Mahesh Ramanujam, chief executive of the U.S. Green Building Council, said he has wondered how many people really know what a "green building" is or what the LEED emblems found on thousands of structures across the country signify.

It turns out not many, according to a report the council released this week as it played host to the Impact Conference on sustainable development in St. Paul. But Ramanujam hopes with a new awareness campaign, the public will better understand the impact of green buildings on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change and push for more buildings to be environmentally sustainable.

Only 11% of study respondents associated "green building" and "green space" with creating an environment where people can live longer and healthier lives, according to the first in a series of Living Standard public research reports from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

The response is a problem since so much greenhouse gas that's emitted into the environment and is adversely affecting the planet comes from buildings, Ramanujam said.

"It's a messaging issue first" Ramanujam said.

In the United States, buildings make up almost 40% of carbon-dioxide emissions that can come from the combustion of fossil fuels that provide heating and cooling, lighting as well as power appliance and other equipment. That's more emissions than the industrial (30%) and transportation (29%) sectors.

The nonprofit USGBC, an advocate for green or sustainable buildings, created and updates the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) system, the most widely used green-building rating system in the world.

The LEED system prioritizes efficiency of energy, water, waste management and other categories. LEED-certified buildings don't just help the environment, but they also save property owners and tenants money in operations, USGBC says.

Minnesota has more than 470 LEED-certified buildings. In the fall, the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul announced that they had joined the American Cities Climate Challenge, a program headed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg aimed at making cities more climate friendly.

Minneapolis wants to cut greenhouse emissions by 80% by 2050 and St. Paul wants to offset emissions entirely by then.

Ramanujam said he thinks there is hope that the public will shift its perspective on green buildings, especially as the effect of climate change, such as more severe natural disasters, continue to be seen.

More issues of the Living Standard report will be released this year with different focuses and stories about green buildings.

There has been a growing emphasis of other benefits to green buildings outside of the environment. Property owners not only can save money with the operations of green buildings, but they can also help attract purpose-driven talent, Ramanujam said. Green buildings can also appeal to workers who have an interest in improving their own health and wellness, he said.

"They are actually trying to go further beyond the aspects of the building design construction and operations," Ramanujam said, as he brought up a newer standard for buildings called Well certification. "It is now about what is the impact those buildings have on the physiology, the mental, emotional and physical well-being of an end user who is occupying and living in that building."

In 2017, the USGBC and its sister organization the Green Business Certification Inc. also announced the adoption of the RELi rating system, a design rating that tries to show how resilient a building is from natural and unnatural disturbances.

Doug Pierce, an architect at Perkins+Will's Minneapolis office is the main developer of RELi.

Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495

Twitter: @nicolenorfleet