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    Credit: Ray Ng

Our industry has never had a shortage of star-quality leaders. We depend on them every day in every sector to walk along the cutting edge and mark safe passage toward innovation that collectively we can follow. But even these leaders follow paths blazed by others—the visionaries who forge, shape, and sharpen that cutting edge. And although they often push us outside our comfort zone, without them we do not move incrementally forward.

Sam Rashkin is a perfect example. Born of the industry with a background in architecture and engineering, he has been the driving force for 15 years behind the EPA’s Energy Star for Homes program that pioneered the industry’s first performance benchmarks, and reached 1.3 million qualified homes last year. And as successful as other green building programs and rating systems are becoming, it’ll take decades for all of them combined to reach that level.

But these numbers simply reflect Rashkin’s extraordinary commitment and contributions to the future of our industry, for which he will receive the 2012 Hanley Award for Vision and Leadership in Sustainable Housing.

The Hanley Award is sponsored by The Hanley Foundation, Hanley Wood, and EcoHome and Builder magazines, and is the housing industry’s largest award presented for significant and lasting contributions to environmental building. Past recipients include Edward Mazria of Architecture 2030 and Alex Wilson of BuildingGreen. Rashkin will receive the 2012 award and its $50,000 grant at The Hanley Award Dinner that will be held at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., in May.

As you’ll see in Jean Dimeo’s cover story starting on page 22, Rashkin’s technical background and tenacious personality are fueling a career-long mission to improve the performance and quality of the homes we design and build, first and most obviously as relates to energy efficiency, and more recently addressing broader attributes.

Energy Star’s performance criteria are referred to by every emerging green building and energy code, voluntary regional certification program, and national rating systems like LEED for Homes, Environments for Living, and the ANSI National Green Building Standard. And while Energy Star’s early criteria eventually became seen as entry-level requirements for subsequent codes and voluntary rating systems, recent, and more stringent, Energy Star requirements—including indoor air quality, water efficiency, and building science criteria—have stimulated reviews and updates within every other program leading to higher standards across the board.

The EPA couldn’t know when they hired him at the end of 1994 to lead the program how right Rashkin would be for the job—and for the time. And they certainly couldn’t bet then on how much he would be able to achieve with a small staff and shallow budget. But rather than see these as limiting factors, Rashkin pressed forward and engaged, educated, and challenged the industry and its leaders head-on.

He brought new levels of technical understanding to policy discussions. He convinced skeptical stalwarts that his mission was to help and not hinder their own—and won them over. And he advocated passionately to builders, suppliers, real estate agents, home buyers—anyone who would listen—the honest benefits of innovation and change.

And while Rashkin’s job has shifted with his appointment as the chief architect in the DOE’s Building Technologies Program, his mission will never change—and he’s as fired up as ever. But his legacy at Energy Star for Homes will endure along with the mark he has made on home building coast to coast. Simply put, Rashkin improved our understanding of what we do—and changed how we do it.