According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), buildings currently account for 39 percent of all energy, 12 percent of all water, and 68 percent of all electricity used in the United States, along with 38 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions produced. All of which adds up to one giant ecological footprint.
Buildings that are more energy efficient save on both natural resources and operational costs–two factors that, coupled with greater consumer awareness in recent years spurred by programs like LEED–have led to a massive surge in what is today known design wise as green building. Green building takes into account the way a structure uses energy and water, the types of materials used in construction, and how much waste the building creates, as well as its indoor air quality. Green building for developments also takes into account factors that help to create healthy neighborhoods and minimize urban sprawl.
Currently, the largest and most influential green building certification program in the United States is the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program. Introduced in 1998, this certification program scores how well a given building: (1) is sited in relationship to the surrounding environment, (2) uses water, (3) uses energy, (4) makes use of materials and resources, (5) creates a healthy indoor environment, (6) connects with the surrounding community, and (7) addresses regional environmental issues. The better a building performs, the higher its score, determining whether the project qualifies for Silver, Gold or Platinum status. (The program also awards points for innovative design and tenant education.)