It’s been 38 years since the first Earth Day, and while there’s no doubt it served as a wake-up call, most of us hit the snooze button when we heard the first alarm and are now finally waking up. This includes most of the housing industry.

Earth Day 1970 was an environmentally driven affair created in response to the manmade degradation of habitat, water quality, and wildlife as first chronicled by biologist Rachel Carson in her book Silent Spring. Combined with the resource and population issues that emerged at the same time, many people projected (you might even say predicted) the serious challenges that haunt us today. “Ecology” left the shadows of science and entered mainstream consciousness for the first time.

This was the era of the first oil crisis when heating oil and electricity costs skyrocketed, leading to the first wave of energy efficiency and alternate energy initiatives. Many of today’s green building principles and practices evolved from the early research and field experience gained during that period.

Rick Schwolsky and Jean Dimeo, Co-Chief Editors, EcoHome Magazine
David Sharpe Rick Schwolsky and Jean Dimeo, Co-Chief Editors, EcoHome Magazine

So where are we now? While these were issues only “tree-huggers” or “greenies” cared about back then, today everybody, including those in housing, is going green. And while this groundswell of interest and intent is off to a great new start, it leads to legitimate and complex questions about what defines green products, what makes a home green, and what methods will prove claims of greener performance.

We raise these questions because they are critical in guiding our progress and our pace toward delivering new levels of meaningful solutions from the housing sector. Even with the significant progress and commitment made in recent years, we must strive for standards that guide us to higher and higher performance levels.

It may seem an easy task to define or describe the characteristics of a green product (an unfortunate result of the “greenwashing” marketing trend), but answering this question for any product is far more complex than most people imagine, even for the brilliant industry researchers devoting themselves to this work. So ongoing efforts to raise the level and clarity of existing green building product standards—or develop new ones—will be key to our progress. And manufacturers will be important partners in this process.

The same can be said for how we design and build new and remodeled homes, and ensure their performance. Many of the green building guidelines used for local and regional programs, while well-intentioned, need to be strengthened in order to achieve the performance levels that many experts say are the new standards. And while some leading communities are already updating their guidelines, more should follow quickly and should add stringent on-site inspections and third-party verification and performance testing to their programs, if they don’t already require them.

We believe the industry can use the guidance of enlightened codes and ambitious programs like Energy Star, LEED for Homes, and the NAHB’s Model Green Home Building Guidelines, among others, to help us reach the next level of green building. But we also believe that the best standards are the ones you set for yourself, your company, and your projects. Your personal commitment to stay informed and always seek the next level of performance will help drive us toward our common goals and bring green building to a higher level. And you can count on the new EcoHome magazine and Web site to help you fulfill that mission.

The staff of EcoHome would like to remember our colleague and friend, Judy Neighbor, who passed away suddenly the week before this issue was printed. Judy, who worked for EcoHome’s parent company, Hanley Wood, for 13 years, was the design consultant for the launch of EcoHome.