A Meeting with the Father of Green Building Movement

Just a few years ago, “green houses” could be just about anything – a person could claim they had a “green house” just because they put in a couple of Energy Star appliances and some energy efficient insulation, or possibly without even doing that much. There was no way to compare one house that claimed to be “green” from another.

As a result, home buyers, architects and other building professionals had no way to distinguish – and value – one green project from another project. The problem was just as bad for local planning commissions, planning departments, and design review boards. As “green building” grew in popularity – and as cities began valuing green building as a tool for reducing carbon emissions – there developed a need for a set of standards to quantify energy efficiency and earth-friendliness of each green project that comes along.

Enter the Green Points Rating system. Developed by Build It Green, the Green Points Rating system is a system which assigns point values for various categories of energy efficient and sustainable design – such as installing Energy Star appliances, drought-tolerant landscaping, insulation with high recycled content, tankless water heaters, etc. You even get 2 points for developing an “infill” project because the net gain is no additional houses.

Green Points has come to dominate the residential single family home market in Northern California, and is sweeping to other parts of the nation. Green Points has focused on the residential market, whereas its predecessor, the LEED rating system has become the dominant green building measure for large-scale commercial projects (although the LEED rating system can be used for both commercial and residential projects).

Green Points Rating systems have already been implemented in the County of San Mateo and the cities of Simi Valley, Mill Valley, San Rafael, and soon Tiburon.

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of meeting Donald Simon, the current President of Build It Green and one of the driving forces behind developing the Green Points rating system.

A lifelong environmentalist, Simon stated that the reason he has put so much time into developing the Green Points rating system was because he realized the environmental movement could do more for the planet by focusing on reducing demand for resources, rather than focusing so much effort on saving the “supply” side of natural resources. When he was younger, Simon said he spent all his time saving “supply” – wetlands, open space, forests, etc. By developing a green points system which encourages developers to use fewer resources, he hopes to reduce the demand for natural resources, thus reducing the need for environmental groups to save open space, wetlands, and other natural resources.

There’s no way the environmental movement — with its limited time, energy, and resources — can possibly win every fight over each new development that comes along, says Simon. The interests behind developing new housing developments and new commercial developments are too strong and have too much money he says.

It’s an interesting argument. Although Simon notes he is still a member of the Sierra Club and many other environmental groups, he also acknowledges he is making the argument that “the market will save us.” Given the depth of his commitment to the cause and his ability to articulate the rationale behind the argument, it’s hard to disagree with him.