John Shurtz

For the past three decades John Shurtz of San Rafael has been building houses. For nearly a third of that time, and long before most builders, he’s done his job with an eye toward sustainability. In the late ’90s he decided not to use old-growth wood; then, as founder and president of Green Builders of Marin, he embraced issues like energy efficiency, resource conservation, waste management and indoor air quality.

Last March, Green Builders won the Sustainable 6 award, which honors businesses in the 6th Assembly District that incorporate environmentally friendly practices into the way they operate.

Thanks to pioneering builders like Shurtz, going green isn’t as expensive or complicated as it was just a decade ago. “It used to be that using sustainably harvested lumber was 10 to 20 percent more expensive,” he says. Today, “due to economies of scale, that differential is almost nonexistent.” For instance, “it may [cost] about 5 percent more now to buy FSC-certified lumber,” a designation that means the wood’s eco-pedigree is monitored from forest to mill to retailer. And nontoxic low-volatile-organic-compound (VOC) paints, now priced about the same as standard paint, have been of comparable quality in recent years.

For anyone wanting to green up their building project, has a checklist for every stage of construction. “The easiest choice to make would be using low-VOC paint,” says Shurtz. Also, choosing engineered lumber for trim “is easy, and results in better quality, without [the need] to cut down large trees.” Demolition materials and construction debris can be recycled at the recycling plant right in San Rafael. Besides his own website,, Shurtz directs clients to call Build It Green’s “Ask an Expert” at 888.40.GREEN.