What is ‘green building’?
Green building is the practice of increasing the efficiency with which buildings use resources — energy, water, and materials — while reducing building impacts on human health and the environment, through better siting, design, construction, operation, maintenance, and removal — the complete building life cycle.
A similar concept is natural building, which is usually on a smaller scale and tends to focus on the use of natural materials that are available locally. Other commonly used terms include “sustainable design” and “green architecture.”
The related concepts of sustainable development and sustainability are integral to green building. Effective green building can lead to 1) reduced operating costs by increasing productivity and using less energy and water, 2) improved public and occupant health due to improved indoor air quality, and 3) reduced environmental impacts by, for example, lessening storm water runoff and the heat island effect. Practitioners of green building often seek to achieve not only ecological but aesthetic harmony between a structure and its surrounding natural and built environment, although the appearance and style of sustainable buildings is not necessarily distinguishable from their less sustainable counterparts.
The environmental impact of buildings
Buildings have a profound effect on the environment, which is why green building practices are so important to reduce and perhaps one day eliminate those impacts.
In the United States, buildings account for:
between 40 and 49% of total energy use
25% of total water consumption
70% of total electricity consumption
38% of total carbon dioxide emissions
However, the environmental impact of buildings is often underestimated, while the perceived costs of building green are overestimated. A recent survey by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development finds that green costs are overestimated by 300%, as key players in real estate and construction estimate the additional cost at 17% above conventional construction, more than triple the true average cost difference of about 5%.