Will a new administration in Washington dampen enthusiasm for a greener, cleaner, more efficient future for our houses?
Not necessarily, according to speakers at a 2017 Sustainability Symposium in Orlando during the International Builders Show (IBS) in January, where they argued that the movement is now so much into the public consciousness that it can’t be reversed.
Sara Gutterman, CEO of GreenBuilder Media, the symposium’s sponsor, said the same market forces that have made solar the least expensive form of retail energy and wind the cheapest form of wholesale energy are at work in the housing sector.
“Pull from consumer demand has roused businesses across all sectors to make bold commitments to climate action, blazing the trail to widespread renewable energy adoption, breakthrough technology development and novel corporate sustainability strategies,” she told an audience of nearly 300 people, including almost 75 homebuilders who were in town to attend IBS, their annual convention and expo at the Orange County Convention Center. “Sustainability has transcended policies and is now in the impartial hands of the market.”
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, keynoted the event, pointing out that 72 percent of all Millennials aged 18 to 29 believe the climate is changing because of human activity. And noting that they are the same demographic that will be the housing business’ source of first-time buyers for years to come, he said homebuilders should get on board.
The governor also said that “progress over the next four years will be by people taking action locally.”
In places like Orlando, South Miami and Carmel, Ind., they already have.
Orlando may be best known for Walt Disney World, but it is also a leader in the sustainability movement. One of its more unique programs involves composting. To reduce waste sent to landfills — and negate the need for fertilizer — the city delivers, without charge, a backyard composting bin to residents who can use food scraps, yard waste and shredded paper products to create nutrient rich soil. “We’re going beyond recycling,” said Chris Castro, Orlando’s director of sustainability.
South Miami, according to its four-term mayor, Phillip Stoddard, a professor of biology at Florida International University, has taken steps to reduce the city’s carbon footprint by actually embracing density instead of fighting it. And in Carmel, its six-term mayor, Jim Brainard, has helped his town become a vibrant city where people want to live and companies want to locate.
“We are on our own at the municipal level,” said Stoddard. Added Brainard: “There’s no Democratic or Republican way to pick up the trash. It’s non-partisan.”
Many building product manufacturers also are advancing the cause. For example, Uponor, a Swedish maker of plumbing products, has an intelligent piping system that can diagnose small leaks before they become larger ones, which helps to prevent wasting water.
“From awareness comes conservation,” said Uponor’s USA President Bill Gray. “People don’t want to waste. They want to do the right thing.”
Matthew Pine, vice president of marketing at Carrier, the big air conditioning company, agreed: “Consumers care. They take action. It’s a rich and powerful movement.”
Whether it’s because they want to save resources or save money – or both – consumer interest in sustainable building is growing. About eight miles east of the Texas capital, the largest master-planned community of net-zero houses in the country is rising to strong interest from buyers.
“Everyone in Austin knows affordability is a hot topic, but we wanted to do more than just talk about it,” says developer Douglas Gilliland of Taurus of Texas. “We are bringing a new product to the market that meets the budget and lifestyles of first-time buyers and growing families, as well as reducing the carbon footprint.”
Even though final prices haven’t been set – the high $100,00s to $300,000 is the goal – 150 buyers are lined up to grab one in the first section.
All structures will be geothermal and solar or solar-ready equipped, capable of achieving the zero-energy ready or carbon neutral standard promoted by the city for all new construction.