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Green Building: Are the Big Builders On Board?

I can’t say that the home building industry is ignoring the “green” movement. I know this because I get a press release probably once a week from the National Association of Home Builders about some or another green improvement, green initiative, green product or green conference.

So I was surprised to read a study that claims none of America’s 13 largest publicly traded home builders has, “fully embraced the emerging market of sustainable building design and construction.”

Calvert Group, an investment management group, conducted the study with collaboration from the Boston College Institute for Responsible Investment.

“The biggest challenge facing this group is that, for the most part, they have not acknowledged that there is a market for green homes or that they have a role in serving or promoting it,” says the report.

The study does, however, rank the builders in terms of environmental sustainability. Los Angeles-based KB Home gets the top kudos, while Hovnanian Enterprises , MDC , Standard Pacific and NVR are on the so-called “sustainability bottom rung.”

The survey used four “green indicators”: energy use, building-material use, water use, and land use. In the end, it finds that the industry “has a long way to go.” I find this curious since the green building industry -- and I realize this includes appliances and raw materials, etc. -- has grown to about $40 billion, and it actually lags behind Europe. Builders have estimated that by the end of this decade 10 percent of all new homes will be “green.”

I guess you could surmise that most green building is being done by the small to mid-sized private home builders. But I do know that some big guys, like Lennar , are actively working on being more green. A recent article in Builder Magazine tells of how Lennar constructed and tore down 40 prototype homes at an air base in California in order to experiment with “green technologies.”

Like everything else that’s costly and complicated, going green will be a slow process, especially for big builders who have enough trouble just staying in business nowadays. Yet another victim of the housing downturn: no extra cash to invest in greener pastures.

Questions? Comments? RealtyCheck@cnbc.com

  • Diana Olick serves as CNBC's real estate correspondent as well as the editor of the Realty Check section on CNBC.com.

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