How Green Homebuilding and Sustainability Evolved

Equity is a core component of sustainability.

By Chloe Chapman and Kaylee Beam

Climate change, affordable housing and social equity are no longer conversation topics reserved for special interest groups and organizations. Rarely a week goes by without seeing them mentioned in national and global headlines, and another year spent living through a global pandemic has brought a new layer to this mix: a heightened awareness of the importance of human health.

While it is still important for each of us to do our part, from sourcing long-lasting, toxic-free materials for our homes to embracing water and electricity conservation practices, the barriers we face in our communities are shared. Only by collaborating and adapting a more holistic approach can we help the world heal and thrive, one neighborhood at a time.

This collaborative approach relies on different players in the building ecosystem and with support growing in a variety of sectors, it’s an exciting and innovative time for healthier homes and communities.

It is no longer enough to reduce the environmental harm of individual buildings—we need to take our thinking one step further. Organizations, grassroots advocates and building trades professionals are starting to move toward a mindset of shaping and revitalizing communities in a way that supports continuous growth and regeneration.

Communities can’t be considered healthy or sustainable until they’re meeting the needs of all residents, rather than those of a privileged few. Over the past year, this idea has sparked greater recognition of how important it is for work to be community-driven and community-sourced.

Organizations like EcoDistricts and the NAACP are using their platforms to center equity in conversations about sustainable building. Others, including Habitat for Humanity, Grid Alternatives, and the Rising Sun Center for Opportunity, engage local communities through workforce development and training.

In the wake of increasingly devastating natural disasters, considering proximity to fire-prone areas and prioritizing the use of resistant, long-lasting materials is at the forefront of developers’ minds. With policy changes to support resiliency, infill developments have also been providing more affordable housing near transit and basic services, resulting in less urban sprawl and reliance on cars.

At Build It Green, we have expanded our GreenPoint Rated residential green rating program nationally and brought training online to be more inclusive of our growing network of GreenPoint Raters. Architects and builders treat these frameworks as guides on building practices that lessen the environmental footprint of each home, lower operating and maintenance costs and support human and natural well-being.

“It is no longer enough to reduce the environmental harm of individual buildings—we need to take our thinking one step further.”

It is also exciting to see projects layer green building systems—like Living Building Challenge and Passive House in this single family home in Los Angeles—to further tailor beneficial practices to specific and unique buildings.

There are healthier material options and greater transparency regarding the effects certain chemical components or materials have on human health and the environment. This helps green building consultants advise builders and developers to source materials that keep building occupants safe and meet higher environmental standards.

Additionally, there has been a paradigm shift in how we build homes, due to both backed-up supply chains for traditional materials and the sheer number of homes that need to be built. This has sparked an emergence of 3D-printed and factory-built home companies that prioritize reducing product waste, less disruption at the job site and expediting the time it takes to design and build a home.

Real estate financing companies have established programs like Fannie Mae’s Green Building Certification program providing reduced mortgage rates for green homes and state tax credit programs providing tax discounts for buildings that have gone through a third-party green building verification program.

California’s Strategic Growth Council has dedicated $178.5M to community-driven neighborhood revitalization efforts through its Transformative Climate Communities Program and has already put hundreds of millions of dollars toward affordable housing and transit-oriented development through its Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program.

While ventilation, natural light and access to outdoor spaces have always been important components of building design, spending another year working from home with limited travel options has made the importance of these elements clear from both a physical and mental health perspective

Chloe Chapman is a Program Manager of Build It Green and she may be reached at cchapman@builditgreen.org.

 

Kaylee Beam is the Communications and Research Associate at Build It Green.