Between 2003 and 2008, the number of U.S. counties administering green building regulations or laws rose from just eight to 39—an increase of 387.5 percent—according to "Local Leaders in Sustainability: Green Counties," a joint study conducted by The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the National Association of Counties (NACo). An additional nine counties are in advanced stages of developing green building programs.

The AIA surveyed the 200 most populous counties in 2008, examining the green or sustainable building initiatives in place. At least 25.6 percent of the surveyed population lives in counties with green building programs.

To illustrate how green building programs have increased at different rates around the country, the study breaks down growth by region. The Eastern region leads with 19 green building programs, the Western region follows with 10, and the Central and Mountain regions have seven and three programs, respectively.

"Our research uncovered an unexpected number of green building policies in the nation's largest counties," the report states. "In the absence of federal action on this issue, county boards, supervisors, and other local government officials are taking the lead for a greener future ... The local level is where change is currently taking place on a wide array of issues, from green buildings to other sustainability initiatives."

While government and commercial green building programs and policies are more widespread, several counties in the study have started addressing residential buildings as well. The study found that of the counties surveyed:

  • 61 percent have laws that apply only to county government buildings;

  • 33 percent of counties have laws affecting commercial buildings;

  • 36 percent have laws affecting multifamily housing developments; and

  • 33 percent have laws affecting single-family residential construction. One of AIA's primary purposes in collecting information on county green building programs was to create quantifiable best practices—detailed in the case study portion of the report—that other communities can use to develop or strengthen their own programs. To view the full report and read the four case studies, download the report at: