• Brownfield Redevelopment
     • Green Building Standards
     • Accessory Dwelling Units

     • Historic Preservation
     • Main Street Program

     • Alt. Energy Ordinances
     • Stormwater Management

     • Smart Growth Code Fixes
     • Form-Based Codes
     • LEED-ND
     • Transit Oriented Dev.
     • Zoning Ordinances
     • Scenario Planning

     • Agricultural Security Areas
     • Clustered Subdivisions
     • Official Map Ordinance

     • Access Management
     • Complete Streets Policy
     • Impact Fees
     • Traffic Calming
     • Walkability

Green Building Standards

Illustration showing a hand holding a green house

Illustration showing a hand holding a green house

In the United States, buildings account for 72 percent of electricity consumption, 39 percent of energy use and 38 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. For Americans who spend a as much as 90 percent of their time inside, indoor air quality is also a serious concern. [i]
Addressing the problems surrounding the country’s building stock is a challenge being faced by federal, state and local government, which can push for better building stock in two ways: integrating green building standards into the building codes and subdivision ordinance requirements; and promoting existing programs or creating new ones.
The U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) uses independent verifiers to score a building or project based on several factors, including the types of construction materials used, siting of the project, use of climate-appropriate insulation, and others. Specific LEED programs have been developed for the different aspects of the built environment, such as neighborhood development and residential, commercial and renovations. [ii]  However, LEED certification may add significantly to the cost of a project.
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) operates the National Green Building Standard. This is a similar program but is aimed solely at residential construction. Provisions of the National Green Building Standard have been approved by the American National Standards Institute and certification is more easily attained. Research seems to suggest that the NAHB program adds less of a cost to the project, but may not achieve the same level of environmental performance as LEED-certified buildings.
In order to ensure that new building stock promotes these goals, many municipalities are adopting building codes that integrate some or all of the green building certification rating factors. The International Code Council produces model codes for local adoption that speak to sustainability factors and can be altered based on local preference. Other development codes like zoning and subdivision and land development ordinances can also be used to promote sustainable building and design. 
Municipalities can also promote green buildings through incentive programs. Pennsylvania currently runs a High Performance Building Program through the Department of Community and Economic Development and the Department of Energy. With a budget of $25 million, the program allocates grants and low-interest loans to home and small business owners whose construction projects receive NAHB or LEED certification.
Municipalities can establish their own incentive programs, as well. Waiving or refunding application and development fees, expediting permit applications and public recognition of projects that receive green building program certification are all methods being used to promote sustainable building practices.


  • More efficient use of building materials and land
  • Lower greenhouse gas emissions attributable to building stock
  • Lower heating/cooling bills for building occupants
  • Waste diversion from landfills


  • Increased building costs
  • Perception of too much government interference
  • Dearth of hard data to support green building advantages
  • Complicated enforcement

Practical Tips

  • Include developer community when strategizing green building techniques
  • Identify outside sources of funding for incentive programs including state and federal grants as well as public/private partnerships
  • Stay up to date on changes to green building best practices; LEED certification requirements and ICC model ordinances are updated regularly


[i] “The Inside Story: A Guide to indoor Air Quality” EPA website, Accessed 12/19/11
[ii] US Green Building Council Website,, Accessed 10/24/09