You could argue that green construction's biggest impact so far has been in raising consumer and industry awareness because the actual number of green buildings is still very small. In Europe, the total number of green buildings is less than 1 percent and is expected to quadruple to more than 2 percent by 2016, as EU countries try to conform to regulations and react to higher energy prices [source: Pike Research].
Back in the 80s, Germany began subsidizing more efficient buildings, and building codes have followed suit, as these structures proved the benefits of green building in terms of energy savings and techniques became more affordable [source: Brussels]. That's the big payoff that we're really seeing from current green building projects: each project shows that green construction is doable, that it makes a difference, and that builders and manufacturers can find ways to make green upgrades more cost-effective.
In the U.S., green construction made up around 17 percent of the single-family residential construction market in 2011, up from just 2 percent in 2005 [source: Bredenberg]. But keep in mind when you look at that number is that it's 17 percent of current projects -- not all buildings -- and the big market share increase is partially due to the decrease in home construction.
Builders say that "higher quality" and "increases in energy costs" are the main reasons for increased green building activity in the U.S. The biggest obstacles are "higher perceived first cost" and "lack of consumer education," according to a McGraw-Hill Construction report.
Both in the U.S. and in Europe, we have a long way to go on the green construction front if we're going to stay ahead of dwindling resources and rising energy costs. Green construction is a growing field, but it's still only a small part of the construction industry [source: Watson]. Its biggest impact right now isn't so much on the environment as it is showing that we can make more efficient, healthier buildings as builders find ways to reduce the up-front costs for constructing more efficient buildings.