building has
improved IEQ and occupant health when compared to non-certified buildings is unclear. Two
studies found that a LEED certified building did not necessarily indicate higher occupant
satisfaction with IEQ.211 It was also shown that there was no substantive increase in occupant
satisfaction with IEQ with increased LEED rating (or total amount of LEED points).212 Some
studies on health impacts of green buildings rely on self-reported occupant health surveys, which
are subjective. Other studies rely on direct data on occupant health, which can be more
challenging to collect. One such study investigated the cognition of occupants in green office
buildings and non-green office buildings.213 The study found that the 69 workers that worked in
LEED-certified high-performance buildings for a week scored 26.4% better on cognitive
assessments than the 40 participants in high-performance office buildings without a LEED
certification.214 This study was in accordance with the former study by illustrating no significant
differences in IEQ measurements like ventilation rates, VOC concentration, temperature, CO2
concentrations, lighting, or noise between green and conventional high-performance buildings.
A study involving both subjective survey data and objective data provides evidence that green
buildings positively impact IEQ measures. In the study, eight green and six conventional
buildings were tested for IEQ measures such as lighting, temperature, humidity, particulate matter
concentration, and the presence of fungi.215 In addition, 367 occupants were surveyed about their

209 Geng et al. “Response to the Commentary on ‘A review of Operating Performance in Green Buildings: Energy Use,
Indoor Environmental Quality and Occupant Satisfaction’ by John H. Scofield,” Energy and Buildings, vol. 194, 1 July
2019, pp. 366-68,
210 John H. Scofield, “Do Green Buildings Really Save Energy? A Look at the Facts,” Text, GreenBiz (September 21,
211 Sergio Altomonte et al., “Indoor Environmental Quality and Occupant Satisfaction in Green-Certified Buildings,”
Building Research and Information, vol. 47 (November 2017), pp. 255-74,
09613218.2018.1383715; Emily Oldham and Hyojin Kim, “IEQ Field Investigation in High-Performance, Urban
Elementary Schools,” Atmosphere, vol. 11, no. 1 (January 2020), p. 81,
212 Emily Oldham and Hyojin Kim, “IEQ Field Investigation in High-Performance, Urban Elementary Schools,”
Atmosphere, vol. 11, no. 1 (January 2020),
213 Piers MacNaughton et al., “The Impact of Working in a Green Certified Building on Cognitive Function and
Health,” Building and Environment, vol. 114 (March 2017), pp. 178-86,
214 Ibid.
215 Jang Young-Lee et al., “Indoor Environmental Quality, Occupant Satisfaction, and Acute Building-Related Health
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perceived level of satisfaction in the buildings. The study found a lower concentration of fungi
and particulate matter, and a higher consistency in temperature and humidity in the green
buildings, as compared to the conventional buildings.216 The survey found that occupants were
more satisfied and had a reduction in headaches, fatigue, and skin irritation in green buildings.217
Another study investigated more specifically the environmental perceptions and how they affect
occupants’ health. The study followed 24 participants as they moved from one green office
building to another one for six work days. As the building IEQ was purposefully changed from
conventional, green, and green with increased ventilation, the researchers found that participants’
perception of being in a green building more closely followed participants’ actual health
indicators than the conditions manipulated by the researchers.218
While the first two studies showed no correlation between occupants’ perceptions of IEQ and
occupancy in a green building, the last two suggest that green buildings do have an effect,
perceived or otherwise, on the health of the building occupants. In summary, it seems that
occupant health, whether in green or conventional buildings, is affected in part by not only the
measurable environmental factors, but also the perception of the IEQ of a building.
As the discussion above shows, performance measurement is important for ensuring that green
buildings meet the environmental targets claimed for them and to assess ways to improve those
targets. However, methods for measuring 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.219 Even for elements that are relatively simple to
measure, such as energy usage, there may be disagreement about which of several possible
metrics captures the most relevant information. For instance, energy use intensity (EUI), which is
the primary metric used to evaluate federal building performance, has traditionally been defined
as the amount of energy used per square foot. GSA’s Green Building Advisory Committee has
recently proposed two additional methodologies for measuring EUI: energy use per occupant and
area-based EUI measuring energy used in commuter transportation to and from the building.220
The Advisory Committee says a building’s energy use patterns may appear to vary based on

