6 green leaders in red states

They may not be preaching to the choir, but the following green advocates have paved the way for pragmatic, eco-friendly efforts in traditionally conservative states.

Eco-oil country?
Eco-oil country?
Location: Houston, Texas

It seems unlikely that there would be a growing green movement in Houston, Texas, the heart of American oil country.

But there is one, and Laura Spanjian is leading it. Last year, Spanjian left her campaign to be San Francisco Supervisor to work for Houston's Mayor Annise Parker. Spanjian is now Houston's Sustainability Director.

Despite the fact she works in a city built on fossil fuels, Spanjian says that locals are receptive to her ideas. So far, many of Houston's green efforts have focused on getting buildings to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, the standard measurement used to grade a building's sustainability. The city now has 129 LEED-certified buildings, the sixth largest amount in the country, and has added about 45 new ones since Spanjian's term began last May.

Green buildings are a good starting point for Houston's eco-movement since the city is full of high-rises, and more are going up all the time. Building green can give companies an advantage when it comes to attracting employees, Spanjian says: "These companies understand that young professionals, in particular, really want to work in a sustainable building."

And, of course, there's the bottom line to consider: energy-efficient buildings cost less to run, Spanjian says. "The message that works well here is that you can save money by doing lots of initiatives. Houstonians like to save money."

The red-state setting only makes the work more exciting, says Spanjian. While environmental efforts are old news in cities like San Francisco and Portland, she thinks Houston has room for exponential green growth. Besides, there's something heartening about an eco-boom in a city built on oil.

"I do think if you can do this work in Houston, then you can do it anywhere," Spanjian says.

By Shelley DuBois, writer-reporter - Last updated July 28 2011: 3:49 PM ET
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