Instituting Green Building Practices in Your Community

Local governments can adapt their policies and regulations to provide a framework for green building practices and resilient options.

Blue Ball Dairy Barn in New Castle County

The renovation of the Blue Ball Dairy Barn in New Castle County achieves a balance of historic preservation, high design, and sustainability. Source: Atelier Ten


Many municipalities are incorporating a vision of sustainability into local government Comprehensive Plans, which guide future land use and development. Some Comprehensive Plans call for transit-oriented development, compact development patterns, and environmental stewardship strategies to reduce environmental impacts of motorized vehicles, minimize sprawl, and conserve natural resources. Other plans set forth a vision for new buildings to achieve STAR ENERGY efficiency standards, LEED certification, or an equivalent green building standard. Many Comprehensive Plans also provide a foundation for stormwater management practices, resource conservation, and low-impact development techniques such as green roofs, rain gardens, minimization of impervious covers, adaptive reuse of buildings, use of recycled materials, streetscaping, and use of renewable energy resources.

The Town of Edmonston, Maryland transformed its vision and plan for environmental sustainability into a “green street” project that is designed to provide transportation options, a pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly environment, and minimize rainwater runoff and flooding. Its main residential street incorporates environmentally responsible practices such as stormwater bio retention and filtration, energy-efficient street lighting, native street trees, permeable concrete, ADA-compliant sidewalks, marked bike lanes, and traffic-calming measures.

Edmonston, Md.’s Green Street Project

Edmonston, Md.’s Green Street Project. Source: Town of Edmonston, Md.


Zoning codes often conflict with attempts by developers to design buildings with green materials or energy-efficient features. Local governments should review and amend regulations to remove zoning code impediments to the construction and retrofitting of green buildings. Green building policies can be incorporated into zoning codes and other development regulations, such as stormwater and subdivision ordinances. The City of Boston was the first city in the nation to require a green building standard through municipal zoning requirements. Its code requires all large-scale building projects to meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certificate standards. The City of Baltimore’s building code mandates that all newly constructed, extensively modified non-residential, and specific multi-family residential buildings, that have or will have at least 10,000 square feet of gross floor area, must be LEED Silver certified or comply with the Baltimore City Green Building Standard. In addition, Baltimore has drafted a new zoning code that incorporates sustainability measures and allows green-building friendly practices such as solar power, wind power, green roofs, bike parking, transit-oriented development districts, and parking space/lot size reductions.


Credit: Clarion Associates Source:

Credit: Clarion Associates Source:

Building Codes

Many local governments are adopting green building practices that include new building certifications, codes, rating systems, and performance measures. There is widespread local government adoption of the voluntary U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, which has assisted in the development of defining best practices for green buildings.

The development, adoption, and implementation of building codes are essential to any successful energy policy. Building codes create easy-to-understand minimum requirements for all new construction. Local governments can adopt model codes and adapt their regulatory framework to encourage green building construction and cultivate responsible environmental management practices.

Instead of, or in addition to LEED, states and local governments are also adopting national model energy codes. As of November 11, 2014, the State of Delaware requires all new homes and commercial buildings to comply with the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). Local governments may also consider adoption of the International Green Construction Code (IgcC). At a time when the industry engagement of green buildings is gaining popularity, these codes recognize the need for a competitive marketplace, new building codes, performance measures, and additional rating systems.


There are a variety of green building incentives that local governments may consider to attract infill development, redevelopment, and development in targeted growth areas within in their communities. An increasingly-popular technique for local governments has been the introduction of market-driven incentives to attract large businesses and develop partnerships. Most notable for their advancements in the sustainable infrastructure is Portland, Oregon that has developed a Green Investment Fund, offering grants of various sizes to commercial, industrial, residential, and mixed-use entities. A policy brief by the American Institute of Architects notes that states and local green building incentives may also include:

  • Tax Incentives—to provide tax reductions for specific levels of green measures and certification;
  • Density/Floor Area Ratio Bonuses—that offer height bonuses, floor/area ratio bonuses, reductions in landscaping requirements, and count green roof space as landscaping/open space in exchange for achieving levels of green building rating; and
  • Expedited Permitting—to provide streamlined permitting processes for projects that attain high levels of sustainability
  • Reduced-cost building permits – to provide financial incentives for green building initiatives

Technical Assistance

Potential investments in green building technology require an understanding of the materials and proper training. Many cities and counties have made it a priority to introduce technical assistance programs, which have aided the outreach and marketing process for governments considering investments in the sustainable industry. The Environmental Protection Agency’s smart growth recommendations include Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities, focusing on technical assistance as a means to introduce and achieve development goals toward more sustainable infrastructure. Communities of all sizes can apply for the EPA’s technical assistance program and will receive information from experts on public engagement, direct consultation, and action-oriented steps. Among the tools included is a recommendation for a Green Building Toolkit, which assists local governments in identifying policies that support the development of sustainable homes and buildings. In February 2013, New Castle was selected to receive Building Blocks assistance on sustainable strategies for small cities and rural areas.

Increased Standards

Local governments can take expand green building in their community by incorporating green building techniques in municipal buildings, increasing standards for private development, and establishing better building codes and instituting performance-oriented rating systems. This graphic illustrates U.S. Green Building Council’s three-step approach for municipalities to encourage green building in their communities.

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