Multi-State Agenda: Green Buildings

Implementing more robust, or strengthening, state green building standards in new construction projects and renovations can help reduce the impact buildings have on our environment. Green building or sustainable building 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 life cycle, through better design, construction, and operation. Enacting state laws that enable municipal energy financing programs (the financing of energy improvements such as renewable energy, water conservation, and energy efficiency improvements via municipal loans tied to a property, not the homeowner) can provide municipalities and residents with a powerful mechanism capable of overcoming financial barriers that oftentimes impede the installation of energy improvements. Since municipal energy financing has limited or no upfront costs for consumers and can be basically budget neutral for the government, it offers a unique opportunity to implement energy improvements that can help make existing buildings more environmentally friendly.

Table of Contents:
- Summary of Policy
- Key Provisions and Why Green Buildings Policy Matters
- Messaging on Green Buildings: Why Go Green?
- Supporting a Green Buildings Campaign
- PSN Support in Your States

Summary of Policy

With ever rising energy costs, promoting green buildings is a key tool for promoting lower costs and a better environment for the future.  As part of our multi-state shared agenda, the Progressive States Network is working to promote green buildings legislation as a key policy solution.  As climate change and environmental degradation continue to challenge policymakers, state leaders have the opportunity to promote solutions that reduce the emission of toxins and increase energy efficiency while pledging to create jobs and protect the environment. To this end, we propose model legislation that encompasses the following key provisions:

  • Mandate standards for public buildings and retrofits;
  • enable municipal financing options for existing and new buildings;
  • encourage good jobs and skilled worker training; and
  • use recovery funds to promote green standards for residential weatherization programs.

To that end, PSN has worked with allies to produce the following model green buildings bill based on best practices from around the country.

Green Buildings Model Legislation

Key Provisions and Why Green Buildings Policy Matters

Government has the opportunity to pave the way for private industry to meet environmental standards.  The list of elected officials introducing policies in cities, towns and states across the country is growing. According to the U.S. Green Buildings Council, legislation using LEED standards includes executive orders, resolutions, ordinances, policies, and incentives, which are found in 45 states, including 194 localities (130 cities, 36 counties, and 28 towns), 34 state governments, 13 federal agencies or departments, 17 public school jurisdictions and 39 institutions of higher education across the country.

Why Green Buildings Policy Matters:  Energy efficiency standards for public buildings can save significant amounts of taxpayer money, while providing a healthier, more productive workplaces for employees.  Other provisions will allow cities, counties and states to erect new buildings and retrofit existing buildings according to green standards for the operation and maintenance of existing buildings.

Green building legislation should include job creation and training to ensure that buildings can be built and maintained based on green standards.  Training for green jobs is particularly important as more and more public and private builders follow environmental building standards like LEED (developed by the U.S. Green Buildings Council).  And, to encourage more local governments to create jobs and invest in energy efficient buildings, authority must be given to cities and towns to determine programming and funding opportunities.

There are currently opportunities to use Federal recovery funds to create green jobs and promote environmentally sound infrastructure/buildings.  Many states have utilized recovery funds for weatherization programs to ensure that residential units are energy efficient, and giving property owners substantial savings on their utility bills.  This is not simply a job creation opportunity as states struggle with high unemployment rates, but it also saves homeowners money while promoting wise energy practices.

Each state may have their own way of going about green building policy, and we recognize that one model bill cannot suit all needs.  The model legislation we propose includes best practices from legislation around the country and suggestions from leading experts in the field.  There are many opportunities in this legislation to replace language to reflect specific needs within your state.

Key provisions in the model bill include:

  • Standards for public buildings and retrofits: Require that new building construction and changes to existing buildings meet pre-determined standards. Addressing energy efficiency that will save taxpayer dollars and put our economy on a more sustainable path must address buildings, including retrofitting.  To this end, the bill incorporates model legislation by the Center for State Innovation to establish green building standards (there are many, but LEED is the most broadly recognized; we include a list of standards and respective organizations at the end of this article) that can reflect each state’s needs and allow for improvements to existing legislation.  This provision intends to underscore transparency and accountability by establishing mechanisms to make reports available to the public for the purposes of evaluation and public education. 
  • Enabling unicipal financing options for existing and new buildings: Give authority to local entities to use revenue sources to fund its energy Revolving Loan Fund through Federal Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant proceeds and other unrestricted revenue.
  • Encourage good jobs and skilled worker training:  Use green investments to build a trained workforce that builds new skills and earns competitive wages.  Training and workforce development must be a part of any green building program.  This is especially important with green buildings, since buildings adhering to energy efficiency standards must be maintained by appropriately trained workers.  This bill establishes contracts with constituency-based organizations, workforce development organization, labor, and other organizations with training capabilities with oversight by the Department of Labor.
  • Use recovery funds to promote green standards for residential weatherization programsUse recovery funds to ensure energy efficiency options are incorporated into new and existing public buildings, as well as to focus on weatherization programs for residential properties.  A growing number of states and municipalities are moving toward green standards that include green job training/creation and opportunities to utilize stimulus finding for green retrofits of residential properties.  This bill establishes that a portion of the stimulus funds be used to fund a window replacement and insulation program for existing housing occupied by low- or moderate-income households. 