Symptoms in Green Mark-Certified Compared with Non-Certified Office Buildings,” Indoor Air, vol. 29, no. 1
(January 2019), pp. 112-29, doi: 10.1111/ina.12515.
216 Ibid.
217 Ibid.
218 Piers MacNaughton et al., “Environmental Perceptions and Health Before and After Relocation to a Green
Building,” Building and Environment, vol. 104 (August 2016), pp. 138-44,
219 Grace Ding, “Sustainable Construction—The Role of Environmental Assessment Tools,” Journal of Environmental
86 (February 2008): 451–64,
6516125_Sustainable_Construction_-_the_Role_of_Environmental_Assessment_Tools; Andrew J. Nelson and Ari
Frankel, “Building Labels vs. Environmental Performance Metrics: Measuring What’s Important about Building
Sustainability” (RREEF Real Estate, October 2012),
220 EUI Task Force, “Expanding the Concept of Energy Use Intensity (EUI): A Proposal to GSA’s Green Building
Advisory Committee” (General Services Administration, January 17, 2017),
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which metric is used. Another study by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory cautioned that a
lack of accurate building occupancy data could complicate efforts to calculate occupancy-
adjusted EUI.221 Furthermore, there is some research that estimated energy performance measures
like those included in LEED have little correlation with actual, measured performance, like that
of an ENERGY STAR score.222
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 building’s
entire lifespan. 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.223
EISA requires 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
2003. Determination of an accurate baseline may be difficult in the absence of adequate
measurement of energy use.
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
are often difficult to obtain.224 Measurement science relating to green building is an active area of
research. In 2008, the National Science and Technology Council listed the development of
appropriate measurement science as the top research need for progress in green building.225
Developing metrics and tools for measuring building sustainability is a priority of the National
Institute of Standards and Technology.226 In 2013, NIST began operating the Net-Zero Energy
Residential Test Facility (NZERTF) to research building energy efficiency. Current projects
related to measurement in the test facility include measurement approaches and data collection
for assessing thermal comfort, measurement of hot water distribution effectiveness, measured
impact of heat pump water heater on the space conditioning requirements, an assessment of the
spatial variation in outdoor temperature measurement and its impact on modeling of thermal
loads introduced by ventilation systems.227

221 A. Selvacanabady and K. Judd, “The Influence of Occupancy on Building Energy Use Intensity and the Utility of an
Occupancy-Adjusted Performance Metric,” PNNL-26019 (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, January 2017),
222 New Buildings Institute, “High Performance Buildings Measured Performance and Key Performance Indicators.”
223 A life cycle assessment is a method for analyzing the environmental impacts of something throughout its lifespan,
from initial creation through destruction or disposal—a “cradle-to-grave” evaluation. For one approach involving
buildings, see National Institute of Standards and Technology, “Metrics and Tools for Sustainable Buildings Project,”
NIST, July 13, 2017,
224 For more on the challenges surrounding building performance measurements, see Joel Ann Todd, “Measuring
Performance of Sustainable Buildings,” Whole Building Design Guide, December 8, 2016,
225 National Science and Technology Council, Committee on Technology, “Report of the Subcommittee on Buildings
Technology Research and Development: Federal R&D Agenda for Net-Zero Energy, High-Performance Green
Buildings,” October 2008,
226 National Institute of Standards and Technology, “Metrics and Tools for Sustainable Buildings Project.”
227 For more information on NIST’s NZERTF, see
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Progress Toward Federal Goals
Agency progress toward meeting federally mandated green building goals varies widely. OMB
releases annual sustainability and energy scorecards for each agency with sustainability reporting
requirements. These scorecards report on agency progress toward federal sustainability goals in
the following areas: GHG Emission Reductions,228 Reduction in Energy Intensity, Use of
Renewable Energy, Reduction in Potable Water Intensity, Reduction in Fleet Petroleum Use,
Green Buildings, and Sustainable Contracts. Scorecards include both numeric reports of agency
progress, in the form of percentage reductions in target areas, and a color score of green, yellow,
or red. The precise meaning of a score color differs slightly for each target area. Generally,
however, a green score indicates that an agency had met or was on track to meet the target;
yellow indicated that some progress has been made toward a target; and red indicated that the
agency was neither on track to achieving a given target nor demonstrating significant progress.
Federal progress toward three buildings-related goals is discussed below. See Figure 1 for
information on the reported progress of selected agencies toward those goals.
Green Building Goal: E.O. 13834 directed federal agencies to ensure that at
least 15% of agency buildings with more than 10,000 square feet of floorspace
comply with the Guiding Principles.229 Some agencies have already surpassed
this target while others are making progress. The Department of Defense is the
only major federal agency that has achieved compliance in fewer than 2% of
buildings; several others have received a red score in the green buildings
category from OMB for FY2019.
Energy Intensity Goal: EISA set a goal for federal facilities to reduce energy
intensity by 30% from 2003 levels by 2015. Many agencies did not meet this
goal. Government-wide energy intensity declined 20.7% during this period. As of
FY2019, the goal set for FY2015 had still not been achieved, though
government-wide reduction in energy intensity had decreased by 25.6% from the
2003 level.
Potable Water Intensity Goal: In 2015, E.O. 13693 established a 36% reduction
goal in potable water intensity from 2007 levels by 2025. E.O. 13834 decreased
that goal to a 20% reduction in potable water intensity relative to FY2007. Many
agencies have already achieved the earlier goal set out in E.O. 13693, therefore
most agencies have achieved the E.O. 13834 20% target. Government-wide
potable water intensity achieved a 20% reduction in FY2014; the federal
government has continued to reduce its water use. As of FY2019, government
wide potable water intensity was down 27.5% compared to the 2007 baseline.

