April 22 marked the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, which was launched in 1970 as a grassroots rallying cry to recognize the degradation our human impact was having on the planet. The urgent need to harness renewable energy at a large scale and to curb climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions has been underscored recently through several high-profile events. Earth Day fell during the same month this year as the death of 29 West Virginia coal miners and as earthquakes and tornadoes devastated communities both globally and locally.

Climate change is one of the most important issues facing us today. It unites issues of social equality, economic development, human rights, civil rights, environmental justice, and public health under one umbrella. Climate change is not an issue for only scientists or environmentalists to discuss. According to the Energy Information Administration, buildings represent 38.9 percent of U.S. primary energy use and 38 percent of all carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the United States. Existing structures and practices in the built environment continue to play a major role in hurting the planet through the overuse of nonrenewable resources, the demand for electricity from coal-fired plants, the use of toxic materials, and the flood of construction waste into landfills. As players within the real estate development community, it is within our reach to make changes that will have a profound and healing impact on the future of this planet.

Although Congress has yet to pass a comprehensive climate and energy bill, providers of affordable housing can carry the torch for change at the same grassroots level that began 40 years ago and ultimately led to the passing of the Clean Air Act. The growing portfolio of green affordable housing developments across the country is already having an impact nationally by demonstrating to federal agencies what is possible. And these developments are also the foundation of Enterprise’s Green Communities Offset Fund, which provides cash to developers who implement additional carbon emission-reducing measures in an affordable housing development. The emissions purchased by Enterprise are measurable, verifiable, and beyond the “business as usual” carbon emissions reductions from a property.

Enterprise only purchases offsets from developers committed to exceeding the Green Communities Criteria or an equivalent holistically green threshold that address location, operations, and maintenance and resident behavior. Lowering carbon emissions through energy-efficiency measures alone will only provide partial solutions to climate change. Behavior, transportation choices, and land-use practices can play large roles in contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and must also be addressed to sustain real progress in meeting climate action goals.

Many offset programs available today use the funds to purchase carbon emission reductions from projects in other countries or from other sectors of the economy. Enterprise’s Green Communities Offset Fund is uniquely positioned to purchase offsets from carbon-reducing affordable housing developments right here in our communities. One development that has benefited from the Offset Fund is River Walk Point II in Spokane, Wash., a community of 51 clustered townhouses that further reduced 490 tons of carbon emissions as a result of knowing these reductions could be sold through the voluntary market. The developer sold the additional carbon emissions reductions to Enterprise for $9,800. Another example is Silver Gardens, a 66-unit development in Albuquerque, N.M., that sold 330 tons of additional carbon emissions reductions to Enterprise for $6,600.

You can be a part of the climate change solution by changing your own behavior by purchasing clean energy, telecommuting, recycling, and buying locally produced goods and services. And for the carbon emissions you choose to offset, consider doing so through the Green Communities Offset Fund. Every dollar you contribute goes toward purchasing real reductions in carbon emissions from affordable housing developments. Additionally, if you have a green project you want to be greener, consider selling your additional carbon emissions reductions through the fund.

For more information on the Enterprise Green Communities Offset Fund, visit .

Dana Bourland is vice president of Green Initiatives for Enterprise. Bourland oversees all aspects of Enterprise’s award-winning Green Communities program and is managing director of the Green Communities Offset Fund. A returned Peace Corps volunteer, she holds a master of planning degree and is a graduate of Harvard University’s Graduate Program in Real Estate.