A beginner’s guide to green building

Do you want to construct structures built for the future? The effects of climate change and the scarcity of natural resources are more prevalent by the day. It’s important for engineers, architects, and everyone else to choose green building. With that in mind, here’s our complete beginner’s guide to green building.

What is Green Building?

green building

There are many definitions surrounding green building, but the definition from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is an excellent one to start with. It lets you understand that green building isn’t just about the structure itself. Instead, it includes both structures and the processes in their life cycle.

Simply put, green building is about constructing structures and utilizing processes that are not only efficient in resources but also responsible toward the environment; it’s not considered green building if these two characteristics aren’t met.

In fact, these requirements are why green building is synonymous as well with sustainable building and high-performance building. The traditional structures we build are already concerned with sturdiness, convenience, and affordability — green building just adds in the environmental and resource aspects.

The Life Cycle of a Building

Green building is concerned with the entire life cycle of structures. What’s a life cycle? The first step is to find the ideal construction site. Once the location is set, workers can then focus on the design of the building and the surrounding area. These first two steps can already take months due to all the revisions.

After the company or firm finalizes the design, the construction can begin. Manual labourers, engineers, and architects work together for months of years. Upon the complete building construction, the process shifts to operation and maintenance. These ensure that day-to-day activities run smoothly.

life cycle building

If the company decides to change a sizable portion of the building by a significant degree, renovation can take place. This once again involves design and construction, but green building doesn’t stop there — even the process of taking the building down must have efficiency and the environment in mind.

For Individuals and Businesses Alike

It may sound daunting to the average citizen, but anyone can apply the principles of green building in their own small ways. Even if you just utilize one of the processes we mentioned earlier, you still contribute to a more sustainable way of building.

For example, big companies who own massive structures such malls and theater chains can use solar panels. This reduces their electricity bills and improves their energy efficiency. As for homeowners, they can change to energy-efficient appliances and plant trees to add shade in a natural manner.

But for the most part, the ideal version of green building each and every process of the life cycle of structures. Thus, it’s important to take note of terms and technical aspects, which we’ll go through in a bit.

What are the 3 Benefits of Green Building?

Banking on green building can get costly, but the benefits are numerous. The advantages go beyond the individual — they are economic, environmental, and social. Green building is as beneficial to the regular employee as to governments and corporations. Plus, you can reap these benefits for the long run.

Cognitive and Health Benefits

There are proven benefits to individuals residing in green buildings. Even the simple addition of windows can help employees sleep longer hours each day. For one, green buildings improve air quality indoors, which improves performance.

How does air quality improve? It involves the reduction of pollutants in the air such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and particulate matter. Green buildings can lower the concentration levels of carbon dioxide as well. Furthermore, a well-designed structure can improve the air circulation inside.


In fact, one amazing finding is that an office with proper ventilation can boost the cognitive functions of employees by more than 100 percent. Workers are able to gain better mental clarity by a significant margin. In other words, they have more time to stay focus rather than to get distracted all the time.

Environmental Benefits

It’s not green building if it does not serve the needs of the environment. Climate change is real. Humans destroy more of the natural world with each passing day. Why? Society needs more residential areas and business districts. Likewise, we need raw materials to build structures and to manufacture goods.

Thus, it’s essential that people create buildings with fewer resources. These structures must last long enough to serve multiple generations. Otherwise, it’s not a worthy investment. Thankfully, green buildings encourage people to design structures that have small-scale and large-scale impacts.

Small-Scale Environmental Benefits

Structures that receive the relevant green building certifications are energy efficient. This does not only save companies money but it also saves more water and electricity, which may come from harmful coal-fired power plants. Also, a reduction in water use keeps the demand for it at a stable level.

The best green buildings can reduce their utility costs by 50 percent. What’s even better is that these findings aren’t exclusive to one country or region. Green buildings have shown their environmental benefits in Australia, India, South Africa, and the United States, among others.

Environmental Benefits on a Global Scale

There are clear, detectable advantages in switching to green building. However, there is a bigger goal to keep in mind. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, residential and real estate firms have the biggest capacity to reduce their overall greenhouse gas emissions.

