The momentum for sustainable design and construction has been building for several years among educators and administrators at schools and universities. And when the President of the United States embraces the effort in his State of the Union address, it’s clear that the push for greener facilities has arrived in the mainstream.

President Barack Obama has proposed a "Better Building Initiative" that will provide incentives to improve energy efficiency in schools and universities, as well as municipal buildings, hospitals and commercial facilities. The goal is to increase energy efficiency by 2020 by 20 percent in commercial building space in the United States. That would save about $40 billion in today’s dollars, the White House estimates.

A key part of the initiative is a proposed "Race to Green," a competitive grant program modeled on the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top incentives. Race to Green would offer grants to states and municipalities to streamline their building codes so that it is easier to improve facilities with energy-saving retrofits.

"For all of those committed to the idea that green buildings can create jobs, save energy and save money, this is a great day, and the entire green building movement is incredibly grateful for President Obama’s leadership in this critical step forward for America," says Rick Fedrizzi, president of the U.S. Green Building Council, which oversees the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification process. "It is major steps like these that are necessary to address the challenges facing our environment."