DJC Green Building Blog Covering green building issues in Seattle and around the Pacific Northwest

Chemical trade group lobbies to block LEED

Posted on February 19, 2013

The following post is by Robin Guenther:

The war over toxic chemicals and human health is spilling over into places we live and work: our buildings. The American Chemical Council (ACC) has launched an expensive and focused attack on the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to protect the status quo of a small set of bad-actor manufacturers of toxic and obsolete chemicals. But innovative companies across the building industries and human health advocates are fighting back.


The American Chemical Council is lobbying to end the federal government’s use of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building certification system unless USGBC removes all references to human health. If successful, they will keep taxpayers from receiving the cost savings and productivity benefits that LEED certification has generated. Why does a chemical industry trade association think better buildings are such a threat, you ask?

The USGBC has transformed the global building industry with its emphasis on high performance, low energy and healthier building practices through its LEED certification program. In only a decade, LEED plaques have become synonymous with the best buildings in the world. file photo

A high-performance building?

USGBC’s mission is to make buildings not only more energy-efficient, but healthier spaces for those who inhabit them. The new draft version of LEED seeks to assuage human health concerns of buildings by offering voluntary credits for buildings using healthy materials. Many in the health community see this as a long overdue step for the rating system.

The ACC, however, sees this as a dangerous threat to their member companies because a few of them make a pretty penny producing controversial chemicals.

So if you can’t beat ‘em, lobby against ‘em, right? ACC is doing what it does best -- spreading misinformation and shoving truckloads of cash into lobbying efforts to keep the market from abandoning toxic materials and embracing green chemistry.

They’ve even gone so far as to form the laughable “American High-Performance Buildings Coalition,” a group whose membership reads like a who’s who of industries that make unhealthy products, all uniting to lobby against LEED. From big chemicals to vinyl to adhesives to petrochemicals -- they’re all here.

These toxic trade associations are trying to convince us that they are the ones who truly support “green” building. Perhaps next they’ll suggest that their products only increase your odds of developing “green” cancer.

While they claim LEED is not consensus-based, this is demonstrably false. Any revision to the LEED standard must be approved through a democratic balloting process open to all 14,000 members of USGBC. These members are architects, engineers, builders, contractors and product manufacturers.

In fact, the ACC and many of its member companies are participating in the LEED development process. But when the professionals who purchase building materials began to suggest that a LEED credit be available for purchasing healthier building materials, suddenly the process is flawed, and not consensus-based.

In the real world, when your customers ask for something, you don’t lobby against their right to buy what they want, do you? Let’s hope these companies wake up and start to reign in their out-of-control trade association before people really start to notice who’s behind the curtain.

Green buildings are about more than energy and water conservation; they must also include consideration of human health. Hospitals have started to lead the way. The Health Product Declaration, an independent, open-source methodology for declaring content of building products, is ushering in a new age of transparency in corporate reporting. The Healthier Hospitals Initiative recently released targets for safer products that include credit for avoiding chemicals of concern in interior furniture. Major manufacturers of health-care building products have begun substituting PVC and phthalate plasticizers with safer alternatives. These firms are innovating and capturing market share.

While the ACC protests these LEED credits, we would venture to say their innovative members are investing in R&D to move to safer alternatives precisely because of these initiatives. The construction industry needs the USGBC and LEED; citizens do, too. Someone has to make the push to get these chemicals out of our faces.

Robin Guenther, FAIA, is a principal focused on health care architecture at Perkins+Will, a global design firm. This piece was distributed by American Forum.

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Read the DJC’s free Building Green Special Section

Posted on February 24, 2011

If you don't have a subscription to the DJC or don't click on our articles as they are locked, you might not know about our free special sections.

Special sections, written by people in a targeted industry for people in the industry, are free to read, meaning even you non-subscribers can access valuable information. Special sections come out about once a month and each section focuses on a different topic. This month's excellent topic is Building Green and I am thoroughly impressed with the breadth of this year's coverage.

The free special section is here.

In it, you'll find this excellent article by Michelle Rosenberger and Nancy Henderson of ArchEcology called "Watch out for 'greenwashing' by service providers." Among its interesting points, the article examines whether consultants can truly bring a LEED approach to a project without rigorous third party LEED certification.  Interesting item to bring up.