228 EISA requires agencies report greenhouse gas emissions; it does not specify what types of emissions. Federal GHG
emissions can be categorized as either direct emissions from sources owned or controlled by a federal agency (Scope
1), indirect emissions resulting from the generation of electricity, heat, or steam that a federal agency has purchased
(Scope 2), or indirect emissions from sources not owned or directly controlled by a federal agency but related to its
activities (Scope 3). The Obama Administration required agencies to report specified Scope 3 GHG emissions along
with Scope 1 and 2. The implementing instructions for E.O. 13834 stated that GSA would propose methodologies to
standardize and streamline Scope 3 reporting and that CEQ may update the Accounting Guidance documents for
reporting Scope 3 GHG emissions. For more information, see CEQ, “Implementing Instructions for Executive Order
13834: Efficient Federal Operations,” April 2019, p. 34.
229 E.O. 13834 was revoked by E.O. 13990 on January 20, 2021, with the exception of sections 6 (Duties of the Federal
Chief Sustainability Office), 7 (Duties of Heads of Agencies), and 11 (General Provisions).
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Green Building Overview and Issues

Figure 1. Selected Agency Progress Toward Selected Green Building Goals for

Source: CRS developed reporting data provided in FY2019 OMB Scorecards on Efficient Federal
Operations/Management, available at Agencies included in this
chart were selected from the reporting agencies on the basis of amount of floorspace owned and leased (see
Table 2), with the exception of EPA, which is included due its substantial green building activities, despite its
small spatial footprint. Agencies are ordered by the size of their property holdings. Scores were developed by
OMB; see notes for more detail.
a. For high-performance sustainable buildings, agencies are assessed on the number and gross square footage
(GSF) of federal buildings that meet the Guiding Principles (GP): Green (at least 15% of buildings or GSF
meet GP and the agency increased percentage meeting GP compared to prior year), Yellow (at least 15% of
buildings or GSF meet GP or the agency increased percentage meeting GP compared to prior year), and Red
(fewer than 15% of buildings or GSF meet GP and the agency decreased percentage meeting GP compared
to prior year).
b. For facility energy efficiency, agencies are assessed on meeting a 30% reduction in energy intensity from a
2003 baseline: Green (achieved 30% reduction compared to 2003 and reduced energy intensity from the
prior year), Yellow (achieved 30% reduction compared to 2003 or reduced energy intensity from the prior
year), and Red (did not achieve 30% reduced compared to 2003 and did not reduce energy intensity from
the prior year).
c. For water efficiency, agencies are assessed on meeting a 20% reduction in potable water use intensity
compared to a 2007 baseline: Green (achieved 20% reduction in potable water use intensity and reduced
potable water use intensity compared to prior year), Yellow (achieved 20% reduction in potable water use
intensity or reduced potable water use intensity compared to prior year), and Red (did not meet a 20%
reduction compared to 2007 and did not reduce potable water use intensity from the prior year).
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Issues for Congress
Among the questions Congress may expect 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
 To what extent, if any, 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, if any, should Congress take to facilitate the growth of scientific
and technical knowledge relating to green building?
If Congress seeks to take additional action on such questions, it could do so through
appropriations, new statutory requirements, and tax law. Other options could include reviewing
current and proposed agency programs, regulations, and policies.
Federal Green Buildings: Oversight and Legislation
GAO has released several reports over the last decade addressing various federal efforts relating
to green building. One of those reports identified 94 initiatives across 11 agencies relating to
green building in the nonfederal sector.230 Few of those initiatives focused on green building in
the integrative sense it is discussed in this report, but rather focused on specific elements such as
energy, IEQ, or water. GAO recommended that agencies coordinate to assess the relative
performance of the initiatives.
Congress may examine how well federal agencies are implementing green building programs,
and what impacts those efforts are having on the adoption of green building practices both within
the federal government and 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.
Congress could consider identifying ways in which current green building efforts in federal
agencies could be further enhanced. Some in Congress have recommended that federal policy
should require all new construction or major renovations of federal buildings achieve net-zero
GHG emissions by 2030.231 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 in the WBDG.232

230 Government Accountability Office, “Green Building: Federal Initiatives for the Nonfederal Sector Could Benefit
from More Interagency Collaboration,” GAO-12-79, (November 9, 2011),
Agencies whose programs were examined by GAO but are not discussed in the section in this report on “Programs and
Activities of Selected Federal Agencies”
were the Departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services,
Transportation, and the Treasury, as well as the Small Business Administration.
231 U.S. Congress, House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, Solving the Climate Crisis, 116th Cong., 1st sess.,
H.Rept. 116-63 (Washington, DC: GPO, 2020), p. 176.
232 For more information, see the text box “Whole Building Design Guide.”
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Congress may consider whether to extend the energy reduction goals for existing federal
buildings. As discussed previously in the “Legislative and Policy Framework” section, EISA set a
goal of 30% reduction from a 2003 baseline by 2015. However, government-wide energy
reduction, as of 2019, is 25.6% lower than 2003 levels.233
Adoption and Implementation of Green Building
Some of the challenges in achieving federal sustainability goals in buildings depend on how well
these policies are adopted and implemented within the agencies and beyond the federal
government in the private building sector.
Financial Incentives
In addition to programs and activities such as those described above, some federal agencies such
as the Federal Housing Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) also support
the availability of mortgages that promote energy efficiency. Lenders who provide such
mortgages may also become ENERGY STAR partners.234
Congress could broaden the scope of mortgage and tax incentives to include elements of green
building. These could include extending tax incentives,235 funding the State Energy-Efficient
Appliance Rebate Program (SEEARP) authorized by EPACT 2005, and directing HUD to issue
underwriting for energy efficiency or other elements of green building.236
Congress could consider identifying ways in which current green building efforts in federal
agencies could be further 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 in the WBDG.
Codes and Standards
Congress may consider changes to federal agency involvement in building codes and standards,
although such efforts might be complicated by federalism issues237 and differences in regional
requirements relating to climate and other variables. One projection suggests that the cumulative
primary energy savings achieved by building energy codes from 2010 to 2040 would be 12.82

