Photo: Gilles Mingasson Flash Back to 2008, and Brookfield Homes' Steve Doyle Had a 157-Acre Problem on his Hands.

As president of the company's San Diego/Riverside division, Doyle was supposed to be readying his team to move forward on a new master-planned community, The Foothills. There should've been a lot to be excited about. The parcel looked great on paper, located in one of the more affordable places in San Diego County, yet less than a handful of miles from the Carlsbad coastline. New product aimed at the move-up buyer was blueprinted and shovel ready. Moreover, the company was in the position to act as both developer and builder, so there was the promise of good profits on what tallied up to nearly 300 single-family detached homes. But the timing of the development launch couldn't have been worse.

“Things couldn't get much slower in 2008,” says Doyle.

With so little visibility into when the pulse of new-home demand might quicken again, The Foothills project was basically put in a box and shoved to the back of the closet.

Development was on hiatus, but Doyle and his management team continued to prepare for the day when the dust could be brushed off the project once again. The downturn had left a mark on builder and buyer alike, and Doyle's team was going to have to make some changes if the plan was going to be resuscitated.

The company spun off two parcels to other builders, keeping a 101-lot portion known as Rockrose for itself. Although this decision helped mitigate overall business risk, it didn't make selling a home in the community any easier; it just meant the division had fewer of them to sell. Brookfield was going to have to do something bigger and badder to fix the broken community—without totally going back to the drawing board.

Enter the concept of “Eco Savvy.”

That's the term that the Brookfield team eventually engineered to reposition the mothballed community on a fast track to sales success. The concept aims to create a community that reflects both today's home buyers' need for value and their preference for eco-conscious products. Think of it as cost efficient meets energy efficient—and then some.

Striking that balance between affordability and environment responsibility can be tricky. For all the successes of organic food markets and hybrid vehicles, few buyers are willing to shell out extra for so-called green home features. Builders not only have to be cost-conscious in choosing home products and features—whatever the cost, it's pretty much coming out of their pockets—but also effective in communicating the ultimate benefits to the buyer.

“This is a very different prospective buyer,” explains Doyle. “So, we have to find a way to work with the buyer and tell them why it matters.”

HAD THE WILL, NEEDED THE WAY But what exactly was Brookfield's perfect shade of green? From Energy Star to LEED, there are enough certification programs in the market to make any builder's head spin. Further complicating the equation was that the community plan was already almost fully baked—right down to the exterior elevation design. Starting fresh would mean more delays and ultimately costs. What the team needed was a construction solution.