Green Philosophy: “You have to look at every aspect of how you source materials and systems. It requires research, education, and explaining to the client what the deltas are in terms of cost and quality.”

For much of Matarozzi/Pelsinger Builders ' existence, customer interest in green design and construction ran relatively low. “Green building was very marginalized as kind of a hippie thing,” says Dan Pelsinger , the San Francisco-based company's co-founder. This disappointed him, for his interest in the subject dates back to his early 1980s apprenticeship with green building pioneer Turko Semmes. “Turko is my hero,” he says.

But around 2004 or 2005, he noticed a shift. Clients started to ask about green building methods and materials, and their interest grew from year to year. Pelsinger, partner Dan Matarozzi, and their staff finally got the chance to use energy-efficient systems and non-toxic products on many of their jobs. They built a prefab, solar-powered store and nursery for plant purveyor Flora Grubb Gardens, houses with active and passive solar systems, and even a green office for themselves. This last project, an adaptive reuse of an old warehouse, incorporated photovoltaics, radiant heat, foam insulation, and many salvaged materials.

By 2008, though, it was too small for the company's growing office staff, which currently numbers 16. (34 additional employees work in the field.) Matarozzi and Pelsinger purchased an old industrial building in the city's SoMa neighborhood, engaging architect and frequent collaborator Joshua Aidlin of Aidlin Darling Design to help them turn it into a sustainable workspace—quickly. “We were literally drawing while they were building,” Aidlin says. “It was intense, but the end product has been well worth it.” The remade building (shown at right) features a green roof, solar panels, natural ventilation and light, and a perforated metal skin for passive cooling. It was completed in August 2008, just before the economy tanked, but Pelsinger has no regrets. “It raised an awareness of who we are,” he says. The project has won myriad sustainable building honors and awards, and it is expected to earn a LEED Gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The office also provides parking spaces for Matarozzi/Pelsinger's four natural-gas Honda Civics and two biodiesel trucks. Use of the Civics for jobsite visits is part of the company's standard operating procedure. So are other environmental practices such as recycling or salvaging at least 75 percent of demolition waste, and sourcing as much FSC-certified wood as possible.

To other builders hoping to green their operations, Pelsinger has a few words of encouragement. “You have to just adjust the way you look at building,” he says. “There's so much education out there. It's so much easier than it was 30 years ago. All you've got to do is open your mind on this one.”

Matarozzi/Pelsinger Builders, San Francisco
Years in business: 24
Employees: 50
2009 volume: Approximately $25 million
2009 starts: 15
Years of focusing on sustainable building: 24