233 In the 116th Congress, several bills would have set a new goal for federal agencies to reduce their energy use
incrementally by 2.5% each year relative to a 2018 baseline from FY2020 to FY2030, including H.R. 2, H.R. 5650, and
S. 1857.
234 For more information on these HUD and VA programs, see CRS Report R40913, Renewable Energy and Energy
Efficiency Incentives: A Summary of Federal Programs
, by Lynn J. Cunningham CRS Report.
235 For information on energy tax provisions as it relates to building energy efficiency, see CRS Report R46451, Energy
Tax Provisions Expiring in 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023 (“Tax Extenders”)
, by Molly F. Sherlock, Margot L. Crandall-
Hollick, and Donald J. Marples.
236 For more information on energy efficiency underwriting, see CRS Report R44911, The Energy Savings and
Industrial Competitiveness Act: S. 385 and H.R. 1443
, by Corrie E. Clark.
237 Alexandra B. Klass, “State Standards for Nationwide Products Revisited: Federalism, Green Building Codes, and
Appliance Efficiency Standards,” Harvard Environmental Law Review, vol. 34 (2010), p. 335.
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quadrillion BTU.238 Those energy savings could reduce utility bills for consumers, with
cumulative savings of $126 billion dollars from 2010 to 2040.239
Priorities Among Elements of Green Building
Among the elements of green building discussed in this report, energy has generally received
more attention than any other.240 Congress may examine whether federal efforts in green building
are effectively balanced among the component elements.
For example, with the all-encompassing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress may
consider whether to address directly the element of health and buildings. Under the Guiding
Principles for Sustainable Buildings, all new construction or existing federal buildings must
adhere to ASHRAE Standard 55, for thermal comfort, and either Standard 62.1 or Standard 62.2,
both for adequate ventilation and indoor air quality, to qualify as sustainable federal buildings.
Proper air filtration with the use of high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters is an important
element of reducing the risk of indoor infection.241 Congress may consider whether additional
requirements for air filtration would be appropriate or whether energy conservation measures
should include additional considerations for indoor air quality.
In addition, Congress may explore whether the incremental approach embodied in most green
building activities is sufficient to address national needs, or if some modification or acceleration
of efforts would be preferable.
Knowledge Base and Workforce Development
Development of the scientific and technological knowledge base for green building is supported
by R&D funded by both federal and private-sector sources.242
Congress may consider whether federal funding levels and priorities should be modified, and
whether to create incentives for increasing private-sector R&D funding. In addition, Congress
may consider whether the availability of training and education relating to relevant areas of
expertise is sufficient to ensure a knowledgeable workforce for construction, certification, and
operation of both federal green buildings and others, such as schools and hospitals.

238 R.A. Athalyte, B. Liu, and D. Sivraman, et al., Impacts of Model Building Energy Codes, Pacific Northwest
National Laboratory, PNNL-25611 Rev. 1, October 2016, p. v,
documents/Impacts_Of_Model_Energy_Codes.pdf. The United States consumes roughly 100 quadrillion BTU
239 Ibid. p. v.
240 This priority is not surprising, given concerns about fossil fuel imports, strategic vulnerability, negative effects of
climate change, and the high and inefficient levels of use of energy by most of the current building stock in the United
241 Bolashikov, Z D, and A K Melikov. “Methods for Air Cleaning and Protection of Building Occupants from
Airborne Pathogens,” Building and Environment vol. 44, 7 (2009): 1378-1385. doi:10.1016/j.buildenv.2008.09.001.
242 According to a 2007 study, green building received less than 0.5% of total funding for federal nondefense R&D; see
Mara Baum, “Green Building Research Funding: An Assessment of Current Activity in the United States,” U.S. Green
Building Council, 2007,
united-states. According to a 2003 study, construction sector R&D intensity was much lower than the industry average;
see Robert Cassidy, ed., “White Paper on Sustainability,” Building Design and Construction Supplement, November
2003, p. 48,
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Special-Use Buildings
Certain building types—so-called special-use buildings—perform essential, but extremely
resource-intensive tasks. Some agencies have reported challenges in complying with federal
green building requirements due to the number of special-use buildings in their inventories.243
Special-use buildings including DOE’s large number of data centers, laboratories, and
accelerators; EPA’s scientific laboratories; and the VA’s hospitals have all proven challenging to
bring into compliance with the Guiding Principles.244
Hospitals, for example, are complex to design and must meet substantial regulatory requirements,
even before sustainability is taken into account.245 They are among the most resource-intensive
buildings, consuming almost three times as much energy per square foot as a typical office
building246 and posing unique challenges to other elements of green building such as air quality.
Hospitals thus offer substantial opportunities for environmental performance improvements, but
these must be achieved without compromising their primary mission of improving healthcare
outcomes for patients. Some green techniques, such as daylighting and the use of nontoxic
building materials, have obvious benefits for health and wellbeing that translate readily to a
healthcare environment. Conversely, some energy and water conservation techniques may not be
appropriate in a hospital setting, where water heating and flow rates must be tightly controlled for
health and safety reasons. Similarly, scientific laboratories and data centers face trade-offs and
challenges in implementing energy-saving features without compromising mission-driven
building functions that rely on higher-than-average building energy consumption.
Congress may consider whether to make special consideration for special-use buildings,
recognizing that they consume a disproportionate amount of energy and resources while
performing essential tasks for the federal government. For example, the Energy Act of 2020
(Division Z of P.L. 116-260) requires the Secretary of Energy to develop a utilization metric for
data center energy efficiency and the Director of OMB, in coordination with the Secretary, to
establish performance goals related to the energy use of information technology used by federal

