CARBON CONTENT: Architect Michelle Kaufmann’s sustainability label for green homes is the latest step to help home buyers discern the differences between an increasing stock of energy- and resource-efficient housing options.
Courtesy Michelle Kaufmann CARBON CONTENT: Architect Michelle Kaufmann’s sustainability label for green homes is the latest step to help home buyers discern the differences between an increasing stock of energy- and resource-efficient housing options.

Architect Michelle Kaufmann has carved a neat little niche for herself in the green housing game by designing, building, and promoting prefabricated modular homes that offer a higher level of performance, resource efficiency, and sustainability.

Now, a recent white paper by Kaufmann calls for a universal sustainability labeling standard modeled after the Food & Drug Administration’s Nutrition Facts label that’s on every package of food sold in the U.S.

In the paper, Kaufmann ­asserts that a universal labeling system would help grow the green building industry by making it easier for home buyers to understand the environmental, health, and financial benefits of living in a green home. “Nutrition labeling allows consumers to purchase food according to the quality of its nutritional content,” says Kaufmann, founder and chairwoman of Michelle Kaufmann Cos. “We want home buyers to be empowered with the same sort of information when it comes to making a decision about what house to live in.”

Under her plan, all homes—green or not—would have the Sustainability Facts label, further enabling buyers to evaluate differences in homes’ carbon footprints, energy consumption, and other factors.

Already, products that qualify under the federal Energy Star standards for energy efficiency, and windows and doors evaluated by the National Fenestration Rating Council are plastered with labels that, in part, list their energy-saving values.

Several recent consumer studies have shown, however, that home buyers desire green homes but lack understanding about what qualifies as green or how one builder’s sustainability claims match up to another’s. Kaufmann’s labeling suggestion, she writes in the paper, would improve and increase consumer knowledge and result in an even greater boost in high-performance housing production.

The labeling system, she says, would also take the mystery out of the fragmented green certification programs initiated at the local, regional, and national levels. “Some are designed to evaluate the sustainability of an entire home while others evaluate just specific elements such as its ­energy efficiency,” she writes. “The vast array of choices confronting green home buyers is confusing at best, frustrating and discouraging at worst.”

Kaufmann proposes implementing the program as a pilot project to eventually be rolled out nationally, vowing to be the first developer to apply the label to new homes. To obtain a free version of the white paper, go to www.mkd-arc.com.