Delivering On the Promise of Green Building

Bill Walsh | February 02, 2007 | Policies

Unity Homes Ribbon Cutting

Unity Homes Ribbon Cutting

Photo: Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

The Green Building Movement made history last Saturday, at the corner of Ohio Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in North Gulfport, Mississippi. There, a remarkable array of partners gathered to cut the ribbon on the first home built to meet post-Katrina affordable housing needs with green and healthy materials. The Healthy Building Network's modular Unity Home wasn't as much an historic "first," as it was an historic shift in the reality of the green building movement.

Partnerships that expand the boundaries of usual green building alliances have given the Unity Homes project its life, and have set a precedent that will dramatically extend the reach of the green building movement. Civil rights groups, historic preservationists, corporate lawyers, retired modular industry executives and grassroots community organizers, among others, have grown confident that green and healthy buildings are integral to community revitalization.

Trisha Miller of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, who has advocated on behalf of the historic African-American North Gulfport community for years prior to hurricane Katrina, signaled this future potential. "From the ground up, the Unity Homes project is a new approach in community development that will provide healthy homes for hurricane survivors and communities across the Deep South," she said.

While green building represents the fastest growing segment of the construction sector, the rapid growth of green construction has not been spread evenly over all areas of the industry. This is particularly true in the design and materials utilized in affordable housing. Vinyl and particleboard, for example, are often standard features even though they are known to be asthma triggers, while childhood asthma rates reach epidemic proportions in low-income populations.

Energy efficient appliances, construction and state-of-the-art HVAC systems are generally sold to people and developers who can bear higher up-front costs, beyond the reach of less fortunate people. Noting that the Unity Home is projected to use less than 50% of the energy used by comparable homes, North Gulfport Land Trust founder Rose Johnson emphasized how significant this can be: "we need to be aware of the suffering of poor people... families who may be struggling to pay their utility bills - that money can then go towards paying a house note, or maybe even sending a child to college."

Unity Homes Team

The Unity Homes Team: Lillie Bender, Jim Vallette, Paul Bogart

With one home now built, and deepening relationships with our non-profit community organizations, economic development officials, leading modular housing engineers, and structured finance experts, the Unity Homes Project is well-placed to establish, by the end of 2007, a factory in Mississippi that will produce 250 houses in the first year, and employ over 80 people.

The Unity Home at the corner of Ohio St. and MLK Boulevard begins to deliver on the promise of the green building movement to help rebuild Gulf coast housing. But more than that, through the new partnerships it has forged, the Unity Homes Project enhances the potential of the green building movement to realize one of its "strategic imperatives... to help cities deliver the benefit of green buildings to all their citizens." [1]

New Version of Green Guide for Health Care Launched

On January 31, the Green Guide for Health Care, the first and only sustainable design toolkit tailored to the health care industry, launched a new updated version that includes more tips and tools for adding healing design features, energy and water efficiency strategies, and safer materials to the health care setting.

Read about it here:


[1] GreenBuild 2006, Opening Plenary Remarks by S. Richard Fedrizzi, President, CEO and Founding Chairman, US Green Building Council. Page 5, emphasis in original.