243 GAO, “Federal Green Building: Federal Efforts and Third-Party Certification Help Agencies Implement Key
Requirements, but Challenges Remain,” GAO-15-667 (July 2015),
244 Ibid., pp. 26-27.
245 Robert F. Carr and WBDG Health Care Subcommittee, “Health Care Facilities,” Whole Building Design Guide,
April 6, 2017,
246EIA, “2012 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey: Energy Usage Summary,” March 18, 2016,
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Appendix. Federal Green Building Programs
Several agencies have programs and activities that have a broader focus than reducing the
environmental impacts of the facilities of that agency. Several such agencies are discussed below.
General Services Administration
The General Services Administration manages about 425 million square feet of space in over
8,500 buildings, providing workspace for over 1.2 million federal workers.247 In 2010, the agency
announced that it would require all GSA-owned new construction and major renovation projects
to be LEED-certified at the Gold level or above.248 Properties that GSA leases on behalf of
another agency may be either LEED or Green Globes certified at the Silver or Two Globes levels,
respectively.249 GSA’s Green Proving Ground program conducts evaluations of next-generation
building technologies and recommends those that meet agency standards for deployment
throughout GSA’s property holdings.250
Several offices contribute to GSA green building efforts, including the Energy Program,
Environment Program, Leasing Program, Office of Design and Construction, and the Office of
Federal High-Performance Green Buildings.251 EISA required GSA to establish the Office of
Federal High-Performance Green Buildings to coordinate activities relating to such buildings
across federal agencies (42 U.S.C. 17092). The office delivers actionable information to improve
building performance and conducts assessments on existing green buildings. It created and
maintains the Sustainable Facilities Tool (SF Tool), an interactive website supplying green
construction, purchasing, and operations resources and information to federal agencies and other
interested parties.252 Much of the research and recommendations generated by the office’s other
programs are made available on the SF Tool website. The Facility Management Institute is
another GSA initiative intended to assist agencies in improving the operations and management
of federal buildings.253
GSA has several green-building programs and projects that are the result of collaborations with
other agencies and offices. EISA (Sections 433 and 436) directed the Director of the Office of
Federal High-Performance Green Buildings to provide recommendations to the Secretary of
Energy on rating and certification systems that can be used by agencies for meeting federal green
building requirements, based on the results of a study to be conducted by the office every five

247 GSA, “FY2015 FRPP Open Data Set,” May 2016,;
GSA, “Strategic Plan: Fiscal Year 2014-2018,” July 2014,
248 GGSA, “GSA Moves to LEED Gold for All New Federal Buildings and Major Renovations” (Press Release,
October 28, 2010),
249 James C. Wisner, Assistant Commissioner, GSA, “Leasing Alert (LA-FY17-03)—Green Building Rating
Certification for New Construction and Tenant Interiors: LEED® and Green Globes,” Memorandum to Regional
Commissioners, Directors, and Officers (December 13, 2016),
250 GSA, “GPG Program,” November 2019,
251 For more on GSA’s sustainability programs related to buildings, see GSA, “Sustainable GSA: Buildings,” 2017,
252 GSA, “Sustainable Facilities Tool,” 2017,
253 GSA, “Facility Management Institute,” May 31, 2017,
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years (42 U.S.C. §6834(a)(3); 42 U.S.C. §17092).254 The office must also coordinate with DOE
on commercial high-performance green building activities under EISA.
GSA and DOE co-chair the Interagency Sustainable Working Group (ISWG), which serves as a
forum for information exchange and promotes agency implementation of goals for federal
sustainable buildings.255 GSA participates in climate adaptation planning for buildings as part of
the Agency Adaptation Planning Working Group, which is a subgroup in the Interagency Climate
Change Task Force. GSA was also a leader in the interagency effort to develop sustainable design
principles for the federal government, culminating in the development of the Whole Building
Design Guide.256
GSA has also collaborated with the Department of Health and Human Services and New York
City agencies to develop FITWEL, a voluntary certification program to promote occupant health
and wellness through the design of workplaces.257
Department of Energy
Most of the external green building activities of the Department of Energy relate to the energy
element (see “Elements of Green Building”), through the Building Technologies Office (BTO),
the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP), and the Weatherization and Intergovernmental
Programs Office of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).258
BTO 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 appliance and
equipment standards,259 transfer of relevant technologies to the marketplace, and integrated
design of energy-efficient buildings.
BTO has several notable programs, including:
 Building America260 is a DOE-building industry R&D partnership focused on a
whole-building, integrated approach to improving energy savings in residential

