The Missing link: Green Building Policies and their Social-Emotional Benefits

Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type




First Advisor

Rebecca Overmyer-Velazquez


As climate change becomes more prominent across the world, policymakers are implementing additional changes in our communities. Although green buildings are primarily developed to reduce buildings' ecological impact, the buildings also socially and emotionally benefit their occupants. The social-emotional benefits of green buildings for occupants include comfort, health, well-being, academic achievement, and ecological literacy. It is important to acknowledge the social-emotional benefits that green buildings provide to occupants in the implemented policy to further educate individuals on a larger scope of green building benefits. An increased awareness of green buildings’ social-emotional benefits may cause people to be more willing to comply with the implemented changes and for policymakers to add or amend more of the specifications. Thus, green building policy may become more quickly integrated into the development of communities to allow more environmental and social-emotional benefits to people. Previous studies analyze how green buildings enable social-emotional benefits to their occupants, but fewer studies have been done on the relationship between building policies and laws in enabling the promotion of their social-emotional benefits. This study seeks to uncover the extent to which state and local policy and law promote the social benefits of green building as a key part of the rationale for these new regulations. I argue that State and local policy/law do not make enough references to the social-emotional benefits of green buildings to promote the sector and enhance participation in green building investments and practices. I analyze state and local level green building codes, ordinances, and policies from California and Hawai`i. Specifically, the California Green Codes is compared to Hawai`i’s most recent 2018 Building Codes update, then compared to the local building codes of Sacramento and San Mateo. Similarly, the 2018 Hawai`i Building Codes is compared to the local city and county codes of Honolulu and Maui. My findings demonstrate that there is no promotion of the social-emotional benefits of green design in policy/law. While some of the key terms are addressed in building policy, they are not used in promotion of social-emotional benefits, but only briefly reference the general topics. This study is an intensive analysis of implemented state and local building policy, but is limited by the inclusion of only a small fraction building policy in the world. From a larger perspective, this study demonstrates the importance of policy and law in enabling necessary benefits to people, while also analyzing the relationship between the state and local levels of law. State governments provide a model that acts as a funnel for policy to the local level. Thus, local policies are limited by the restrictions set in their state policy and it is important for state governments to integrate details of social-emotional benefits into their policy to set standards for local policy.

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