Around the country both private contractors and government scientists are working on perfecting "green" buildings, homes and offices that require only a fraction of the energy that present buildings do.
For example, in Charlotte a "Green Communities" initiative was recently launched by an unusual housing-environmental alliance.
Leaders of the effort are the Enterprise Foundation, a premier national affordable housing provider founded by the late developer-urbanist James Rouse, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the country's top environmental organizations pushing green building initiatives.
These groups aim to inspire and lead the building over the next five years of 8,500 environmentally friendly affordable homes, using the $550 million they're already well on the way to raising and another half billion dollars they expect the project to leverage. Just as significant, they expect to provide a wave of training, encouragement and technical assistance to help developers across the country "go green."
"Our grand design is to lead the way and make `green' criteria the normal way everyone builds affordable housing, because it makes so much sense, both economically and environmentally," says Bart Harvey, the Enterprise Foundation's chairman and CEO.
Other green housing initiatives have started in Seattle, Fresno, Portland, and Boston.
In Seattle, the 9th and Stewart Life Sciences Building is the city's newest green building, an 11-story building incorporates sustainable design features that make it a welcome, future-oriented addition to the cityscape. A high-ceiling, west-facing lobby is bathed in natural light, cheerful even on a gray day. A terrazzo floor is made of glossy pieces of green, gray and black recycled glass. Visitors are greeted with the soothing sound of a water fountain, created by local artist Joe MacDonald, that uses netting and turquoise, amber and red recycled glass balls to symbolize rejuvenation.
The Oak Ridge National Laboratory is working on a " near-zero-energy house" that features airtight envelope construction, advanced structural insulated panel systems, insulated precast concrete walls, a heat pump water heater, geothermal systems, grid-connected solar photovoltaics, adaptive mechanical ventilation, cool roof and wall coatings with infrared reflective pigments, and solar integrated raised metal seam roofs. The houses use fifty percent less energy than normal houses and they are aiming for 100% efficiency in the future.
This is an area that is not getting the publicity it deserves and it is primarily restricted to government subsidized, low income homes. But the technology is being developed and materials prices being brought down. All that is needed for a breakthrough is an incentive.