254 The act requires the Director to identify a green building certification system that the Director “deems to be most
likely to encourage a comprehensive and environmentally sound approach to certification of green buildings.” For new
construction or major renovation projects, GSA recommends that agencies choose between USGBC’s LEED
certification system (version 4.0), and GBI’s Green Globes certification system (version 2013). For existing buildings,
GSA recommends that agencies choose from among five certification systems: Building Owners and Managers
Association (BOMA) BEST Sustainable Buildings (version 3.0), BREEAM In-Use USA (version 2016), Green Globes
(version 2013), USGBC’s LEED (version 4.0), and Living Building Challenge (version 3.1). Letter from Emily W.
Murphy, Administrator of GSA, to Rick Perry, Secretary of DOE, September 16, 2019,
255 CEQ, Office of Federal Sustainability, Implementing Instructions for Executive Order 13834 Efficient Federal
, April 2019, p. 40,
256 GSA, “Sustainability Matters,” 2008,
257 GSA, 2016 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan, June 30, 2016,
258 DOE, “Building Technologies Office,” 2017, Also,
see other DOE programs, such as Solar Energy Technologies.
259 For information on DOE enforcement of equipment standards established by EPACT 2005 and other legislation, see
DOE, “Appliance and Equipment Standards Program,” 2017,
260 DOE, “Building America: Bringing Building Innovations to Market,” 2017,
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 The Commercial Buildings Integration program implements initiatives related to
energy savings in commercial buildings, including improving building design,
accelerating market adoption of high-efficiency technologies, and increasing
access to building performance data.261
 The Better Buildings Alliance is a public-private partnership that promotes
energy efficiency in commercial buildings through collaboration with members
of the U.S. commercial building community.262
 Energy Star is a joint program between DOE and EPA that uses voluntary
labeling to promote energy-efficient products. Zero Energy Ready Home is a
recognition program that builds on the requirements of Energy Star and EPA’s
Indoor airPLUS program to recognize builders that achieve a minimum energy
efficiency improvement of 40% over the average new home.263
 The Building Performance Database provides public access to data on the energy
performance of commercial buildings.264
The Federal Energy Management Program assists federal agencies in implementing energy and
water management, including the designation required by EPACT 2005 of energy-efficient and
water-efficient products for purchase by agencies.265 FEMP provides assistance with procurement,
construction, operations, and maintenance. FEMP and GSA co-chair the ISWG, which serves as a
forum for information exchange and promotes agency implementation of goals for federal
sustainable buildings.266 FEMP also collects data and issues reports annually on energy
consumption by agencies and on related topics.267 FEMP was formally authorized by the Energy
Act of 2020 (Division Z of P.L. 116-260).
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.268 Some of DOE’s national laboratories also perform R&D relating
to green buildings. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) funds R&D for
early-stage energy-related technologies, including several projects focused on developing
innovative, energy-efficient heating and cooling systems for buildings.269

261 DOE, Building Technologies Office, “Commercial Building Activities,”
262 DOE, Better Buildings Initiative, “About the Better Buildings Alliance,” Department of Energy, 2017,
263 DOE, “Guidelines for Participating in the DOE Zero Energy Ready Home,” 2017,
264 DOE, “Building Performance Database,” 2017,
265 DOE, “Federal Energy Management Program,” 2017,
266 CEQ, Office of Federal Sustainability, Implementing Instructions for Executive Order 13834 Efficient Federal
, April 2019, p. 40,
267 DOE, “Federal Facility Reporting Requirements and Performance Data,” 2017,
268 See EIA, “Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS),” Department of Energy, 2017;EIA,
“Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS),” Department of Energy, 2017.
269 DOE, “ARPA-E Programs,” 2017,
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Environmental Protection Agency
The Environmental Protection Agency has a broad range of programs and activities relating to
one or more of the main elements of green building. Programs and activities include:
Energy. EPA originated the ENERGY STAR program. The ENERGY STAR
Portfolio Manager can be used to measure, track, and benchmark building energy
use. The agency’s Green Power Partnership supports the procurement of power
from renewable resources by government and private-sector organizations.
Water. EPA administers WaterSense, a voluntary labeling program established in
2006 to promote water efficiency. Manufacturers may earn WaterSense labels for
their products, and landscape-irrigation professionals can be certified under the
program. WaterSense-labelled products and services are independently certified
to be at least 20% more water efficient than average.270 The Green Infrastructure
Collaborative and related activities promote community adoption of green
infrastructure, a stormwater management approach that uses vegetation, soils,
permeable pavements, and other practices to reduce stormwater runoff and
maintain or restore natural water filtration and storage in built environments.271
Materials and Waste. The Sustainable Materials Management (SMM)272
program encourages a life-cycle materials management approach that seeks to
reduce environmental and human health impacts associated with materials use,
from extraction to disposal. SMM provides resources for governments and
businesses on assessing and reducing material use, purchasing recycled materials,
and increasing recycling and reuse of construction and demolition materials.
SMM programs include WasteWise, a public/private partnership in which
participants set goals and report progress on preventing waste, expanding
recycling, and increasing purchasing of recycled materials; and the Federal Green
Challenge, which encourages government agencies to reduce their waste
footprint and water usage, among other goals.
The Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) Program273 assists federal agencies in
meeting green purchasing requirements. The Comprehensive Procurement Guideline
program identifies recycled products that comply with RCRA requirements.274
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 Air Quality Program provides information and tools to
ensure the protection of indoor environmental quality in schools, residences, and
commercial buildings. Indoor airPLUS is a voluntary partnership and labeling
program that specifies minimum air quality design features for homes.

