Green vs. Sustainable vs. Eco-Friendly: What’s the Difference When It Comes to Building?

Building green or sustainable homes is a concept that’s top-of-mind for many Boulder, CO residents. But if you’re planning to build, you’ve probably noticed that there are so many different types of “green” home options available to you — and if you’ve got caught up in the confusion, wondering what they really mean, you’re not alone. 

From green to sustainable to eco-friendly, what do these terms actually mean, and which is better for your home? Let’s take a look at each to get to the bottom of this “green” terminology. 

Green vs. Sustainable vs. Eco-Friendly Building: What’s the Difference?

While green, sustainable, and eco-friendly building may all seem like the same thing, there are some nuances between them. In most cases, “green” is a general term for environmentally responsible building, “sustainable” is a term that focuses on efficiently preserving resources for future generations, and “eco-friendly” is a term that relates to a product or practice that won’t harm the environment. 

All that said, there is one thing to keep in mind: while there are ways to build that have a smaller impact on the environment, it’s important to remember that all types of building still have some impact. From the location you choose to build in to the materials you use for construction, all aspects of the building process have consequences — any “green,” “sustainable,” and/or “eco-friendly” efforts are just working to minimize impact. 

What Is Green Building?

Green building is a construction method intended to reduce negative impacts on our environment through resource-efficient design, construction, and operation. It’s probably the broadest term in the bucket of environment-related terminology. Nothing specific actually defines “green,” making it a bit more of a sentiment than an action. 

What Is Sustainable Building?

Sustainable building is a construction method intended to maintain or improve the quality of human life, as well as harmonize with local climates and environments for years to come. It’s different from green building in that it’s generally more focused on creating longevity and buildings that minimize impact in the long term. 

What Is Eco-Friendly Building?

Eco-friendly building is a construction method that intends to use materials and processes that are resource-efficient and environmentally responsible during and after all stages of the building process. It’s often used to refer to something that won’t directly harm the planet. In many cases, it’s a more focused approach than green building, although the two terms are very similar.

What About LEED-Certified, Net-Zero, and Passive-House Building?

We’re so glad you asked! These are all better representations of a builder’s ability to create healthy homes. Where green, sustainable, and eco-friendly are all terms that can get a little muddy, LEED-Certified, Net-Zero, and Passive homes must all meet specific requirements, which makes them a better measure of a home’s overall health, both for your family and for the surrounding environment. We’ll outline each of them below. 

LEED-Certified Building

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a certification program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, and it’s now the most widely used “green” building rating system in the world. That said, LEED-certified homes are designed and constructed according to the guidelines established by that certification program. As an overview, requirements for LEED certification include things like improved energy efficiency, water efficiency, and indoor air quality, as well as reduced carbon dioxide emissions, wasted natural resources, and long-term environmental impacts. 

Net-Zero Building

A net-zero home is one that produces as much energy as it draws from the power grid. And no, this doesn’t mean opting to live a life among candlelight. Instead, it means building a house that consumes only as much energy as what can be produced through renewable resources onsite. To achieve this, a number of renewable energy sources, sustainable building materials, and resource-efficient technologies are installed. 

There’s a misconception out there that net-zero homes don’t draw any power from the grid. In reality, a net-zero home produces as much energy as it uses over the course of the year. Depending on your climate, this might mean that your net-zero home produces way more energy than you use in the summer, but uses that excess to balance a deficit in the winter.

Passive-House Building

Passive houses are thoughtfully designed and built to meet the standards established by the Passive House Institute of the United States (PHIUS). Passive-house building uses a set of design principles to attain a high level of energy efficiency, while still providing an ideally comfortable and quiet indoor living environment. In essence, many have stated that passive-house building is all about “optimizing your gains and losses based on climate.” 

Passive-house building is based on these five construction principles:

  1. Extremely airtight building envelope that prevents outside air from entering and inside air from escaping.
  2. Continuous insulation throughout the entire building envelope without thermal bridging.
  3. High-performance windows and doors to efficiently manage solar gain based on changing climates.
  4. Balanced heat and moisture recovery ventilation.
  5. Minimal space conditioning.

A Passive House certification is one of the most difficult building certifications to achieve, but if you’re interested in building a healthier, passive home in Boulder, CO, Tectonic Design + Build can help you complete the job! We’re proud to be passive-house certified, meaning we’re able to construct some of the healthiest homes possible for you, your family, and the environment.

When it comes to green building, sustainable building, and eco-friendly building, there are a lot of conversations happening in the industry. At Tectonic Design + Build, we’re excited to have a team of experts that deliver quality craftsmanship designed to minimize our overall impact on the world around us. Contact us to learn more about how we can help with your next project.