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Open Access Open Badges Original article

The unintended consequences of greening America: an examination of how implementing green building policy may impact the dynamic between local, state, and federal regulatory systems and the possible exacerbation of class segregation

Roshan Mehdizadeh* and Martin Fischer

Author Affiliations

Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University, 473 Via Ortega, Stanford, CA 94305, USA

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Energy, Sustainability and Society 2013, 3:12  doi:10.1186/2192-0567-3-12

Published: 30 May 2013



The aim of this paper is to analyze the unintended consequences of green government policies. This paper begins by providing a background on how the implementation of the Federal Housing Administration’s (FHA) government policies supported or increased racial and socioeconomic segregation by causing urban sprawl and gentrification. Next, it provides background information on three green building publications: (1) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which has been adopted by many local jurisdictions across the nation as the norm for green building; (2) CalGreen, which went into effect on 1 January 2011 as the nation’s first mandatory statewide green building code; and (3) the San Francisco Green Building Ordinance that imposes green building requirements on newly constructed residential and commercial buildings, and renovations to existing buildings in San Francisco, California.


This paper will consider how the policies surrounding green buildings can (1) restrict local government power, (2) impact the dynamic between state and federal norms, and (3) create further separation between privileged and underprivileged classes.


Although uncertain, it is possible that a negative situation similar to the FHA policy could evolve in underprivileged communities, causing greater economic and racial segregation within our communities as less privileged people cannot afford to live in green cities.


Ultimately, this paper will propose that further research on CalGreen should be conducted in order to determine whether CalGreen and similar standards will benefit those in underprivileged areas and, if not, what steps should be taken in response.