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What is a green or sustainable building?

Hari Srinivas
Concept Note Series E-029. June 2015.

A green or sustainable building is a building that can maintain or improve:

  1. the quality of life and harmonize within the local climate, tradition, culture,
  2. the environment in the region,
  3. conserve energy, resources and recycling materials,
  4. reduce the amount hazardous substances to which human and other organisms are (or may be) exposed and
  5. the local and global ecosystem throughout the entire building life-cycle

Definitions of Green building on the Web:
  • A sustainable building, or green building is an outcome of a design philosophy which focuses on increasing the efficiency of resource use — energy, water, and materials — while reducing building impacts on human health and the environment during the building's lifecycle, through better siting, design, construction, operation, maintenance, and removal.[1] Though green building is interpreted in many different ways, a common view is that they should be designed and operated to reduce the overall impact of the built environment on human health and the natural environment by (a) Efficiently using energy, water, and other resources, (b) Protecting occupant health and improving employee productivity, and (c) Reducing waste, pollution and environmental degradation

  • A building designed to be ecologically correct by using resources efficiently, using internal recycling, renewable energy sources, recyclable or biodegradable construction materials, and blending in with the local environment, particularly in out-of-town locations. The aims are to reduce to a minimum the environmental impact, and to take human health factors into consideration.

  • A comprehensive process of design and construction that employs techniques to minimize adverse environmental impacts and reduce the energy consumption of a building, while contributing to the health and productivity of its occupants.

  • A movement in architectural and building circles aimed at creating structures that are occupant and environmentally friendly. Criteria such as sustainability, energy efficiency and healthfulness are considered.

  • Green or sustainable building is the practice of creating healthier and more resource-efficient models of construction, renovation, operation, maintenance, and demolition.


property designated as holding particular status as “environmentally friendly”. The term “sustainable” is often applied interchangeably with the green building designation. Sustainable design refers to such characteristics as a lowering of demands on the environment as a result of certain building characteristics: Low energy usage; reduced water usage; carbon neutral (i.e. no carbon dioxide emissions result from property operations – either directly, or indirectly).

No generally accepted standard has yet been established defining what specifically is required to attain green building status. Several factors are defined under the United States Green Building Council’s Leadership In Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program which awards ratings (silver, gold, and platinum) under its format, but no clear definition of “Green” has been established to inform which characteristics must be included in a property to qualify for the definition. Instead there is a relatively substantial list of possible elements which can contribute to a development receiving “Green” designation:

  • Conversion of a prior Brownfields site.
  • Building site positioning to take advantage of energy efficiencies.
  • Materials selection – Sensitivity to indoor air quality conditions; avoidance of use of volatile, organic compounds.
  • Use of renewable energy sources – Solar electric; wind generated electric; geothermal, or solar thermal, heating.
  • Carbon neutral – the property’s operations will not result in carbon dioxide emissions released into the atmosphere, either incurred directly by the building, or indirectly by suppliers of energy to the building.
  • Energy efficiency – Materials providing isolative qualities in roofing, walls, windows, or energy absorption in extreme climates; reflective coatings in warm climates.
  • Sharing of parking structures with other uses (i.e. as in a mixed-use development).
  • Low energy usage – High SEER rated air conditioning; energy efficient lighting, and appliances.
  • Building Design – Making use of daylight to illuminate interiors; use of natural ventilation.
  • Water Use Reduction – Rainwater retention systems; drought-tolerant plantings; low water usage showerheads and toilets.
  • Public Transportation Proximity – Public transit-served locations allowing residents to travel by public transportation to and from their occupation or entertainment venues without need for automobile travel.
While it is expected that a generally accepted Green definition will evolve, currently green-building status is more frequently conferred by municipalities under locally defined guidelines. And what seems relevant to one area’s definition does not necessarily fit into another’s.


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