Some four decades after the first Earth Day and more than thirty years since back-to-back oil shortages forced us to think about our energy consumption, it seems as though the idea of living for rather than in spite of the environment is gaining popularity once again.

"Building Green" is now a genuine movement, not just among the usual suspects (and we know who we are,) but an initiative that is increasingly being embraced by progressive municipal governments and more than a few savvy home builders. In fact, as oil and natural gas prices have gone through the stratosphere in recent months, almost everyone in those areas of the country dependent on fossil fuels for electricity or heat is probably wishing they had planned for green home a long time ago. If you need reminding, energy prices, especially in the Northeast, are expected to rise as much as 70 percent over last winter's levels.

Off course, we have heard this all before. We have used wood stoves (which have sparked their own environmental concerns;) wrapped up in warm and fuzzy lap robes and sweaters; thrown down R30 insulation in the attic and put recycle bins in the garage. We have even experimented with composting toilets and geo-thermal energy. Those of us who carry the green gene, have done it all, sporadically if not consistently.

But technology has come a long way since those ugly solar panels sprouted off of residential roofs during the Carter years, and green building is now not only a personal and perennial cause of the socially conscious, but a smart economic move for everyone.

Today building green means a lot of things:

  • Building with materials that incorporate and emphasize sustainable resources or, alternatively, utilize recycled materials that help to undo damage already done.

    Incredible advances have been made in building materials derived from renewable (or legitimately inexhaustible) materials such as bamboo, hay, compacted earth, and cornstalks. Many of these materials have been recognized as legitimate resources for years but have been successfully ignored in favor of cheaper and more accessible alternatives, particularly those that are petroleum based. Most sustainable materials have the additional advantage of not polluting the environment in their manufacture and many make an addition contribution to energy efficiency.

    At the same time, engineers have discovered ways to utilize our unending supply of castoffs, using them to develop building materials and furnishings. (Trex anyone?)

  • Creative construction designed to minimize consumption of energy and other resources

    Energy efficiency has again returned to the public consciousness and people are paying attention to the numbers when purchasing appliances and insulating the home. And solar power is far from dead.

  • Building to make minimum impact on the environment now and in the future;

    This is one of the most exciting areas among the green things. Smart construction or intelligent retrofitting can save water, land, fuel and your conscience

  • Building and living in a way that will actually give back to society and the environment.

    Not only can living green minimize the negative footprint one leaves on the environment, it can, when carried to a bit of an extreme, actually make the energy meter run backwards and contribute to the land, water, and energy grid.

This is obviously an enormous and multi-faceted topic, and over the next few months, probably longer, we will look at each of these areas in turn. The basics; new products, local initiatives, new construction and retrofitting will be on the agenda as will some more esoteric subjects. We invite your comments and suggestions as we explore the benefits of not only building green but living green.