What counts as green construction?
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), green construction is the process of making a building that uses sustainable materials, and that building should protect and/or restore the environment, generate limited waste and emissions (both during construction and in day-to-day operation), and use reduced amounts of water and energy [source: EPA]. It should also be cost-efficient, functional, and durable -- because building another structure after you've already built one isn't the best use of resources.
Generally, green buildings incorporate recycled or reused materials (such as salvaged steel beams), use renewable energy (solar power via solar panels, for example), emit less greenhouse gases than a comparable standard building, and use less fresh water. In short, sustainable materials and energy-efficient operation leaves little to no environmental impact.
Builders and building owners can experience lots of financial advantages from going green. There are tax cuts and rebates for many greening measures, but you can't just say you're green and ask for a check. "Official" green buildings are deemed LEED-certified (on a 100-point scale) by an independent organization established in 1998 called the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). It determines what makes a building green, and it continually revises its standards, based on input from 20,000 member organizations. With different standards for many different kinds of buildings (including homes, schools, stores, hospitals and commercial spaces), the USGBC hands out LEED certifications, which stands for "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design."
Read on to see how the government is encouraging green construction.