If you think making a building “green” means just tacking on a few solar panels, think again. In recent years, green buildings have been pushing the boundaries of sustainable design and are showing that being eco-friendly doesn't mean sacrificing style or comfort. 

Green building — also known as green construction — has become increasingly popular as people have become more aware of the impact of the construction industry on the environment. In fact, the building and construction sector’s energy consumption and carbon emissions have hit an all-time high — accounting for over 34% of energy demand and around 37% of energy and process-related CO2 emissions in 2021

This is alongside the construction industry’s contributions to resource depletion, waste generation, land use, biodiversity loss, water pollution, air pollution, and more. Yet by designing buildings to be sustainable and energy efficient — through features such as renewable energy generation, rainwater harvesting, sustainable materials, and energy-efficient design — the industry can reduce its environmental impact. 

From the vertical forests of Milan, to the largest greenhouse in the UK, the world’s greenest buildings are turning heads and making a statement. So put on your green-tinted glasses and get ready to take a journey through some of the most awe-inspiring and innovative eco-friendly buildings on the planet. 

1. Eden Project, UK 

The Eden Project features huge greenhouses that are home to thousands of plant species.
Image: Flickr/Richard Szwejkowski

While at first glance they may look like giant soccer balls, the Eden Project actually consists of huge greenhouses that are home to thousands of plant species. The eco-friendly visitor attraction was built in a former clay pit and is a great example of sustainable design.

The Eden Project explores how people can work in sync with nature to change things for the better. Inside you can find an educational walk trail that teaches visitors about the consequences of climate change and the importance of caring for the environment. Fun fact, the sounds of the Eden rainforest have actually been used in music!

2. The Bullitt Center, US

Designed to be both energy-neutral and carbon-neutral, The Bullitt Center is the largest net zero commercial building in the world.
Image: Flickr/Brad Kahn

Dubbed the “world's greenest commercial building”, The Bullitt Center in Seattle has earned its bragging right. This six-story building is powered entirely by renewable energy and has unique systems that allow it to do impressive things such as the ability to collect and manage all its own water, and efficiently compost human waste.

But perhaps the coolest thing about the building is that its mechanical systems aren’t hidden away, instead, they’re behind large glass windows for all to see.

3. Eastgate Centre, Zimbabwe

The Eastgate Centre is considered a pioneering example of biomimicry (a technological-oriented approach focused on putting nature’s lessons into practice) with its design being inspired by how ventilation works in termite mounds.

Thanks to its unique architecture, the building is able to keep its temperature regulated while using up to 90% less energy than traditional air-conditioned buildings. 

4. The United Nations Environment Programme HQ, Kenya

Located in Nairobi, the UNEP headquarters is a building designed to achieve net zero carbon emissions. It features a range of sustainable design features including solar panels, rainwater harvesting, and a wastewater treatment system.

The three-storey building has been designed as a model of green architecture in Africa and is said to be the first solar energy powered UN office complex in the world.

5. Bosco Verticale, Italy 

Image: Josè Maria Sava/Unsplash

No, you’re not looking at an AI-generated image — this building is real! Bosco Verticale, or "Vertical Forest," is a pair of residential towers in Milan that incorporate a large number of trees and plants in their design.

Not only are the towers energy efficient, the building has also helped improve air quality in the local area and the city more broadly. Architect Stefano Boeri designed these deluxe apartments in the sky with plenty of spaces to accommodate large, full-grown trees, and a variety of ground cover plants and shrubs.

Global Citizen Life

Defend the Planet

5 of the World’s Greenest Buildings You Should Definitely See

By Cherono Keter