Green Buildings, High Performance Buildings and Sustainable Construction: Does it Really Matter What We Call Them?

34 Pages Posted: 28 Dec 2010

Date Written: May 14, 2009


When observing the sheer number of new structures entering our built environment claiming some type of ability to fit in more ecologically, the vocabulary chosen to describe the project plays a key role when someone drafts a document that impacts others. In making these word choices, the very root of each expression helps determine its meaning and context since these descriptors tend to come from the more modern vernacular. Without properly determining the meaning of a given word, the recipient or person later interpreting a particular message must attempt to decipher the intentions of the communicator or parties. Taking this reality into account and considering how many people involved in the green building movement loosely use the terminology, it all begs the question whether it really matters whether these projects are called green buildings, high performance buildings, or sustainable construction.

Often, these terms describe a structure with minimal impacts to the natural environment. While some of the descriptors date back to the 1970s, many people appear to use these terms quite frequently and interchangeably without regard to whether the descriptor is proper. As disputes occur over contracts involving parties to an agreement for the development of buildings that aspire or utilize these terms, this question will inevitably become an obstacle that a court or arbitrator must reconcile when determining whether performance or breach by those involved actually occurred.

With these observations in mind, this paper sets forth to examine these seemingly interchangeable terms to determine if they have similar or different meanings. In doing so, the first part of this investigation explores diverse sources of authority like the dictionary, various publications on the subject matter, the federal, state, and local governments, and several organizations that provide third party verification. Then, the results of the investigation are analyzed in an attempt to determine whether the answer to the above question results in an affirmative or negative response. Finally, the last part provides guidance as to the proper usage of the different descriptors and gives a suggestion as to what definition appropriately describes each term.

Keywords: Green Buildings, High Performance Buildings, Sustainable Construction

JEL Classification: L74, K32, K23

Suggested Citation

Prum, Darren A., Green Buildings, High Performance Buildings and Sustainable Construction: Does it Really Matter What We Call Them? (May 14, 2009). Villanova Environmental Law Journal, Vol. 21, No. 1, 2010, Available at SSRN:

Darren A. Prum (Contact Author)

Florida State University ( email )

College of Business
P. O. Box 3061110
Tallahassee, FL 32306-1110
United States

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