History of Green Buildings

Definition of Green Building

Green building is the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction. This practice expands and complements the classical building design concerns of economy, utility, durability, and comfort. Green building is also known as a sustainable or high performance building.

What is the history of green building in the U.S.?  

Some practices, such as using local and renewable materials or passive solar design, date back millennia – the Anasazi in the Southwest built entire villages so that all the homes received solar heat in the winter. The contemporary green building movement arose out of the need and desire for more energy efficient and environmentally friendly building practices. The oil price increases of the 1970s spurred significant research and activity to improve energy efficiency and find renewable energy sources. This, combined with the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s, led to the earliest experiments with contemporary green building.


The green building field began to come together more formally in the 1990s. A few early milestones in the U.S. include:

  • American Institute of Architects (AIA) formed the Committee on the Environment(1989).
  • Environmental Resource Guide published by AIA, funded by EPA (1992).
  • EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy launched the ENERGY STAR program(1992).
  • First local green building program introduced in Austin, TX (1992).
  • U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) founded (1993).
  • “Greening of the White House” initiative launched (Clinton Administration 1993).
  • USGBC launched their Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) 1.0 pilot program (1998).
  • “The Energy Policy Act of 2005” includes federal building sustainable performance standards (2005).
  • Nineteen federal agencies sign “Federal Leadership in High Performance and Sustainable Buildings Memorandum of Understanding” at a White House Summit (2006).
  • The Office of Management and Budget unveils a new Environmental Scorecard for federal agencies which includes a Sustainable Building element (2006).
  • President Bush signs “Executive Order 13423” which includes federal goals for sustainable design and high performance buildings (2007).
  • The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 includes requirements for high performance green federal buildings (2007).