As a low-key, behind-the-scenes architect who has been at the forefront of the movement to reduce the environmental impact of thousands of houses, apartments and other buildings in the state, Rick Carter has superhero status in my world and the green building community.

By helping to reduce consumption of energy and materials, as well as improving the indoor air quality in those spaces, he has touched many Minnesotans with his work, but few know his name. Nonetheless, after 22 years with LHB Inc., an architecture and engineering firm in Minneapolis, Carter was recently appointed marketing director of the company and has been a tireless advocate and catalyst for sustainable design in Minnesota.

He is a member of the Governor's Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group, which is charged with helping determine how the state can reach its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050, from 2005 levels.

In fact, several of the group's proposals are working their way through the current legislative session. For example, one bill proposes that all state-funded buildings be required to produce at least 2 percent of their energy on-site with wind or solar.

I recently visited with Carter in hopes of learning more about what motivates him to make Minnesota houses and buildings among the nation's most energy-efficient and sustainable.

Q How did you get interested in sustainable design?

A In the early '90s we [at LHB] were brainstorming about what direction we should take and we decided we should pursue our projects in a more environmentally sound way. We started by calling it Healthy Building Design, with the tagline of "healthy for you, the planet and your pocketbook."

We were almost immediately hired to design a house for a woman with multiple chemical sensitivity and have been hired to do these kinds of very special projects ever since.

Q Why is this issue so personally important to you?

A One of the first things that I learned during our initial research is that our country, while it makes up only 5 percent of the world's population, consumes 25 percent of the world's resources and creates 40 percent of the world's waste.

The building industry is a major contributor. Recent statistics show that in Minnesota, 58 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions come from the construction and operation of buildings.

I have always felt that it was incumbent on designers to change this pattern and feel good about going to work every day knowing that LHB is a leader in that change.

Q How do you define sustainable design?

A I would say that it involves establishing goals like zero emissions, zero waste and 100 percent on-site storm water management, etc.

Then we design toward those goals, modeling (or predicting) the outcomes and ultimately measuring the actual performance once the buildings have been operational for at least a year. We are calling this Performance Metrics at LHB. I would like to think that our buildings can actually be restorative and even produce more energy than they use -- that will be the next step.

Q Are clients asking for it?

A Yes, we usually find out it is very important to the client. If we determine that it is not, we tend to not pursue the project.

Q What is pushing the shift toward more environmentally sensitive buildings?

A I continue to be amazed at how climate change has become a motivator. I think that is because we don't want to have the legacy as the generation that could have saved the planet, but didn't.

Q What are some of the most compelling green features that are going into buildings these days?

A Energy-efficient measures are important -- simple conservation, day lighting or more efficient equipment and controls. We are also getting involved in many projects that use the sun, through thermal solar or photovoltaics, to actually create renewable energy on-site.

Q What should people look for in an architect or designer if they want to build green?

A They should be able to find someone with considerable experience and a commitment to doing green design. LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] accreditation is one indicator, but meeting with the architect, talking to their clients and visiting their buildings is the real way to know.

Q What would you say is your most significant contribution to sustainable design?

A We [at LHB] have always shared everything with our peers. Even now, as we pave the way with Performance Metrics, we work hard to collect and share data.

Q Is there anything that can steer us off this new course of sustainability?

A I don't think there is anything to steer us off course. We are accelerating rapidly down a path that works better, costs less and is better for the environment. The only shift I see is that these things become standard practice, vs. something special.

Q With population growth, climate change and deforestation, is there hope for the next generations?

A There is very much hope. We [the United States] have solved problems like population growth and ozone layer depletion. We can help the rest of the world solve our latest issues, as well. It is not up to our government or to any individual, but to all of us.

Kim Carlson is at kim@earthsmartconsumer. com. Visit her website at www.earthsmart