Green Industry Articles

Finding Green in the Red, White, and Blue

By Cindy Fauth

When it comes to "being green", the United States is notoriously behind the curve in comparison to Europe. Many Americans, as individuals, are passionate about reducing their carbon footprint, and are working diligently toward that goal. The primary difference between the green real estate movement in European countries compared to the United States is in the way of government policy and mandates. Though many are in their infancy, the United States is experiencing an increase in local, state, and federal government regulations and incentives for green building.

Furthermore, it is now easier than ever for buyers to locate and evaluate green properties in the U.S.

What is the U.S. doing to go green?

The United States is making great strides to green the real estate industry, as evidenced by the increase in municipal mandates. According to McGraw-Hill Construction, as of September 2010, green building legislation and initiatives were present in 12 federal agencies and 33 states, and local government initiatives have dramatically increased, from 156 localities in 2008 to 384 localities in 2010.

Considered an “early adopter” of green, the California Building Standards Commission unanimously adopted the first-in-the-nation mandatory Green Building Standards Code (CALGREEN) in January 2010, requiring that all new buildings in the state be more energy efficient and environmentally responsible. The new code took effect January 1, 2011 and includes all new residential structures.

In addition to mandates and policies, numerous green incentives and tax credits are available for consumers and homebuilders from the federal government and from several states. A recent U.S. federal stimulus package, for example, includes weatherization money and additional funding for existing green programs. At the local level, government commitment to green policies, incentives, and credits varies greatly from area to area.

In an otherwise down economy, the green market is one of great opportunity for the real estate community. According to McGraw-Hill Construction's Green Outlook 2011: Green Trends Driving Growth, the value of green building construction starts was up 50 percent from 2008 to 2010 - from $42 billion to $71 billion, and represents 25 percent of all new construction activity in 2010.

Projections indicate the green building market size in the United States is expected to reach $135 billion by 2015.

Finding green properties in the United States

With the green movement on the rise, locating green properties in the United States is not as challenging as it has been in the past. Several international and national green home certification programs are gaining momentum.

Perhaps the most widely known is the internationally recognized Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)  certification. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the LEED certification provides third-party verification that a building (commercial or residential) or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance across all the metrics that matter most, including energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.

There are thousands of LEED-certified buildings in the United States alone, the list comprised of everything from hotels, schools, public libraries, condos – even Las Vegas hotels and casinos. Though it has gained worldwide recognition and is being used in 114 countries around the world in varying degrees, the rating system is not as prevalent in Europe because of more aggressive programs such as Passive House. In fact, Europe’s first LEED program was established in Italy in 2010.

ENERGY STAR® is another set of guidelines for green homes. To earn the ENERGY STAR qualification, a home must meet guidelines for energy efficiency set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. Last year, more than 1,000,000 homes qualified in the program. These homes are at least 15% more energy efficient than homes built to
the 2004 International Residential Code (IRC), and include additional energy-saving features that typically make them 20-30% more efficient than standard homes. Energy Star will be releasing their third version of the guidelines this summer, which will be much more comprehensive than previous versions.

Find a Green Agent

If you or a buyer is seeking green properties in the United States, the first step to take is to find a REALTOR® (a member of the National Association of REALTORS®) who has NAR’s Green Designation. NAR’s Green Designation provides advanced training in green building and sustainable business practices to help real estate agents seek out and understand properties with green features.

NAR Green Designees have undergone an advanced training process to help buyers make educated decisions about green materials, energy-efficient technology, green ratings, green design, green living, green incentives, and more. With education on what makes a green home smarter, healthier, and more energy and resource efficient, an NAR Green Designee will discover what green aspects are most important to you and help you find the right property. As of early 2011, more than 6,000 REALTORS® have earned this designation in the U.S. and abroad.

By visiting, you can search for an NAR Green Designee by city, state, or country.

Greenest Parts of the U.S.

As with any widely expansive mass of land and people, the green movement in the United States is more prolific in some areas than others. The number of green homes or buildings in a given area depends largely on where local government, home builders, and consumers are in their green education and adoption.

Some of the ‘greenest’ cities in the U.S. are generally the early adopters of the green movement, such as Austin, Texas; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle, Washington. However, some of the cities would surprise you. For example, Chicago, Illinois ranks number one in LEED-certified commercial buildings.

Other areas with strong green movements in real estate include the Pacific Northwest, many cities in California and Colorado; Phoenix, Arizona; Nashville, Tennessee; Traverse City, Michigan; Atlanta, Georgia; and New York, New York.

Source: Green REsource Council Newsletter, February 2011