I would be remiss to write this column and not mention the most-discussed energy topic of the day—the price of gasoline. As I write, the U.S. national average for 1 gallon (3.8 L) of gas is a record-breaking $4.10. In my Chicago neighborhood, regular unleaded currently is priced at $4.33 per gallon; that’s up nearly $1 compared with last year at this time.

It's an understatement to say Americans, including me, are in love with their cars. Cars are status symbols we can take with us wherever we go. They provide a sense of pride and power, as well as mobility, and no one is going to give that up easily. So what can be done instead? Until some major changes are made in the manufacture of automobiles, the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Department of Energy offers tips to improve your vehicle’s fuel economy, such as avoiding aggressive driving, using the recommended grade of motor oil and staying away from peak rush hours. Get more tips at www.fueleconomy.gov.

Because many Americans must drive to work, they are tightening their budgets in other ways, such as improving the performance of their homes and offices. Bob Berkebile, founding principal of BNIM Architects, Kansas City, Mo., once told me in an interview that negative conditions often cause positive reactions. “We know from looking at large-pattern science, particularly relative to human behavior, change often comes with difficulty and as a reaction to something significant,” he said. “As the world wakes up to the reality of peak oil, each of these strategies that we now understand about efficiency are so much more powerful and attractive to a building owner.”

I know from watching the green-building industry evolve that what Berkebile said is true. Green is everywhere, and people are looking at their buildings more closely than ever before. In fact, many building owners are interested in going beyond efficient buildings to zero-energy buildings. The Living Building Challenge, which was created by the Cascadia Green Building Council, the Pacific Northwestern chapter of the Washington-based U.S. Green Building Council, includes 16 requirements that can lead to zero-energy buildings. Read about the challenge in “deep green,” page 49. This issue’s other “deep green” article, page 44, discusses how Denmark’s Samsø Island is powered by 100 percent renewable energy. Even the island’s automobiles are beginning to be converted to renewable fuels. Samsø Island is an encouraging demonstration of how entire communities can be powered by the sun, wind and biomass.

An excellent start to achieving the energy independence found in these articles is through the Energy Star program, which is administered by the DOE and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington. Karen P. Butler, Energy Star’s manager for commercial building design, explains how the program relates to buildings in “perspectives,” page 60.

So the next time you’re at the gas station, watching the cost of your tank of gas soar, remember that this negative is forcing Americans to think and talk about energy and, I believe, will lead to a greener future for our country.

Christina Koch, Editor in Chief