Green Building Initiatives

Many state and local governments in the Southwest have adopted or are developing green building programs that increase the efficiency with which buildings use resources (energy, water and materials), while reducing the impacts of buildings on human health and the environment.  Many of the programs are voluntary, offering incentives for projects that achieve green building standards that are developed locally or that follow national standards (e.g., LEED). A few municipalities have adopted mandatory requirements for new homes and commercial buildings.

Green building recently became part of the International Code Council’s family of Codes and Standards: the I-Codes. The release of the International Green Construction Code in March 2012 introduced a green building code written in mandatory language and vetted by a national group of industry experts. Other significant developments in green building was the second publication of the ICC 700-2012 National Green Building Standard and ASHRAE Standard 189.1-2011, Standard for High-Performance Green Buildings except Low-Rise Residential Buildings.

Green buildings are cost effective to the building owner and the occupant.  Most projects have nominal first costs (typically less than 2% of the total project budget) and are offset by energy savings, water savings and other reduced operating costs that accrue over the life of the building.  On average, a green building uses 25-30% less energy than a typical building.1 Studies have also shown that green buildings have higher occupancy and lease rates, and improve occupant health and productivity.2

Below are brief summaries of the energy efficiency requirements and criteria of residential, commercial and public sector green building programs in the Southwest, with links to more detailed profiles of selected programs. Information on tools and resources for ensuring that green buildings are designed, built and operated to deliver measurable energy savings is provided in the building efficiency information resources section.

Residential Programs

Residential green building programs establish green building standards or guidelines for new homes, additions, or remodels.  The programs historically required homes to achieve a 30% or greater improvement in energy efficiency versus a typical new home, but with the efficiency gains in the 2012 IECC residential program improvements of 10% to 15% is more typical.  Some of the programs require a segment of new homes to achieve net-zero energy performance (e.g., Boulder County, CO) or offset their energy consumption with on-site renewables (e.g., City of Aspen, CO).  Many communities have developed their own points-based rating systems that include prescriptive requirements or additional guidelines for energy efficiency, water conservation, and use of on-site renewable energy systems, such as solar PV and solar hot water.

Energy efficiency measures include: high-efficiency heating and cooling systems, enhanced building insulation and envelope sealing requirements, energy efficient windows and doors, low-flow showerheads and plumbing fixtures, and ENERGY STAR rated lighting and appliances. 

Commercial Programs

Interest in commercial green building projects is growing rapidly in the Southwest, with hundreds of green building projects completed or underway.   Many of these projects are market-driven, reflecting the growing demand for energy efficient, environmentally friendly buildings and works spaces.  A growing number of states, municipalities in the Southwest are also providing financial incentives, including tax credits, fast-track permitting programs, and other incentives to encourage green building projects.  For example, New Mexico and Nevada offer tax credits for commercial green building projects.   A few municipalities have developed voluntary commercial green building programs or guidelines, as well as mandatory green building requirements for new commercial construction (e.g., Eagle County, CO).  The city of Phoenix, Arizona has adopted the 2012 IGCC as a voluntary guideline for commercial building developers who want a simplified green building certificate. The city of Scottsdale, Arizona and Boulder County, Colorado adopted the 2012 IGCC for commercial buildings.

Jefferson Green Building

The Jefferson Green Building, located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is 
LEED-Gold Certified, and uses 45% less energy than a typical office building.

In the Southwest region, several municipalities have adopted commercial programs. Typical energy efficiency features include high-efficiency HVAC requirements, improvements to sealing and insulation, cool roof' mandates, and ENERGY STAR lighting, appliances and heating and cooling equipment.

Phoenix Convention Center

Phoenix Convention Center incorporates energy efficiency design in order to achieve 20% energy savings from lighting and HVAC controls technologies, water savings from low-flow urinals, dual-flush water closets, and low-flow lavatories (saving 1.9M gallons per day). Efforts of the construction management team and recycling activities resulted in diverting over 84% (3,100 tons) of material away from the landfill.

Public Sector Programs

Several Southwest states and municipalities have adopted legislation or executive orders requiring all new state buildings to achieve green building certification for state buildings.  States that require all new state buildings to be LEED certified or higher include Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.  Utah has adopted Advanced Building Design Standards for State-Owned Buildings.3

At the local level, Mayors and other local officials have taken a leadership role in establishing green building initiatives that require all city-owned or certain other buildings receiving city funds to meet high performance standards. Southwest municipalities such as Boulder, CO, Tucson and Scottsdale, AZ were among the first in the nation to establish green building programs.  These programs have become national models and many other municipalities have followed suit with their own programs that are based on locally developed green building checklists, or national programs, such as LEED.  

Leading Programs

Examples of leading programs in the Southwest are provided below.


11 Energy Performance of LEED for New Construction Buildings. New Buildings Institute. http://newbuildings.org/sites/default/files/Energy_Performance_of_LEED-NC_Buildings-Final_3-4-08b.pdf
22 The Cost of Green Revisited. Davis Langdon, 2007. http://www.davislangdon.com/USA/Research/
3http://energy.utah.gov/energy/governors_priorities/utah_policy_to_advance_energy_efficiency_in_the_state.html