When John Imes set out to build an annex to his historic Madison, Wis., bed and breakfast in 1996, he thought that what he'd end up with was a “green” house that would serve as a model for sustainable tourism. As it turns out, the exercise brought together a powerful combination of people, whose interaction sparked the idea of a state-wide green building initiative—a program that in 2006 was recognized by the NAHB as the green building program of the year.

The program's first material steps came during a September 1998 retreat for the Wisconsin Environmental Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing state environmental issues that Imes co-founded with Stuart Rosenberg. Imes says that he and Rosenberg, along with land planning attorney Richard Lehmann, had an ah-ha moment: “We have a green showcase building [in the Arbor Inn B&B], so how might we reduce the environmental footprint of home building in general?”

The answer came when Rosenberg, the governmental affairs director for the Madison Builders Association at the time, suggested that the cohort put together a green building program proposal for the association's board to review. The catch was that they had three days to complete the task before the board's next meeting.

MAKE IT GREEN: Nathan Engstrom (left), Green Built Home program director, accepts the green building program of the year award from Matt Belcher, chairman of the 2006 NAHB National Green Building Conference. Imes says they were up against a “pretty conservative group of people on a builder's board,” who historically were not used to working hand-in-hand with environmental groups. Fortunately for Imes's team, Len Linzmeier, was in their corner.

Linzmeier, who had worked on Imes's B&B, was the head of local builder Windsor Homes and a board member. He embraced the initiative, reasoning that green building was something builders were going to have to deal with eventually so best to get on board early. Imes says Linzmeier's philosophy was pretty much “either you're driving the bus down the road or you're chasing the bus down the street.”

And with that initial support, the Green Built Home program sprouted as the first residential green building program east of the Mississippi River and the only program of its kind in the upper Midwest.

The voluntary program, essentially a certification program aimed to promote green building practices in new residential construction and remodeling, was piloted in the 1999 Madison Area builders Association Parade of Homes. Twenty-six of 32 participating builders certified their homes to Green Built Home standards.

Program director Nathan Engstrom says that since that time, the program has certified more than 2,200 homes, at a rate of about roughly 300 homes per year. Engstrom says that the program's price—it costs builders between $300 and $400 annually to enroll and then an additional $50 to $70 to register a home—and adaptable structure are two keys to its success throughout the years.

“The approach has remained meaningful but achievable and flexible,” he says. “We give [builders] options as to how they want to express green building. We don't give them a list of 20 things they have to do. We say, here are 300-plus things they can do.”