Using mostly public information, Calvert, a leader in sustainable and responsible investing, examined the policies and procedures of each builder under five key indicators—land use, building materials (including use of certified products), energy, water, and climate change (including incorporating policies and programs to address greenhouse gas emissions reduction). Out of 42 possible points, the 10 builders scored an average of just more than 6 points, or 15% of all the points possible. KB Home and Pulte were the only builders to score significantly above that, with KB achieving just fewer than 70% of the 42 points possible and Pulte receiving just fewer than 40%. (Calvert would not disclose the actual point totals for KB and Pulte.)
Report co-author and Calvert sustainability analyst Rebecca Henson said that the company began conducting the biennial study, first released in 2008, because it sees a disconnect between the ecological impact of home building (residential structures contribute to 21% of U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions, they reported) and the industry’s role in remedying it. While many U.S. industries have begun implementing, measuring, and disclosing sustainability policies, few home builders have followed suit.
“[Residential building] companies today have taken many meaningful steps toward developing greener and cleaner homes,” she said. Still, she later noted, “given the environmental impacts home building has, the industry has significantly more progress to make.”
Among the five categories, Henson reported, the most progress has been made under the energy efficiency section. Procedures impacting climate change, an area with longer-term benefits and fewer near-term financial gains, are not well-addressed by the industry.
The study also found that the top home builders have shifted from regional policies and programs to company-wide, national sustainability commitments.
The rankings based on Calvert’s research were as follows:
1. KB Home (Same ranking as 2008)
2. Pulte Homes (Same ranking as 2008)
3. Meritage Homes (No. 8 in 2008)
4. Toll Bros. (No. 9 in 2008)
5. Lennar (Same ranking as 2008)
6. D.R. Horton (No. 2 in 2008)
7. Standard Pacific (No. 11 in 2008)
8. NVR (No. 13 in 2008)
9. Ryland Group (No. 6 in 2008)
10. MDC Holdings (No. 11 in 2008)
Along with achieving the top spot overall, KB Home was the top points-earner in all five areas of the study. The company has made noticeable strides recently, including committing to building all of its houses to Energy Star standards, building all of its Northern California homes to the California Build It Green GreenPoint Rated standards, and, most recently, introducing the first EPA WaterSense-certified production houses.
KB Home is committed to implementing such changes with little to no additional cost to the consumer, said president and CEO Jeffrey Mezger, noting that typical home buyers are most likely to include green features that will save them money down the road.
Education is one key to the builder’s success. “Consumers know the words [energy efficiency and environmentally friendly], but they don’t know what they mean,” Mezger said. “The more we educate the consumer on the value of products … there’s a higher percentage who will take the option.”
Internally, KB’s corporate sustainability report (it is the only builder in the study to compile one) provides learning opportunities of its own. Though not always complimentary, Mezger said, each report shows the progress the company is making while pinpointing the areas still needing improvement.
Steps like these, among the many others the study observed among the builders, are evidence that the current economic and political climates are not impeding companies’ sustainability initiatives, Henson said. “We believe that green building represents an opportunity to the industry as it focuses on rebuilding its market and restoring and strengthening profitability.”
Click here to download the full report, “A Green Recovery for Homebuilders? A Survey of Sustainable Practices by the Homebuilding Industry.”
Katy Tomasulo is Deputy Editor for EcoHome.