Among major home builders, Pulte Homes has long stood out for its ongoing research efforts and particularly its Southwest division's dedication to building energy-efficient homes years before "green" became a hip buzzword.

But the length of Pulte's commitment to high-performance home building didn't appear to reap as many benefits as one might have expected in a recent report evaluating 13 public builders on their sustainability efforts. KB Home received the honors of being ranked the greenest large public builder in the country in the report, which was done by Calvert Group, an investment management firm in Bethesda, Md., in collaboration with Boston College's Institute for Responsible Investment.

Specifically, "Greener Pastures for America's Homebuilders?" noted KB's "comprehensive approach to sustainability at the policy, program, and performance levels." This includes an environmental task force at the Los Angeles-based company, sustainable sourcing programs for building materials, a corporate strategy to adopt renewable and energy-efficient technologies, and a vow to use only Energy Star appliances in its homes beginning in 2008.

Meanwhile, Pulte, ranked tops in performance by Calvert, got dinged on policy (defined as "formal commitments from the management team to explicit goals"), and ended up tied for second overall with D.R. Horton.

It's a little bit of a mixed blessing for the Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based builder. "Overall, we're pleased to be recognized for our sustainable building efforts, especially in regard to energy efficiency, which the Calvert report specifically notes," said Melanie Hearsch, corporate communications manager for Pulte. She also added a gentle clarification: "Like KB, we do have an internal task force of both home office and field leaders who meet regularly to assess and expand our green building efforts."

"I guess we just need to talk more about it," said Jim Petersen, director of research and development at Pulte, which has been involved in high-performance building since the 1990s. "We strongly believe that the key to green starts with a well built, energy-efficient home."

Practices for building such a home at Pulte include using low- or no-VOC paints, installing Energy Star appliances as standard, and a growing use of recycled-source building materials such as carpet manufactured from plastic bottles. "While our communities in the Southwest currently see the greatest integration of green building components, Pulte communities around the country incorporate several energy-efficient practices," Hearsch said. Details do vary based on the climate (a core tenet of high-efficiency building practices) and market. For example, some Pulte communities include high-efficiency toilets that conserve water or rely on cellulose insulation, which is comprised primarily of recycled newsprint.

"It's good someone has taken something like this on, because it's a difficult subject," Petersen told BUILDER this week. "Maybe we just need to be more vocal, but that's just how Pulte does things: 'actions speak louder than words.'"

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Alison Rice is senior editor, online for BUILDER magazine.