Nora Knox

Many of the elements of green building are not new or even unique. Before the widespread availability of inexpensive fossil fuels for energy use and transportation, builders understood the principles of passive design, capturing sunlight and wind for natural lighting, heating, and cooling. In many ways, green building represents a return to simpler, low-tech solutions. At the same time, there are now many high-tech strategies available to improve the performance of the built environment. Green building is about finding the best combination of solutions to create built environments that seamlessly integrate the best of the old and the new in intelligent and creative ways. 

USGBC was formed in 1993, a time when the field was beginning to define itself, to promote and encourage green building. A member-based organization, USGBC engages hundreds of thousands of individuals. The mission of USGBC is “to transform the way buildings and communities are designed, built and operated, enabling an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy, and prosperous environment that improves the quality of life.” USGBC supports achievement of this mission through education programs, advocacy, research, an extensive network of local chapters, and the LEED green building program. 

Soon after it was formed, USGBC began developing LEED for rating and certifying sustainability in the building industry. Experts identified characteristics and performance levels that contributed to a definition of a green building. The first LEED green building rating system was launched in 2000. In the decade that followed, LEED expanded to include systems to address the entire life-cycle of the built environment from land-use planning to operations. It now provides rating systems for a wide array of building types, such as offices, schools, retail establishments, homes, and neighborhoods.

The trend toward green building practices in the United States has quickened in the past decade, contributing to a transformation in the market of building products and services, as well as the demand for skilled professionals. As more green products and technologies become available, green building will become more mainstream. 

Federal, state, and local governments are among those adopting sustainable building practices and policies. For example, the largest federal property owners, the Department of Defense and General Services Administration have policies in place to pursue LEED certification in the new construction and major renovation rating system. Government agencies, utility companies, and manufacturers increasingly offer financial incentives for developers and owners to enhance the environmental performance of their buildings. The goal of LEED is market transformation—to fundamentally change how we design, build, and operate buildings and communities—through certification that honors levels of achievement in areas such as energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources. 

Download our guide, An Introduction to LEED and Green Building, to learn more