The number of U.S. counties with green building programs has increased since 2003 from eight to 39—a rate of 387.5%, according to the “Local Leaders in Sustainability: Green Counties” survey conducted by the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Nine additional counties are in the process of developing green programs. 

The purpose of the study, conducted in conjunction with the National Association of Counties, was to explore the initiatives of the 200 most populated counties—representing nearly 169 million Americans or a little more than half the country’s population. Participants included planners, building officials, and sustainability managers. For the study, “green building program” was defined as “a law or regulation that mandates or incentivizes the construction of green buildings within a community. It can focus on public, residential, and/or commercial buildings.” 

The findings show at least 25.6% of the sample population live in counties with green building programs. 

“Our research uncovered an unexpected number of green building policies in the nation’s largest counties,” the report stated. “… While no county program is perfect, the leadership exhibited by local officials over recent years has been impressive. The local level is where change is currently taking place on a wide array of issues, from green buildings to other sustainability initiatives. All levels of government should examine these policies in order to better understand the current and future state of green building in America.” 

By area, the Eastern Region has the most programs at 19, the Western Region has 10 programs, the Central Region has seven, and the Mountain Region has three. 

Other findings:

  • The most common building rating system in use within the 39 counties is USGBC’s LEED

  • Not surprisingly, the greatest rate of program introduction has come in the last two years. 

  • 29 of the 39 counties are in the top 100 in population size, a factor the report attributes to the greater volume of construction activity in the larger counties. 

  • California leads the Western region with six counties.

Click here to view the full report and to read case studies of green programs in Alameda County, Calif.; Hennepin County, Minn.; King County, Wash.; and Montgomery County, Md.