270 EPA, “About WaterSense,”
271 EPA, “Green Infrastructure Collaborative,” January 13, 2017,
272 EPA, “Sustainable Materials Management,” July 25, 2017,
273 EPA, “About the Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program,” March 23, 2017,
274 EPA, “Comprehensive Procurement Guideline (CPG) Program,” 2017,
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Siting. The Smart Location Database275 is a nationwide geographic data resource
that measures neighborhood characteristics such as housing density,
neighborhood design, and transit accessibility to produce a measurement of a
location’s siting efficiency.276 The agency also has a variety of programs and
activities relating to smart growth and sustainability.
EPA has also published resources on implementing green building policies for local governments
and tribal communities.277
Department of Defense
The Department of Defense has the largest building footprint in the federal government, with a
portfolio that contains more than 279,000 buildings covering approximately 2.3 billion square
feet and located across thousands of sites worldwide.278
DOD issues its own requirements for department-owned buildings and facilities under the Unified
Facilities Criteria (UFC) program.279 UFC documents contain technical criteria and standards
relating to the planning, design, construction, operations, and maintenance of DOD facilities.280
Two recently issued UFC documents contain requirements relating to green building:
UFC 1-200-02 High Performance and Sustainable Building Requirements
(2020) provides guidance toward complying with the minimum building
requirements for federal buildings established by EISA, EPACT 2005, the
Guiding Principles, and E.O. 13693. All new construction and major renovations
must comply with these criteria.
UFC 3-210-10 Low Impact Development (2020) provides guidance for
complying with EISA provisions governing stormwater management by using
low-impact development (LID) techniques aimed at infiltrating and storing
stormwater in order to restore site hydrology and mitigate adverse effects of
Some of the DOD service branches have created their own branch-wide green building goals and
initiatives. The Army issued a directive in 2014, expanding a Net Zero Installations pilot project
into an Army-wide initiative.282 The Air Force uses Sustainability Development Indicators to

275 The Smart Location Calculator was developed with assistance from GSA (GSA, 2016 Strategic Sustainability
Performance Plan
, June 30, 2016,
276 EPA, “Smart Location Mapping,” April 20, 2017,
277 EPA, “Location and Green Building,” March 29, 2017,
278 DOD, “Base Structure Report Fiscal Year 2018 Baseline,”
279 John Conger, Acting Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment, “Department of
Defense Sustainable Buildings Policy,” Memorandum to Assistant Secretaries and Directors (November 10, 2013),
280 Whole Building Design Guide, “Department of Defense: Unified Facilities Criteria Program,” 2017,
281 DOD, “United Facilities Criteria (UFC): Low Impact Development,” UFC 3 210-10 (March 1, 2020),
282 John M. McHugh, Secretary of the Army, “Army Directive 2014-02 (Net Zero Installations Policy),” Memorandum
for SEE Distribution (January 28, 2014),
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ensure that installation development plans consider a wide range of environmental impact areas
and performance elements.283
In December 2016, DOD and EPA signed a Memorandum of Understanding listing goals to work
together to implement sustainable and resilient military installations, promote a sustainable and
resilient natural and built infrastructure, and to engage DOD installations as test beds for
innovative technologies.284
Office of Federal Sustainability
The position of Federal Chief Sustainability Officer was originally established under the title of
the Federal Environmental Executive in 1993 by Executive Order 12873.285 Executive Orders
13423, 13693, and 13834 broadened that position to include an Office of the Federal
Environmental Executive in the CEQ, later renamed the Office of the Chief Sustainability Officer,
and extended the duties to include assisting and monitoring the implementation by agencies of the
order, including its green building requirements, and advising the Council on Environmental
National Institute of Standards and Technology
The green building efforts of the National Institute of Standards and Technology are housed in
NIST’s Engineering Laboratory.287 The Sustainable and Energy-Efficient Manufacturing,
Materials, and Infrastructure Program focuses on improvements in measurement science and data
relating especially to intelligent building systems, sustainably engineered materials, and achieving
net-zero energy buildings with high indoor air quality.
A component of this program is the Net-Zero Energy High-Performance Buildings Program,
which is focused on developing building metrics for overall building sustainability and reducing
building energy usage through improvements in specific component areas.288 The Net-Zero
Energy Residential Test Facility (NZERTF), developed under this program, is a laboratory and
demonstration facility dedicated to the development of measurement science needed to achieve
net-zero energy homes.289 NIST has also developed Building for Environmental and Economic

