Issues in Green Building and the Federal Response: An Introduction

Source: Eric Fischer, Congressional Research Service, January 16, 2009

The construction, characteristics, operation, and demolition of buildings are increasingly recognized as a major source of environmental impact. Without significant transformation of building construction and operations, such impacts are expected to increase with population growth and changes in other demographic and economic factors. One strategy for achieving that transformation is most widely known by the term green building. However, the term is used differently by different proponents and practitioners, denoting a continuum of practices, from those differing minimally from standard practices, to those aimed at providing buildings with a minimum of environmental impact.

In general, green building can be characterized as integrated building practices that significantly reduce the environmental footprint of a building in comparison to standard practices. Descriptions of green building generally focus on a number of common elements, especially siting, energy, water, materials, waste, health, and serviceability.

One of the most salient features of green building is integration. Although individual elements can be addressed separately, the green building approach in more comprehensive, focusing on the environmental footprint of a building over its life cycle, from initial design and construction to operations during the building?s useful life, through eventual demolition and its aftermath.

The desire to integrate the various elements of green building has led to the development of rating and certification systems to assess how well a building project meets a specified set of green criteria. The best known system is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, it focuses on site, water, energy, materials, and indoor environment.

Green building raises issues relating to performance, cost, market penetration, and the approach itself. Among the questions the 111th Congress and the Obama Administration may face with respect to such issues are the following: How well are current green building programs working? How effective are current methods for coordinating the green building activities of different agencies? To what extent and by what means should Congress extend its efforts to facilitate and support the adoption and effective implementation of green building measures? What priorities should Congress give to the different elements of green building? What actions should Congress do to facilitate the growth of the scientific and technical knowledge base relating to green building?

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