Contemporary eco-village bucks housing crash

PALMETTO, Georgia (CNN) — The idea of investing in new home construction and high-end restaurant businesses would send most entrepreneurs running these days, but developers in a small community in rural Georgia say they’re still growing.

Selborne Lane is lined with a mix of residential and commercial buildings.

Selborne Lane is lined with a mix of residential and commercial buildings.

At first glance Serenbe is a bucolic scene of horses and stables ringed by 40,000 acres of dense oak and pine forest, but as you drive around the first bend, a collection of look-alike white houses emerges, giving the distinct impression of a conventional high-end housing development.

But a 21st century high-tech eco-village soon emerges from the mists.

There are paths leading to water recycling facilities, composting, recycling, and 25 acres of organic-certified farmland, four of which are planted with anything from hops for beer making to sweet peas. A silver sign is prominently displayed in recognition of Serenbe’s ecologically sound construction, proving that Serenbe is not the average cookie-cutter housing development.

Serenbe, a community founded on principles of farm-to-table cooking and environmentally conscious building techniques, has seen its fortunes rise while the rest of the country struggles. The development’s founders have sold four homes and five building lots at the development since January alone, and they believe that innovation may be just the thing the economy needs.

Founders Marie and Steve Nygren say they’re running their business the old-fashioned way: looking back to what they call a “village model,” where people shop and dine locally, helping to sustain each other’s business while also creating less waste,

“People are looking for what’s important, quality of life, for them and their children. Many of the residents want to know their neighbors, and we’re creating public spaces where they can interact,” Steve says.

The community started small: the Nygrens bought a farmhouse and 90 acres of land back in 1991. At first they used it as a weekend retreat from nearby Atlanta, but three years later they made it their permanent residence and workplace. Soon the 90 acres became 1000, the farmhouse became an inn, and the Nygrens developed a vision of community.

“We’re intentional in the way that we respect the environment. It’s about the way you live, the way you interact, the way you eat,” says Marie. It has also been a business success: today Serenbe is a four-year-old upscale housing development, where the starting price for a house is $350,000.

In the last three years Serenbe has grown to a community of 160 residents, mostly young families who work in the Atlanta area, the self-employed or retired. So far, 102 freshly built environmentally friendly homes and business spaces have been rented and sold, a small collection of boutiques and galleries has popped up, and at the heart of the community, three restaurants are thriving.

Green Buildings Are the Future


The building sector is the biggest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the U.S. Energy used in U.S. buildings produces about 43 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. However, buildings certified under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) have less impact on the environment, according to theGreen Building Impact Report 2008. The report assessed non-residential construction because it accounts for 40 percent of the environmental burden from the buildings sector.

LEED certified buildings have less impact on the land and water, and use 25 percent less energy. They save the equivalent amount of GHG emissions from entering the environment as 400 million vehicle miles traveled. They also use seven percent less water. The equivalent of 2008 water savings could fill enough 32 ounce bottled to encircle the globe 300 times.

The Architecture 2030 Challenge

The Architecture 2030 Challenge calls for a 50 percent reduction in the energy use and GHG emissions of all new buildings and major renovations by 2010. The Challenge also calls for an increasing reduction of both energy use and GHG emissions in increments every five years so all new buildings will be carbon neutral by 2030.

The Challenge also calls for new buildings to be designed so that they cut fossil fuel energy usage in half, and renovate existing buildings to cut their fossil fuel energy usage in half.

The following organizations have adopted the Challenge: the American Institute of Architects, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, U.S. Green Building Council, National Association of Counties, California Public Utilities and Energy Commissions, and individual cities, counties and states.

Will the recession affect the green building sector?

The green building sector has grown considerably in the 21st century. Despite the current economic recession, the construction and certification of green buildings will continue to increase, according to a recent report, How Green a Recession? – Sustainability Prospects in the US Real Estate Industry.

The report, commissioned by RREEF, a member of the Deutsche Bank Group, stated that the green building market will continue to accelerate, which will increase the “green share” of the building sector, and then will speed markets “to the tipping point where green buildings become the standard for quality real estate product.”

There is a potential for tremendous growth in the green building sector, according to the report, for four reasons:

  1. The low market penetration rate.
  2. The number of firms and professionals involved in understanding green building techniques and certification systems.
  3. The amount of projects completed that are awaiting certification.
  4. There is a strong demand for green buildings from consumers, government policies, and investors.

The report cited four ways that the Obama administration can influence green building market:

  1. Through a cap-and-trade or carbon tax program.
  2. Raising the energy-efficiency standards for federal buildings. The federal government is the largest property owner and tenant in the U.S.
  3. The “green collar” jobs initiative.
  4. Instituting national energy efficiency standards for all building.
  5. Providing subsidies to local governments to encourage energy efficiency.

Act local! If you are a U.S. citizen, send a letter to your state governor by signing the petition in support of sustainable public housing.

Published in: on March 18, 2009 at 6:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Leonardo DiCaprio Presents “The 11th Hour”


Wildlife Filmmaker | Photographer



I grew up in the wilds of Southern Africa, and am now a professional wildlife filmmaker and photographer.My filming career across Southern Africa is more of a passion than a job and while living amongst the beasts I strive to create an awareness for Africa’s wild places and its animals.
My ultimate goal is to help maintain them for future generations through sustainable development–enhancing the lives of the communities that share the land with the wildlife.
I hope that through the entertainment my films provide, I can captivate the viewer, many of who will be the future stewards of our world’s heritage.

Published in: on March 9, 2009 at 3:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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March Issue of A Distinctive Style Magazine

Nell Newman