If the sector succeeds, it can help slow down climate change. How? Fewer greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would allow more heat to escape. This can then mitigate global warming — limiting the increase in temperatures to just two degrees by 2050.

Economic Benefits

Of course, what will attract public and private entities the most in green building is the economic rewards. That’s just the truth — people want to earn money. If they expect to gain financial benefits from something, they will be more willing to invest.

For one, businesses can a good amount of money from all the energy servings. This allows them to use their financial resources on other things: employee training, better IT infrastructure, and research and development. Similarly, homeowners will have more savings if they have lower water and electricity bills.

Construction firms will have lower expenses with the use of sustainable and efficient resources.  Likewise, real estate owners can expect an increase in their assets since green buildings have a higher value than the regular ones. And lastly, a boom in green building will generate more jobs.

4 Approaches to Green Building

Now that you know what green building and its benefits are, how exactly do you start applying it? Well, it’s a matter of choice. There are several guides you can follow from the design to the construction process.

Green Building Tools

building tools

A tool in the context of green building is a way to analyze a particular element of the building or the process. It’s sometimes considered a standard as well, which is another approach. Likewise, tools are mentioned in codes and certification systems — the two other approaches in green building.

Some of the elements that tools can assess include the quality of the construction materials, the energy efficiency of the building, and the quality of indoor air circulation. The Impact Estimator and EcoCalculator from the Athena Sustainable Materials Institute (ASMI) are two popular software tools.

In particular, the Athena Impact Estimator for Buildings helps people create sustainable and durable models — even if they don’t seek professional assistance from architects and engineers. The tool also makes simulations of energy use to analyze how well the structure can utilize power on a regular basis.

Green Building Standards

You can think of standards as comprehensive tools. They are used to assess every aspect of green buildings instead of focusing on just one or two parts. In particular, these standards can get very technical with their requirements. If you want to meet the standard, you have to know all the segments.

There are numerous standards for green buildings, but one characteristic they all share is that professionals and experts created them — professors, architects, scientists, among others. Harvard University has its own green building standards based on the leaders in green building.

green building

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has the ASHRAE Standard 189.1. It aims to improve the environmental and health benefits of green buildings. However, it’s not applicable to low-rise structures such as mobile homes and single-family homes.

Green Building Codes

What distinguishes this approach from the others is that it’s a public matter. It is the government that sets the codes through laws and policies. Ordinary citizens can help improve codes by participating in public forums. Here, they can have formal discussions and reach a decision through voting.

Similar to the first two approaches, green building codes can take the form of tools and standards. How? Well, there are tools extensive enough to become standards. Likewise, the state usually looks into reliable standards when it needs to create green building codes.

Green Building Certification Systems

The approach that has arguably become the most prominent among all is the certification system. Many other industries have them. In green building, the concept of ratings and performance levels applies as well. If a structure lands high scores in all the requirements, it can receive the highest rating.

The LEED Certification System

If there’s one system to follow, it’s this. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification system is the product of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). It has all the necessary technical expertise and resources to evaluate green buildings.

LEED is at the forefront of assessing green buildings. In fact, LEED has already evaluated a total area of more than 10 billion square feet since its inception. It checks almost two million square feet of building space on a regular basis — and that number is only going to grow bigger by the day.

Any green building is up for a LEED certification. Whether you have a house or a hospital building, you can have it assessed. The certification system will grade everything. You will get a score for how you designed and constructed the structure. Also, LEED checks both operating and maintenance processes.

The Necessity for LEED

LEED is your best bet in having your green building evaluated by a renowned certification system. However, the fact that it’s the world’s number one choice doesn’t mean it’s mandatory. It’s up to you whether your green building abides by LEED standards or not.

After all, it’s not the only way to identify what needs to change in your current green building processes. There are other approaches that may work for you better. However, its framework is hard to beat. So if you want a thorough green building guide, you should still seek the LEED certification program.

LEED BD+C 4.1 Credit Categories

The LEED for Building Design and Construction (LEED B+C) is the main framework for green building under the certification system. Version 4.0 has been around for quite some time, but 4.1 is the program’s most recent and comprehensive yet.

