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Insights Sustainable construction: green building standards in the US

In recent years, the United States has witnessed a significant shift towards sustainable and environmentally conscious practices in various sectors, including construction. The US government is supporting the development of key infrastructure such as solar projects.

States such as New York are investing in sustainable buildings and clean energy, and the green buildings market is projected to grow at a CAGR at 9.50% between 2023 and 2030. These are just a few of the developments helping to shift our world to a more sustainable landscape. Amongst these are green building standards which have emerged as a vital framework to guide and promote sustainable construction practices. 

At Atkins, we believe that by working together we can engineer a better future for our planet and its people. From finding solutions for sustainable architecture to our award-winning green developments creating energy-saving, comfortable indoor building environments. We’re leading the engineering field in achieving Net Zero Carbon as rapidly as possible, by helping our clients manage climate risk and build climate resilience through solutions like DecarbonomicsTM which provides a data-driven approach to decarbonize existing buildings, at the portfolio level through the creation of AI-enabled data digital twins. 

Building project, solar panel and protective helmet on lush grass, green sustainable building and alternative energies concept, applying green building standards

If you’re searching for a career with a focus on sustainability within construction, it's crucial to familiarize yourself with the green building standards prevalent in the US. Read on to learn about the guiding principles helping to reshape our world and how they’re being put into practice.

The green building revolution

Green building is the practice of 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.

As an engineer delving into the world of green buildings, there are several notorious examples that showcase remarkable ingenuity in their design and construction. One such iconic structure is the Bullitt Center in Seattle, USA. The Bullitt Center boasts a rooftop solar array that generates more energy than it consumes, an advanced rainwater collection system for on-site water usage, and an innovative composting toilet system. 

This six-story office building has achieved the Living Building Challenge certification – one of the guiding green building standards – which recognizes its exceptional sustainability features. 

As you can tell, green building codes and standards play an important part in shaping a sustainable future, but what are they?

Green building standards in the US

1. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED):

LEED, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), is one of the most widely recognized green building rating systems in the USA. It provides a comprehensive framework for designing, constructing, operating, and maintaining sustainable building standards. LEED certification evaluates various aspects, including energy efficiency, water conservation, indoor air quality, and sustainable materials, to encourage environmentally responsible construction practices.

2. EnvisionTM

EnvisionTM, developed by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI), is a sustainability framework and rating system that can be applied to all types of civil infrastructure, similar to the LEED rating system for buildings. The framework provides a flexible system of criteria and performance objectives to aid decision-makers and help project teams identify sustainable, resilient, and equitable approaches during the planning, design, and construction that will continue throughout the project’s operations, maintenance, and end-of-life phases.

3. International Green Construction Code (IgCC):

The International Green Construction Code, a joint effort of the International Code Council (ICC) and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), sets minimum requirements for sustainable construction practices. It covers a range of areas such as energy conservation, water efficiency, site development, material selection, and indoor environmental quality. Many jurisdictions in the USA have adopted the IgCC or incorporated its provisions into their local building codes.


ENERGY STAR is the government-backed symbol for energy efficiency. The blue ENERGY STAR label provides simple, credible, and unbiased information that consumers and businesses rely on to make well-informed decisions. It’s a voluntary labeling program whereby Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets energy efficiency specifications and those that meet them can choose to display the ENERGY STAR logo. Earning the ENERGY STAR label signifies that a building meets strict energy performance standards, reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

5. Green Globes

Green Globes is another widely used green building certification program in the USA. It evaluates buildings based on various criteria such as energy efficiency, water conservation, indoor environmental quality, and resource management. Green Globes employs a user-friendly online assessment tool that enables professionals to track and improve their sustainability performance throughout the construction process.

6. Zero Energy Ready Homes (ZERH)

The Department of Energy's Zero Energy Ready Homes program promotes the construction of high-performance homes that generate as much renewable energy as they consume on an annual basis. ZERH certification recognizes builders who employ advanced technologies and design strategies to achieve exceptional energy efficiency, indoor air quality, comfort, and durability.

7. Living Building Challenge (LBC)

The Living Building Challenge, developed by the International Living Future Institute, is a rigorous green building certification program that pushes the boundaries of sustainable design and construction. It focuses on creating buildings that operate as self-sufficient and regenerative systems, with a strong emphasis on net-zero energy, water independence, and use of non-toxic materials.

Drive sustainable innovation at Atkins

As sustainability becomes an integral part of the construction industry in the USA, green building standards play a crucial role in guiding professionals towards environmentally responsible practices. Familiarizing yourself with these standards, such as LEED, IgCC, ENERGY STAR, Green Globes, ZERH, and LBC, will not only enhance your understanding of sustainable construction principles but also demonstrate your commitment to creating a greener future, and help to position yourself as a valuable asset in the construction job market.

Explore our latest opportunities in architecture and planning jobs, construction, or engineering jobs where you can make a real impact to people’s environments and lives at Atkins today.