Messaging on Green Buildings: Why Go Green?

Green buildings can improve our environment, strengthen our health, and reduce the strain on our pocket books. Turning toward energy efficiency now through green buildings saves money, benefits our environment, and positively impacts our health. We can’t afford not to Go Green. 

  • At an annual cost to consumers of $400 billion, the energy used in U.S. buildings accounts for nearly 40 percent of total U.S. energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions -- more than transportation or industry.
  • Nationwide, buildings account for 12% of water use, 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, 65% of waste output and 70% of electricity use.

Green buildings save money.

Going green can improve our health and productivity.

  • Improving energy efficiency through green buildings leads to better working conditions, resulting in significantly increased worker productivity and retention.
  • Recent studies reveal the link between productivity of workers and Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). The  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports the medical and lost-productivity costs of workers breathing poor air amounts to tens of billions of dollars each year in the U.S. alone.

Green buildings are an investment that gives back.

  • An upfront investment of 2% in green building design, on average, results in life cycle savings of 20% of the total construction costs — more than ten times the initial investment.
  • Building sale prices [i have a document to go here] for energy efficient buildings are as much as 10% higher per square foot than conventional buildings.
  • Improvements in indoor environments are estimated to save $17-48 billion in total health gains and $20-160 billion in worker performance.

Green building initiatives build the local economy. 

  • Workers who gain skills and experience working on green building and residential energy efficiency projects will have better employment prospects as environmental concerns spread.
  • Every time a government requires purchase of energy-efficient appliances or renewable energy, makes its new buildings compliant with green building standards, it encourages private industry to meet the same standards and supports those businesses that provide the relevant goods and services.  Local producers of efficient appliances, recycled materials and renewable energy will benefit from increased demand. 
  • Architects, planners, engineers and designers who specialize in green buildings are potential sources for skilled, white-collar jobs
  • Government has the ability to leverage the creation of good jobs by requiring contractors to pay the local living or prevailing wage, to meet local hiring and apprenticeship requirements, and to invest in workforce development programs to strengthen local economies.  

Green is a growing trend.

  • A new study released by USGBC predicts green building will support or create 7.9 million jobs between 2009-2013 and will contribute $554 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product.
  • As governments have realized the benefits of going green, including significant employee productivity gains, reduced operating costs, increased occupancy rates, and higher rents, the private sector is taking notice, proving energy efficiency will be the future.
  • At least 60 communities across the country — including such large cities as Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC, as well as many smaller towns and cities — have adopted requirements that all new public buildings meet a minimum environmental standard. 

Supporting a Green Buildings Campaign

Key Resource OrganizationsGreen For All, AFL-CIO Center for Green Jobs, Apollo Alliance, Sierra Club, Center for Working Families, Center for State Innovation, Institute for Self-Reliance.

PSN Dispatches:

Green Buildings Standards and Research:

Enabling Municipal Financing for Renewables and Efficiency:

Green Jobs and the Green Economy:

Weatherization and Recovery Funds

National Green Standards Resources:  There are a variety of different energy efficiency standards and products to consider for your green buildings legislation.  The following is a list of some widely recognized standards, with links to the respective organizations/agencies.

  • US Green Buildings Council: LEED Standards certification provides independent, third-party verification that a building project meets the highest green building and performance measures.
  • The Green Globes system is a building environmental design and management tool. It delivers an online assessment protocol, rating system and guidance for green building design, operation and management. It is interactive and provides market recognition of a building’s environmental attributes through third-party verification.
  • ENERGY STAR is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy helping us all save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices.
  • The U.S. Department of Energy's Building Energy Codes Program is an information resource on national model energy codes.  DOE works with other government agencies, state and local jurisdictions, national code organizations, and industry to promote stronger building energy codes and help states adopt, implement, and enforce those codes.
  • National Institute of Building Sciences: To address the need for a comprehensive guide for procuring green building products and construction/renovation services within the Federal government, EPA has partnered with the Federal Environmental Executive and the Whole Building Design Guide (WBDG) to develop the Federal Green Construction Guide for Specifiers.
  • American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) develops standards for both its members and others professionally concerned with refrigeration processes and the design and maintenance of indoor environments.

PSN Support in Your States

PSN has already begun working with legislators and advocates to provide support for them as they introduce green buildings legislation around the country.  We'd like to work with many more!

Our policy staff are also available to answer questions and supply information not on the website.  Legislators and advocates can contact us about supporting Green Buildings campaigns through our website or by emailing

As bills are introduced and sessions begin, PSN will provide ongoing resources and updates on green buildings legislation, as well as help coordinate strategy and information sharing with our partners among sponsors and advocates.