283 DOD, “Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan FY2016.”
284 DOD and EPA, “Memorandum of Understanding Between the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for
Energy, Installations and Environment and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Research and
Development, Office of Policy,” February 2017,
285 Executive Order 12873, Federal Acquisition, Recycling, and Waste Prevention, October 20, 1993,
286 Per Executive Order 13834, EPA is directed to provide funding to the Council of Environmental Quality through the
Office of Environmental Quality Management Fund. Executive Order E.O. 13834, “Efficient Federal Operations,” 83
Federal Register 23771, May 17, 2018,
287 NIST, “About EL,” NIST, September 26, 2016,
288 NIST, “Net-Zero Energy, High-Performance Buildings Program,” July 17, 2017,
289 NIST, “Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility,” July 23, 2013,
documents/2017/04/28/netzerofinal.pdf; National Institute of Standards and Technology, “Net-Zero Energy Residential
Test Facility (NZERTF),” June 1, 2016,
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Sustainability (BEES),290 a software tool that uses life-cycle assessment methods to facilitate the
selection of environmentally preferable building products.
NIST has also helped to add resources on climate resiliency for buildings to the U.S. Climate
Resilience Toolkit,291 through participation in the Community Resilience Panel for Buildings and
Infrastructure Systems, which it cosponsors.292
Department of Housing and Urban Development
The Department of Housing and Urban Development administers several mortgage insurance and
home-financing programs that contain provisions intended to encourage the adoption of green
building elements in public housing.293 As an incentive for multifamily properties owned by
participants of DOE’s Better Buildings Challenge, the Office of Multifamily Housing Programs
established a Management Add-On Fee incentive to address potential market and policy barriers
to owners to “green” their properties.294 HUD has identified four categories of applicable add-on
fees: operations and maintenance, tenant engagement, data collection, and benchmarking. The
add-on fee incentive is intended to help owners of HUD-insured and HUD-assisted properties
who are participants of the Better Buildings Challenge to pay for the additional cost of energy and
water efficiency improvements.295 The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) administers the
Energy Efficient Mortgage Program, a program intended to enable homeowners and buyers to
finance the cost of energy-efficiency improvements through their FHA-insured mortgage.296 The
Public Housing Capital Fund and the Public Housing Operating Fund provide funding to Public
Housing Agencies that may be used to make energy and water efficiency improvements.297 In
addition, energy performance contracting—which uses the cost savings from reduced energy
consumption to repay the cost of implementing energy and water conservation measures—is
available for public housing.298

290 NIST, “BEES,” December 23, 2016,
291 United States Global Change Research Program, “U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit,” May 17, 2015,
292 Other cosponsors include EPA, HUD’s Office of Economic Resilience, Federal Emergency Management Agency,
and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Infrastructure Protection.
293 In addition to these, several HUD initiatives have been short-term and have concluded. These initiatives include a
budget neutral demonstration program for energy and water conservation improvements at multifamily residential
units, which was active through FY2019 (Sec. 81001 of Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, P.L.
114-94); the Multifamily Energy Innovation Fund, which was available through FY2013 (Consolidated Appropriations
Act, 2010, P.L. 111-117); and the Green Retrofit Program for HUD multifamily housing, which was funded through
the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, P.L. 111-5.
294 HUD and DOE expanded the Better Buildings Challenge (BBC) in December 2013 to include multifamily
buildings; HUD, “Moving to the Next Level: Progress Report and Energy Update Report,” Report to Congress Section
154, Energy Policy Act of 2005
, August 2016, p. 24,
295 HUD, “Multifamily Better Buildings Challenge Incentive: Allowable Management Add-On Fees Revised,”
memorandum, September 19, 2014,
296 For more on the Energy Efficient Mortgage Program, see HUD, “Energy Efficient Mortgage Program,” 2017, In addition, FHA includes
guidance regarding accounting for energy efficiency improvements in appraisals and FHA-insured loan qualifications,
see FHA, Single Family Housing Policy Handbook, v. 4000.1, August 2019, pp. 332 and 600,
297 See HUD, “Public Housing Programs,” 2017,
298 See HUD, “Energy Performance Contracting,”
programs/ph/phecc/eperformance. For more information on energy savings performance contracts in the federal
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government generally, see CRS Report R45411, Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPCs) and Utility Energy
Service Contracts (UESCs), by Corrie E. Clark.
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HUD also administers the Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes Program, which conducts
research and provides grants to reduce home health hazards relating to lead-based paint, exposure
to mold, moisture, poor indoor air quality, pesticides, dust, and other substances that contribute to
poor health outcomes.299 The FY2020 appropriations law set aside $5 million from the Healthy
Homes Initiative to provide grants in up to five communities “to demonstrate whether the
coordination of Healthy Homes remediation activities with weatherization activities achieves cost
savings and better outcomes in improving the safety and quality of homes.”300 HUD released a
notice of funding availability (NOFA) for the Healthy Homes and Weatherization Cooperation
Demonstration in September 2020.301

Author Information

Corrie E. Clark

Analyst in Energy Policy

A special thanks goes to Adam Mann, a research assistant at CRS, who helped structure this report and
provided research and analysis. He also drafted parts of the report and edited others. This report builds
upon a report authored by Eric Fischer, a retired senior specialist in science and technology, and Danielle
Arostegui, a former research associate.

This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan
shared staff to congressional committees and Members of Congress. It operates solely at the behest of and
under the direction of Congress. Information in a CRS Report should not be relied upon for purposes other
than public understanding of information that has been provided by CRS to Members of Congress in
connection with CRS’s institutional role. CRS Reports, as a work of the United States Government, are not
subject to copyright protection in the United States. Any CRS Report may be reproduced and distributed in
its entirety without permission from CRS. However, as a CRS Report may include copyrighted images or
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copy or otherwise use copyrighted material.

299 HUD, “Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes (OLHCHH),” 2017,
300 P.L. 116-94; 113 Stat. 2998.
301 HUD, FY2020 Healthy Homes and Weatherization Cooperation Demonstration Program NOFA, available at
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