Best Practice

Optional Best Practice for Step 3 Recognition

Category A, B and C cities: implement this best practice by completing any one action.


Old is the new green! Or put another way: the greenest building is the building already built. Reuse - adaptive redevelopment of existing buildings - meets sustainability goals in several ways.

First, repurposing existing buildings pairs new investment with existing infrastructure, and often provides an opportunity for private funds to rebuild or upgrade infrastructure. Surrounding streets, water and wastewater systems, and systems for energy distribution and telecommunication usually already exist. Reusing buildings also can be part of a pedestrian-oriented community revitalization program and an effective strategy for creating or expanding mixed use districts.

Second, reusing the energy and materials embodied in existing buildings avoids the energy and resource use associated with constructing a new building, while still allowing new investment within the community.

Finally and not least, existing buildings (especially older ones) are frequently beautiful and imbued with the historic character and civic legacy of the community, both in the building itself and in the setting around the existing building. Advances in building technology, strategies for flexible space use and the resources of the historic preservation movement make reuse today more economically affordable and socially beneficial than in past years.

Greenstep Advisor


Erin Hanafin Berg, Policy Director, Rethos: 651-293-9047,,

Connection to State Policy

The 2009 Minnesota Legislature passed a bill removing school siting acreage constraints, thus removing a barrier to renovation of existing school buildings. Previously mandated large school sites biased school renovation/expansion toward building new schools, typically on green field sites outside of cities, which prevented more children from walking and biking to school.


Major Benefit

  • Allows new investment to use existing infrastructure.
  • Provides an opportunity to use rehabilitation funds to rebuild or upgrade existing infrastructure.
  • A key strategy for implementing mixed use, pedestrian-oriented community revitalization programs.
  • Reuses the energy and materials embedded in existing buildings, avoiding the energy and resource use associated with new buildings.
  • Helps retain the historic and cultural character of the community, both in the building itself and in the setting around existing buildings.
  • Buildings are vast repositories of energy, reports Richard Moe, past-president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. For a 50,000 square foot building, he notes, the combined costs of teardown and replacement -- hauling away tons of waste, re-excavating, manufacturing new construction materials, operating tools, installing lighting and heating and cooling systems -- "embodies" the equivalent of 640,000 gallons of gasoline. Moe asserts that even if a project includes 40% recycled materials, it takes approximately 65 years for a green, energy-efficient office building to recover the energy lost in demolishing and replacing an existing building. See more detail in The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse (National Trust for Historic Preservation: 2012).