Hermosa Beach's Robert and Monica Fortunato were honored by California State Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi last Saturday for the five-year anniversary of their Green Idea House, which earned them the Environmental Stewardship Award for the net zero energy, zero carbon case study house.

Robert said the project started more than five years ago when his son was born and he was kicked out of his office. He needed a few more hundred square feet to build a new room.

“We had traveled the world and we knew that the rest of the world uses so much less energy, creates so much less waste,” Robert said. “We sort of had a different consciousness about what could happen here versus what we saw generally with what was happening with construction where you end up with a giant pile of trash out front. People were talking about green buildings, but when we asked them how much it cost, did it actually work? The answers coming back were just not credible. But we thought, there's an opportunity to do something really interesting here.”

Monica said their perception, which continues for many to this day, was that if you wanted to build or remodel in an environmentally friendly way, it was going to cost more.

“We set out to try and say, 'If you do it right, it really shouldn't cost more,'” Monica said. “I think five years ago almost everybody was saying it was going to cost you more. So it was a challenge for us. We're financially responsible and we wanted to remodel and along the way we wanted to be environmentally sensitive and economically sensitive. We realized that what we were doing was, so 'Hey, yeah, you can do this.'”

Robert, a trained economist, took some classes in green building. With everything from solar power to electric cars to other green improvements, they have discovered that the “building has been paying itself back” by being 100 percent carbon neutral.

“We don't pollute in any form,” Robert said.

The Green Idea House, which has been featured on Buzzfeed and a TEDx video, has become a model for green construction. Environmentalist Ed Begley Jr. performed the ribbon cutting at the house and more than 5,000 people have taken tours before and after construction was completed including a delegation from Fukushima, Japan, after its nuclear disaster. The Fortunatos are also advising the city on what it can do with green construction on a city-wide scale and its potential economic rewards. They use the example of North School, which was awarded a $500,000 grant for its commitment of green construction.

“We know it works,” Robert said. “It's less expensive, less toxic, it causes less cancer, it's better for your wallet, better for the economy and better for the environment.”

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