There's this article by Constance Wilde of CB Richard Ellis reflecting on her personal experience of  becoming a Certified Green Broker, and its values and benefits.

There's this great article by Joel Sisolak of the Cascadia Green Building Council called "Two Seattle projects set 'net-zero' water goals," which looks at the region's water infrastructure and two living buildings (The Bertschi School's Science Wing and the Cascadia Center for Sustainable Design and Construction, both covered previously in this blog)  that plan to go off the water grid and their challenges in doing so.

Then there's this article by Elizabeth Powers at O'Brien & Co. on whether green parking lots can be (gasp!) green. I'll let you read the article to learn more.

The section also has articles from representatives of Skanska USA Building, Mithun, MulvannyG2, GGLO, Scott Surdyke, Sandra Mallory of the city of Seattle and CollinsWoerman on topics ranging from the city's role in evolving practices to big box stores, student housing and public housing.

So go ahead, check it out and enjoy!

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Kevin Daniels blogs from New Orleans, DJC blog gets praise, musings and more!

Posted on September 23, 2009

As I mentioned in my past post, I've been on a series of vacations over the past couple of weeks. And during my series of nine flights, I had a lot of time to read magazines, catalogues and view countless adds on nameless airport walls. And do you know what I discovered? Green is really, really hip! Before you scoff and say in your head 'hello Katie, where have you been?' let me explain:

Over the past two years, even with a recession, sustainability and green promotion has become more than just a tactic. It has become necessary. Flipping through the Crate and Barrel catalogue, furniture

is advertised as being "sustainably harvested and sustainably engineered." In that same magazine, Calphalon advertises a new recycling program where they promise to responsibly recycle your old cookware, while simultaneously advertising a new green nonstick finish for pots and pans. The message is pretty clear: Crate and Barrel cares about sustainability (hence you should buy their stuff, which I am in no way supportive of or not supportive of, by the way).

At my stay at the Omni Parker Hotel in Boston, it advertised green alternatives like most other hotels nowadays. But unlike many other hotels, it connected those green services to its premium Select Guest program, thereby making sustainability (and not washing your sheets) special.

Starbuck's has upped the content of recycled fiber in its cups (now 10 percent, not sure when they did that) and touts its eco-consciousness on the side of current cups.

Heck, even Clorox has its Greenworks natural green cleaners label. It just never ceases to amaze me.

Do you agree? Are you constantly amazed?

Anyway, back to the news.Kevin Daniels of Daniels Development is currently in New Orleans where he is repairing homes that are still damaged from Hurricane Katrina. He's there with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is blogging about the effort. To read the blog, click here. To learn more about the effort in general, click here. We also wrote about the trip here.

While I was gone, the DJC Green Building Blog was named to two "best of" lists. We were named number 71 on a list of  "100 Innovative Blogs for Architecture Students." We're under the category "Eco-friendly architecture." The list is compiled by a site called that is "dedicated to bringing you the absolute best resources and online educational tools."

We were also named number 21 (but first under the "Green Construction" category) on a list called "Top 50 Construction Blogs." This list is compiled by The Construction Paper.

The format of both sites look suspiciously similar though I'm not positive they are related. Hmmm. Either way, they both present a comprehensive list of great blogs, many of which I read on a daily basis to keep informed. It's a good resource to see viewpoints from around the country and world on construction and architecture.

Incidentally, on one of my many flights, a gentleman I met who owned a construction company in rural Georgia said green building techniques are not used in every project, but are becoming much more common, especially in the major cities and in office projects. He said he's taking classes on it and suspects they are moving slower than we are on the West Coast, though the south is still moving in that direction.

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Greed or good natured? Making money off of eco-friendly stuff

Posted on March 26, 2009

Being a reporter, I get hundreds of e-mails a week. A good chunk of them are about eco-friendly products that are new, nifty and will "save the worrrllllldddd!" A couple of them are kind of nifty. But the majority of them aren't... and are obviously motivated by business interests and the desire to make more green.

So when I received an e-mail this week about two entrepreneurs who founded an

Is greed good?
educational campaign promoting tap water, and then just happened to sell over 400,000 BPA-free, reusable water bottles from their Web site, it piqued my interest, precisely because it was addressing the money issue.

These two people - Eric Yaverbaum and Mark DiMassimo - are asking the public in a poll whether they are "greedy entrepreneurs," "selfless environmentalists," or both.

