Sustainable or “green” building is the concept of using resources more efficiently while creating more energy-efficient and sustainable homes, offices, schools and other buildings. The increased popularity of green building design and construction has given rise to a variety of approaches that aim to guide architects, designers, materials specifiers and builders in how to build “green.” The following are just a few examples of these approaches:


Often developed by professionals, engineers and building scientists, comprehensive whole green building standards generally segment requirements into separate chapters such as energy efficiency, indoor air quality, sustainable site selection and materials and resource use. They often set minimum benchmarks for performance and focus heavily on detailed specifications. The comprehensive whole green building standard is achieved if all required specifications are met.


Green building codes are established by law as mandatory building requirements adopted by a state or local jurisdiction. Adopted codes are often based on established standards, and “model” code language is developed by building compliance professionals with input from stakeholders. Currently, model codes are revised and updated on a continual basis an open, public forum where amendments are proposed, debated and voted upon.

Certification Systems

Green building certification systems have become increasingly popular in the last 10 years. They often include requirements that are separated into chapters, which contain a list of potential “credits” for accomplishing performance levels in the respective performance categories. Users of these systems accrue “credits” to achieve certification to green building, which can result in differentiated “ratings,” such as silver, gold and platinum.


Green building tools enable analyses of specific aspects of sustainable or “green” building, such as energy efficiency modeling, indoor air quality analysis or materials screening and evaluation. These tools can be standards themselves, and are sometimes referenced in whole green building systems, codes and certification systems. Several tools referred to by some of the leading green building approaches are:

Green Building Approaches by Building Type

Historically, many green building systems, and codes have been created purposefully to apply to a particular segment of the building and construction market. The grid below shows the specific scope of several green building approaches in use today, in the residential and non-residential/ commercial sectors:

In addition, some green building approaches are targeted to even more specific kinds of buildings – for example, the ASHRAE 189.3 standard is being developed to focus primarily on the design of green health care facilities.

Earn LEED credit for materials lifecycle analysis, hazard and exposure assessment through two pilot credits offered by the U.S. Green Building Council. See LEED pilot credit options, or browse all CEU courses.