The term GREEN DESIGN is often equated with energy-efficient design. They are not the same thing. There are energy-efficient buildings that are constructed without regard to the source of the building materials, proximity to essential services, or the building's impact on its local ecosystem. Likewise, there are buildings that are labeled "green" that have little to do with energy efficiency.
The organization most responsible for promoting green design principles is the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Through their Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, they have been successful in establishing a rating system that assigns values to various components of sustainable design. These include building siting (its location and how the site is managed during construction), water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources (construction and operation), indoor environmental quality, location and linkages, and more.
In an effort to make a very complex weighing of factors and circumstances into a workable rating system, LEED uses a point system that culminates with a total numerical value intended to recognize a building's overall "green" performance. Since on any given project various environmental indicators may be more or less critical, there is bound to be, and is, some disagreement with this approach.
In particular, among the building/energy professionals (and I count myself in this group), there is the concern that in admirably trying to take a larger view of sustainability issues in design and construction, LEED has failed to place enough emphasis on the most critical part of the package; energy use over the life of the building. And since a high LEED rating has become desirable, it would seem that the US Green Building Council is uniquely positioned to push for much higher standards.
There is of course nothing that stops a design professional from creating a building that achieves a high LEED rating, while simultaneously producing a building that uses little or no purchased energy. For that matter, these same objectives can be met without the framework of the USGBC, but it is desirable to have some type of third-party verification for at least the energy-performance attributes.
Hudson River Design is a member of the US Green Building Council, and in 2007, our design for the Common Fire Solidarity House in Tivoli, NY was the first building in New York State to be awarded a LEED Platinum rating, the highest possible. It is still the greenest building in New York State.
Lastly, it would seem that the term "green" has most recently been applied to every conceivable product on the market. Unfortunately the term lacks enough specificity to prevent widespread abuse. Among practitioners of green design, the term "greenwashing" is applied to the myriad of construction products that have claimed the term, but aren't seriously green. We make every effort to weed-out the impostors.