Despite a deep economic recession, the U.S. green building market has expanded dramatically since 2008 and is projected to double its size by 2015, says a new report by New York-based McGraw-Hill Construction. The value of green construction starts jumped 50% from $42 billion in 2008 to $71 billion in 2010, when it represented 25% of the all new building activity, and it's expected to reach $135 billion by 2015, according to the firm's Green Outlook 2011 report.

The growth has been particularly robust in the commercial sector, where one-third of all new projects are now built to green standards, according to the report, which projects a tripling of that volume in the next five years. "It's an amazing area of opportunity at time when the construction market is extremely challenged," says Harvey M. Bernstein, a VP of McGraw-Hill Construction. "In today's economy, firms that specialize in green or serve this market are seeing a tremendous advantage."

Why the growth?

Building owners surveyed said green projects reduce operating costs (13.6% on average for new buildings and 8.5% for retrofits), increase building values (10.9% for new buildings and 6.8% for retrofits) and increase their return on investment (9.9% for new buildings and 19.2% for retrofits.) In addition, the report attributes the rapid expansion to owners' desire for market differentiation, growing public awareness and an increase in government rules. As of September 2010, it says 12 federal agencies and 33 states had green building legislation and initiatives. It says local government initiatives jumped from 156 localities in 2008 to 384 localities in 2010.