Under the LEED BD+C rating system, there are six categories with their own set of requirements that can earn you points. A total of 40 points gets you a Certified LEED rating. A score of 50 is enough for Silver while you’ll need 60 points for Gold. The highest LEED rating is Platinum, which is at 80 points and above.

Even if you don’t intend to use the certification system approach, we highly advise looking at the following credit categories. They should at least give you an idea of what to expect in the world of green building.

1) Location & Transportation (LT)

This category encourages green building developers to think thoroughly about the surrounding area. It should be close to areas such as markets, parks, and restaurants — allowing the occupants of the green building to do common activities without having to drive for several miles.

It’s also about alternative, healthier forms of transportation: public transit, walking, and biking. Thus, LT is concerned with how well the green building can improve the behavior of its residents. And if you take note of the community and the structures that already exist, you can allocate your resources better.

2) Sustainable Sites (SS)

SS ensures that green building developers will do whatever can to not affect the proximate ecosystems. In other words, you need to have a thorough assessment of your site before you begin construction. Your structure should not affect any bodies of water and other ecosystems.

The category aims to reduce the overall pollution output during the construction phase. And when the structure is finished, it should not lead to noise pollution and light pollution — these can disorientate animals and lead to long-term behavioral problems.

3) Water Efficiency

While there is more water than land on Earth, there is not enough fresh water to serve a growing population. There are already at least seven billion people in the world — and they all need potable water on a daily basis. Thus, water conservation is essential in green building.

The WE category looks into a structure’s water sources. It should not rely on potable water. Instead, a green building should have the capacity to reuse wastewater, rainwater, and other alternative sources. Moreover, any toxic wastewater should not go into bodies of water.

4) Energy & Atmosphere (EA)

Structures should not rely on harmful and scarce energy sources for the long run. The continued use of coal and fossil fuel is harmful to the plane. This is why EA espouses energy efficiency. For example, you can construct a building in such a way that it can utilize sunlight for lighting during the day.

You should look into materials that enable passive heating or cooling systems. A green building may offer better air circulation to its tenants, thanks to its smart design. Likewise, EA is about renewable sources of energy — green buildings that can harness wind or solar energy can reduce their operating costs.

5) Material & Resources (ME)

The ME credit category looks into how well you utilize all your materials. Around 40 percent of solid waste in the U.S. comes from the building industry — these include the materials not only during construction but also in the dismantling process.

It wants all resources to not come from sustainable resources. Likewise, you must extract raw materials and transport the items in the most efficient manner. Rather than dumping solid waste in landfills, you should look for ways to segregate, reuse, and recycle the materials.

6) Indoor Environmental Quality (EQ)

It’s essential for green buildings to improve the health of their occupants. The EQ credit category gives out points based on how well you can improve the interiors of the structure. Elements such as proper lighting and ventilation can help employees become more productive and comfortable at work.

Acoustic design is also important. Noise shouldn’t just go out of the rooms and distract those near to the building outside. On the same note, you should limit how much noise can travel from one room to another. Noise can affect the sleep quality of tenants and ruin the focus of employees and students.

7) Innovation (IN)

This is meant to reward sustainable features and designs that do not belong in any of the other credit categories. IN is a way for LEED to acknowledge new and distinct building strategies. Moreover, you get IN points if you surpass the maximum points of a given category due to how well the building performed.

8) Regional Priority (RP)

Finally, this category is about recognizing how some places have distinct issues to tackle. It recognizes how green buildings are not built in the same areas — that some zones have their distinct environmental problems. LEED provides RP credits points to those who address these local issues.

If the area of the structure is experiencing water shortages, you should find a way to reduce water use and improve the water-collecting capabilities of the structure. If the area has too much sunlight, you should design the building in such a way that it provides more shade and ventilation.


Overall, green building is about two things: the structure and the process. A green building goes beyond durability and affordability, which are the usual aspects of traditional buildings. It also adds in elements of sustainability and efficient material use at a time of climate change and scarce resources.

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