As the founding director of the EPA’s Energy Star for Homes program, the industry’s oldest and largest national residential rating system, Sam Rashkin—an unassuming fellow with a brilliant mind and passionate energy—almost single-handedly changed the way America builds houses.

Logging more than 100,000 air miles annually as the program grew, he crisscrossed the country for 17 years enthusiastically pitching the advantages of Energy Star-qualified homes to builders, product manufacturers, consumers, and anyone else who would listen. Meanwhile, inside the EPA, he steadily built a low-budget, high-impact program that few well-funded for-profit corporations could match.

Rashkin’s unwavering mission has paid off handsomely for builders and their buyers, as well as the environment. Energy Star for Homes, which Rashkin led until a year ago, has qualified more than 1.3 million dwellings since its inception in 1995. The EPA, which administers the program, says those homes have saved nearly $350 million on utility bills while avoiding greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those produced by more than 450,000 vehicles. These significant numbers were accomplished with very few resources. The driven Rashkin, his tiny six-person staff, and a meager $1.5 million annual budget returned energy savings and increased revenues to local governments that he estimates add up to $4 billion over 17 years.

His laudable accomplishments and tireless focus and dedication have led Rashkin to be named the winner of The 2012 Hanley Award for Vision and Leadership in Sustainable Housing—the industry’s premier award for extraordinary, lasting, and far-reaching contributions to the advancement of sustainable housing in the United States.

“Sam Rashkin has changed the face of our industry,” says Michael J. Hanley, founder of The Hanley Foundation and creator of the award. “Given the magnitude of his impact on housing, he has earned his place as one of our industry’s pioneers, and we are proud to name him as this year’s Hanley Award recipient.”

The Hanley Award is sponsored by The Hanley Foundation, EcoHome and Builder magazines, and their parent company Hanley Wood, LLC. Rashkin, the program’s third recipient, will receive the award and its $50,000 prize at a dinner during the American Institute of Architects national convention in Washington, D.C., in May.

Before Rashkin, a licensed architect, moved to the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Building America program last June, the EPA began phasing in more rigorous Energy Star for Homes Version 3 guidelines. Once fully implemented this year, these new guidelines will result in houses at least 15% more efficient than those built to the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), along with additional energy savings and improved performance from a comprehensive approach to building science.

Alex Wilson, founder of Environmental Building News, called Rashkin the ideal recipient of The Hanley Award. “I think Sam has done more to transform mainstream home building, making homes more energy efficient and more environmentally responsible than anyone else,” says Wilson, the 2010 recipient of The Hanley Award and a judge in this year’s program. “He was the champion from the start, and he’s made tremendous progress.”

Rashkin’s supporters say that his unequivocal success not only can be pegged to his tireless marketing campaign but to his innate understanding of how to get things done in a behemoth federal bureaucracy and in the profit-driven home building industry. They add that few people have been so effective in both the public and private sectors.

“I don’t think it is any exaggeration that the million homes built and the billions of dollars and carbon emissions avoided would not have been achieved without Sam’s leadership and passion for improving the functioning of buildings,” says C.R. Herro, vice president of environmental affairs for Meritage Homes, one of the nation’s largest companies building to Energy Star standards.

His supporters also point to his deep-felt commitment to making homes more energy wise and comfortable to live in. “It’s not a 9-to-5 job for Sam,” says David Lee, Rashkin’s boss both at the EPA and now at the DOE. “He just really loves it. He has passion for it.”

In his usual modest fashion, Rashkin, who says he’s an introvert who recharges by being alone, is quick to say he had a lot of help.

“We did it with a cadre of supporters and groups. It’s an amazing story. It took so little money to see that kind of impact.”