The gold rush, the space race ... the US psyche likes nothing more than a bit of competition, which might be good news as it finally begins to acknowledge the green agenda.

In the US, when Oprah Winfrey starts championing a cause, you know it’s not going to be ignored. So when she started handing out low-energy light bulbs to audience members during her show, then – whisper it – it seemed to suggest the genuine possibility that the US is going green.

Bill Valentine, chairman of architect HOK, certainly seemed optimistic in an interview on my website this week. “It’s now in the US psyche to be green,” he told me. And considering the competitive nature of that psyche, change could be quicker than you’d expect.

This is certainly the case for design and construction. The US Green Building Council has more than 8,500 members and 75 regional chapters. “It’s a firestorm,” says Valentine of the swift growth experienced by the body and the take-up of its LEED standard for green design and building (the equivalent to BREEAM).

This is matched by a raft of new websites extolling the virtues of environmentally responsible development, such as the Jetson Green blog site and a news site called Inhabit. A recent post on Inhabit has what is claims to be the greenest office in the US – another indication of that competitive psyche.

Add to that the commercial possibilities and Valentine has good reason to be optimistic. As he says: “A great example for me was an R&D facility we designed for Symantec. They leased part of it and the agent told us if you can make it LEED silver or gold we can get more rental value. I felt like giving him a big kiss.”

Valentine tempers his optimism somewhat given the challenge facing the US to radically change how it behaves and consumes. “To paraphrase Winston Churchill, we are at the end of the beginning.”