Construction is dirty, energy-intensive, and resource-exhaustive work — but now, more than any other time in human history, building projects are becoming something else: green. As our building focus shifts from short-term comfort to long-term sustainability, America’s buildings are relying less on disposable forms of energy and innovating green technologies to make the future a better place to live. All sorts of structures are moving toward sustainability, from skyscrapers to single-family homes, which demonstrates that any construction project can take a step toward environmental friendliness. For insight and ideas, read on to learn about America’s greenest buildings.

Bullitt Center (Seattle, Washington)

Perhaps the most buzz-inducing sustainable building in the country to date, the Bullitt Center is green from foundation to roof. Every inch of the six-story structure was designed with the environment in mind, and designers certainly didn’t withhold an ounce of green innovation; the building features a broad canopy of solar panels, a rainwater gathering system, an automatic compost pile, and more.

America’s Most Sustainable Buildings

Livestrong Foundation (Austin, Texas)

Once an outdated, 1950s-era warehouse, the Austin offices of the Livestrong Foundation have transformed an obsolete, heavy, inefficient space into one that is functional, lightweight, and practical. Using more than 88 percent of the original building’s materials and eschewing any toxic chemicals, the structure’s architects where able to earn a gold certification from LEED — as well as a few envious looks from Livestrong’s competitors.

America’s Most Sustainable Buildings

Kiowa County School (Greensburg, Kansas)

When a tornado destroyed much of Greensburg, Kansas, residents decided to rebuild better and greener than ever. In a small town filled with modern, progressive structures, it is the regional grade school that stands out as a sustainably stunner. With passive design intended to provide light, keep classrooms warm, and pull fresh air as well as a significant turbine to collect Kansas’s wind and use it for good, the school is inspiring to all generations of green enthusiasts.

America’s Most Sustainable Buildings

Photo © Farshid Assassi

Hughes Warehouse (San Antonio, Texas)

More than 100 years ago, the Hughes Plumbing Warehouse was an innovative, efficient industrial space, but today we recognize the building as wasteful in terms of material and energy use. However, through a smart renovation project, architects and designers transformed the dark, bleak interior into a lively and useful studio space to facilitate communication, collaboration, and creativity. Hopefully, 100 years from now, we will not be forced to do the same with today’s industrial buildings; choosing sustainable materials in factory and warehouse construction, like fabric structures, is sustainable and economical in the long-term.

One Bryant Park (New York City, New York)

In a city full of skyscrapers, the Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park in Manhattan was the first to achieve LEED Platinum certification; in fact, this 1,200-foot-tall structure was the first high-rise in the world recognized for its environmental goals. Fitted with a number of sustainable technologies, including CO2 monitors, waterless bathroom fixtures, LED lighting, and more, the tower proves that building big doesn’t prevent building green.

America’s Most Sustainable Buildings

Tassafaronga Village (Oakland, California)

The goal of affordable housing is to provide low- and middle-income households with adequate shelter, but too often affordable housing is unsatisfactory, unattractive, and unsustainable. Fortunately, that is not the case at Tassafaronga Village in Oakland. Taking advantage of a disused pasta factory, architects created a 60-unit apartment building in an underserved region in the city that increases housing density without scrimping on design. Ultimately, Tassafaronga Village demonstrates that it is truly possible to create public housing that is environmentally friendly and beautiful.

America’s Most Sustainable Buildings

LOTT Clean Water Alliance (Seattle, Washington)

When most people read “sewage treatment plant,” sustainability isn’t always the first thought on their minds. However, the LOTT Clean Water Alliance in Seattle is working to change that, with a smart, green building that reduces emissions, cuts energy usage, and get the dirty job done. Perhaps the most thrilling innovation at the Alliance is its cogeneration plant; taking advantage of the methane produced during treatment, the plant has produces renewable electricity and heat.

America’s Most Sustainable Buildings

Image by Miller Hull via Nic Lehoux

Step Up on 5th (Santa Monica, California)

Homeless people are, by definition, without a home — except those living in Step Up on 5th in Santa Monica. Here, 46 studio apartments provide affordable housing and social services to California’s homeless and disabled, at a density 10 percent higher than Manhattan but with 50 percent more energy efficiency than a comparable structure.

America’s Most Sustainable Buildings

By Calderoliver (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons