Energy efficiency is about more than powering off devices and insulating attics. Our homes and buildings are responsible for a large share of our electricity demand and greenhouse gas emissions. It follows that energy efficiency gains in this area are crucial to meaningfully reducing our electricity consumption and improving our air quality. Increasingly, homes and commercial buildings are being built with energy efficiency in mind.

Green buildings are those that are designed to efficiently use energy, water and other resources, reduce waste, and create a healthier space inside while contributing to sustainability outside. They can be built new or made green through a renovation or retrofit. Generally, the earlier a building is planned to be green, the more efficient it can become.

What Makes a Building Green?

There is no single recipe for a green building, but some common features include:


  • High-efficiency HVAC systems, windows, lights and insulation in walls, ceilings and floors;
  • ENERGY STAR appliances;
  • Use of renewable energy onsite or purchase of green power from a local utility.


  • Technologies that help reduce water waste, such as low-flow toilets and shower heads, as well as water recycling systems.


  • Construction and building materials that can be recycled and minimize waste.


  • Equipment, materials and design to help reduce, reuse and recycle waste, from water waste to reduced paper use.


  • Using materials that minimize the presence of toxic materials, including insulation, paint and furniture.


  • HVAC and other systems to provide adequate ventilation/air filtration and avoid mold and other harmful substances.


  • Located near public transportation to allow occupants to leave their car at home
  • Uses a white roof (to reflect the sun’s heat) or a green roof with plants to reduce the heat generated by the building and avoid the urban “heat island effect,” which increases the temperature of cities.


To become a green building, a residential, commercial or industrial building goes through a certification process. In the U.S., the best known programs are the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program and ENERGY STAR, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program.

In Virginia, a green building is defined as a building that:

  • Exceeds the energy efficiency standards prescribed in the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code by 30 percent; or
  • Meets or exceeds the Viridiant (formerly known as EarthCraft Virginia) Program, Green Globes Green Building Rating System, ENERGY STAR or LEED standards.


Green buildings are sometimes called sustainable buildings. Those with advanced systems are referred to as high-performance green buildings. A zero-energy or net-zero energy home or building is one that generates as much energy as it uses. Passive houses and buildings are super-insulated and generally do not need central heating or cooling systems because they are so energy efficient.


Lesson Plans
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Get your students energized about responsible energy use! In partnership with the Virginia Department of Education, we’ve created fun, multi-day, Lesson plans to help you teach your students how to understand and conserve energy! They’re classroom-ready and free to use!