Top influencers on green building and remodeling

12 that have Shaped Green
Our list of the top influencers on green building and remodeling
Rebecca Bryant, Contributing Editor, Professional Remodeler
January 1, 2008

The picture came into focus in the 1970s; more people were using more resources. This shaped supply and demand curves, which dictated that tell-all number: price. Higher energy bills led to tighter buildings that exhaled VOCs. Higher lumber costs led to innovations such as OSB and SIPs. Meanwhile, ecosystems languished under the strain of producing raw materials. Keep an eye on necessity via this report from the Worldwatch Institute.

In the mid-1970s, architect Sim Van der Ryn restored a 100-year old Victorian in Berkeley, Calif. The design – solar panels, a composting toilet, water reuse, and backyard food production – was way ahead of its time. He called it “ecologically integrated living.” Walking through the front door or reading about the project introduced thousands to whole systems design.

In 1979, architect Edward Mazria published the “Passive Solar Energy Book: A Complete Guide to Passive Solar Home, Greenhouse and Building Design” which brought passive heating, cooling and lighting to the fore of ecological design. He went on to build a number of award-winning passive homes in New Mexico. His third act “Architecture 2030” is an attempt to reduce the building sector’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent.

Oil prices dropped in the 1980s, and Reagan rolled back Carter’s solar and conservation initiatives. But some communities continued to plug away. Austin Energy of Texas was a standout, developing a green building program that remains a model today.

In the 1990s, a small group of people in the industry decided that, although local green building programs were great, uniform, nationwide standards for high-performing buildings were needed. That decision eventually led to the rollout of LEED, and drove the green building movement into the 21st century.

When it comes to green, there’s no place like California. State tax incentives and an initiative to install panels on a million roofs are supercharging demand for efficient and self-sufficient homes. On the supply side, Real Goods has been selling alternative energy systems since 1978 and has a cadre of technical experts to help remodelers. Contractors at Sustainable Spaces audit older houses, while firms like Canyon Construction and Allen Associates, handle remodeling projects.

Amory Lovins has been a major force in moving the U.S. toward conservation and small-scale, decentralized power systems with minimial ecological impact. He is a framer of large ideas, an entrepreneur and the founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Every fall, the Washington Mall hosts 20 college teams (plus their entourages, the public and media) for the Solar Decathlon. After students reassemble houses built elsewhere and shipped to D.C., they scramble through a series of contests to determine which team has designed the most attractive, energy-efficient, solar-powered home.

“Big” has a nice ring to builders and remodelers but “small” is most effective in going green. It means fewer materials, lower utility bills and less carbon output. North Carolina architect, author and consumer advocate Sarah Susanka has created a cottage industry, popularizing these ideas and designs that embody them.

With 17,000 affiliates plugging away at affordable housing across the U.S., Habitat for Humanity has exposed middle America to green building. The overall aim is healthy, energy-efficient, durable housing, with an emphasis on small units. Many affiliates operate ReStores, retail outlets that sell salvaged building materials.

An innovator in information delivery, Building Green, Inc. launched Environmental Building News in 1992 and the GreenSpec directory in 1999. Last summer, the company partnered with others to create, a one-stop source for product guides, case studies, reference tools and the like.

Since its inception in 1992, the Energy Star labeling program has expanded from residential heating and cooling equipment to major appliances, light fixtures and building materials. Commercial and industrial tools and best practices are likely to trickle down to the residential sector.

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