ALTHOUGH THE CONCEPT OF GREEN OR SUSTAINABLE building has been around for a very long time, it now seems poised to reach the so-called tipping point for builders. Guidelines from the EPA, the Department of Energy, the U.S. Green Building Council, and the NAHB are making it easier to understand the basic principles and standards of sustainability. Federal and state governments are offering incentives and tax credits, and, in some cases, passing legislation mandating energy-efficient and sustainable building techniques. And, the press (Newsweek, USA Today, and others) has jumped on the bandwagon, devoting cover and front-page stories to green lifestyles, ensuring increased consumer awareness and interest in greener homes.

That said, every news story, handbook, or Web site devoted to the topic addresses the questions, “What is green building?” and “Why should you care about it?” (Our story this month, “Greener Pastures,” page 232, is no exception.) Despite countless terms devoted to green/sustainable/ environmentally friendly/resource-efficient development, design, and products, confusion still reigns in many quarters. And for good reason. It's a complicated subject to nail down. There doesn't seem to be a single correct answer to almost any of the questions that people have about it.

Take products, for example. How do you determine if a product is green? A material such as bamboo may be quickly regenerated, but the amount of resources necessary to transport it may be huge. Okay, well, you can't get much greener than wood, right? And yet, it takes a long time to replace forests—and the naturally occurring formaldehyde in wood produces potentially harmful off-gassing. In order to determine whether a building product can be thought of as green or not, a number of criteria need to be taken into consideration, such as where the material comes from, what happens to it during manufacturing processes, and where it goes after its useful life is over. And some of these criteria cancel each other out in the process. It's no wonder some builders are skeptical about incorporating green products, principles, and practices into their businesses. So why do it?

Here are just some of the many reasons:

  • To give your customers the benefits of a more energy-efficient, less-expensive-to-operate home;
  • To improve the indoor air quality in the homes you build;
  • To reduce U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources;
  • To take advantage of easier permitting and approvals processes that sometimes result from a well-thought-out development plan;
  • To reduce the amount of materials you use;
  • To reduce the amount of construction waste you create;
  • To reap the benefits of tax credits and incentives;
  • To reduce infrastructure costs;
  • To minimize callbacks;
  • To differentiate your business from your competitors';
  • To lessen the global implications of energy usage, pollution, and loss of biodiversity;
  • Because someday you'll have to.
  • The fact is, the choice is being made for you. Rising fuel prices will affect where many home buyers will choose to live. And once they make that decision, those same fuel prices will influence how they will want to live, as well. Higher-priced electricity, oil, and gas will drive buyers to look for homes that can promise real savings in the form of lower heating, cooling, and electric bills, decreased water usage, less maintenance, and fewer repairs and replacements.

    Deliver on that promise and it won't matter whether you call your houses green, energy efficient, or high performance. Your buyers will simply be happy to call them home.