Take on Carbon Footprints One Step at a Time

By Fredric B. Prohov

The connection back to the environment and the desire to “go green” has become more evident everywhere we look in a short time. We all sense this change, but for the moment, it has been more of a point of recognition than action.

Most of us want to be part of a carbon reduction solution. Marketing from large corporations is effectively trying to capitalize on that fact, perhaps with good social intentions as well as clear profit motivation. As the costs of gasoline, electricity and heating oil and gas for our homes creep ever higher, it is the economics of change as much or more than the articles about “eco-guilt” and “social responsibility,” that will force choices that will drive more carbon neutral development in the home building sector of the economy.

We have spent decades building roadways to suburbia with two cars for every home. Development that requires transportation away from central areas for distribution of products and services has become too expensive and too harsh on the environment. Carbon dioxide emissions created from burning fossil fuels has been established to be a contributing cause of harmful climate change. Combustion from each home, car and office produces a certain volume of emissions of carbon dioxide that can be measured. This measurement is said to be a “carbon footprint.” Those emissions are sent firmly into the global atmosphere contributing to an ever-increasing problem for our environment. Reducing the footprint is an important goal we all need to pursue as best we can. So how do we define the footprint from our homes and what are the choices we have to find the right homes that allow us to hold on to what we still want, but still allow us to be part of the solution of what we need to do on the family level?

The United States Green Building Counsel brought protocols for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) that have so far been applied mostly to new construction or revamping of existing buildings for commercial office or retail facilities. Here in Chicago last November at its Green Build conference, the USGBC launched the introduction of a new LEED for Homes Rating System with the final version released on a national basis in January of this year. The protocol for LEED for Homes provides a rating system focused on design criteria that will help promote the reduction of natural resource depletion along with the size of the carbon footprint from the homes we build. Categories for the protocol include: Innovation and Design Process Credits, Location and Linkages, Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality and Awareness and Education.

The number of single-family and multi-family homes designed with LEED for Homes is increasing just as the consumer seeks out more green home options that can be verified by a third party to ensure it is not just superficial greenwashed product for marketing purposes. For a closer look at the rating system and further resource guidance, look at the USGBC Web site at usgbc.org/leed/homes. The site also has project profiles of award-winning homes that have already met the design criteria set by the USGBC. These homes demonstrate the application of the seven point design criteria to obtain great results for reducing both the footprint on the environment as well as the costs from lower energy and water consumption. The USGBC also provides a list of those that can provide technical, marketing and verification support to builders.

The 30-mile commute at $4.00 per gallon is changing how we view the choices we make about the location of where we live and work. Consumers are already trading in and seeking out “green” home products. The developer that stays ahead of the pendulum to meet the demand will be well rewarded for building the right product for the times. The trend toward urban sprawl and ever-larger homes built with non-renewable materials and room for the SUVs and bulk product by the pallet is already in reverse.

Developers that can color our world with the green principles underlying the LEED for Homes rating system will be the ones that create the emerging picture of our future. They will be the ones that help define sustainable development and, in that process, help reduce our carbon footprint one step at a time with each new home and multi-family project they build. That is a picture and a footprint most of us naturally want to leave behind for the generations that follow us. We can help with that goal by demanding a better selection for the type of homes we choose to buy and demanding others be restored and renewed from existing housing stock based upon sustainable design and construction practices. At this point, we each will participate in an evolution forward toward a better-built, and more ecologically sound, environment. Now that is a step in the right direction.

FREDRIC B. PROHOV, J.D., LEED AP IS AN ATTORNEY PRACTICING IN CHICAGO FOR NEARLY 30 YEARS IN THE AREAS OF REAL ESTATE, SECURED LENDING AND EQUITY FINANCE. PROHOV OBTAINED A LEED AP DESIGNATION FROM THE USGBC IN 2004. CONTACT HIM AT RPROHOV@PAALAW.COM.

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