Now, both of these guys work in advertising or marketing, so this survey could very well be - and likely is - a marketing ploy. But even so, it's interesting because it touches on the nebulous and often contentious connection between money and the environment.

The environmental movement isn't completely comfortable with the notion that people make money off of things that are eco-friendly, especially because not everything that says it's green really is (this is called "greenwashing"). But really, the only way to get practices accepted on a large scale will be if someone, somewhere turns a profit in some way.

These two guys are making money but in the process they're also getting their message - that buying bottled water is bad - out there to a broader audience. So is greed ok if it has a point?

What do you think - are they greedy or selfless? To answer the poll or to see results, click here.

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LEED vs. Green Globes – watch our state duke it out

Posted on February 19, 2009

In today's marketplace, so many things claim to be "green" that it can be really, really tough to decipher what's green and what's greenwashing. Sometimes, green measures even conflict with each other.

Apparently, that's the case with LEED and Green Globes, at least in Washington State. Green Globes,

Green certifications duke it out!
administered in the U.S. by the Green Building Initiative, is a green building certification that I have only come across a few times in my travels. LEED is by far and without question the more prominent certification of the two.

However, LEED's prominence is due in large part to its inclusion in state and city government incentives and requirements. For example, Washington State requires major buildings meet LEED silver or higher to receive public funding. Seattle requires developers meet at least LEED silver to receive a density bonus. Those requirements have gone a long way towards making Washington a leader in its number of LEED certified buildings, and LEED projects on the board.

Senate Bill 5384 would change the state mandated requirements by adding the Green Globes standard as an alternative to LEED silver.

Now, it might surprise some to learn that Cascadia, the region's go-to organization for green building, is lobbying hard against this. But then again Cascadia is part of the U.S. Green Building Council and the U.S. Green Building Council created LEED, so it stands to reason that it would support LEED certification. The bill is also opposed by the Washington Environmental Council and the Washington Conservation Voters, which represents many different environmental organization statewide.

An advocacy e-mail appeared in my in-box today asking readers to call state legislators to make sure

A truly green globe
Green Globes is not included in state law as an alternative to LEED. The e-mail says "Green Globes was created by the timber and chemical lobbies as a much weaker alternative to LEED," and that it is untested, funded by industry and requires no third party verification. 

I don't know enough about Green Globes to report on whether any of the above allegations are true. I know board members of GBI represent a number of different interests from universities to business. I know a number of industry organizations heavily support their initiatives (though to be fair, industry also supports USGBC).

I also know the actual bill, available here, has a piece in it stating all major projects receiving state funds that are four stories or under must use wood and wood products as building materials in them. Not sure how that fits into the point of the bill and it seems a little odd to me but make of it what you will.

If you're interested in this topic, Architect Online has an excellent rundown of the two systems by Christopher Swope here that I highly suggest reading. Swope points out that LEED could benefit from a bit of competition.

For still more information, visit GreenbuildingsNYC here.

What do you think? Is LEED too restrictive and is Green Globes the way to go? Is Green Globes a less strict certification? Weigh in by commenting below!

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Radiant barriers: sucking dollars out of your NW project!

Posted on December 17, 2008

 This is from a series of guest posts by representatives of the Northwest Building Efficiency Center. This post was written by Gary Nordeen. 

Since the 1930s radiant barriers have shown to be beneficial in reducing cooling loads in structures located in hot climates. A radiant barrier is a material, usually aluminum, which is highly reflective and has a low emissivity. A material with low emissivity absorbs little radiant energy.

Radiant barriers are usually installed in attics to reduce radiant heat gains into the attic that are transferred into the living space. Radiant barriers can be installed on

Figure 1
the underside of roof rafters; laid on top of rafters or trusses prior to installing roof sheathing; laid flat on the ceiling insulation; or “chips” of reflective material can be added to the ceiling insulation.

Proper installation of the radiant barrier is important. Refer to Figure 1 at left, courtesy of Florida Solar Energy Center: 

  • Applications #1 or #2 of sheet type radiant barriers are preferred to #3.
  • Dust will accumulate if sheet type radiant bareriers are laid over the ceiling insulation.

  • Chips or multi-layer radiant barriers are acceptable to be installed at location #3

Recently, there has been an effort to market radiant barriers in the Pacific Northwest with unbelievable claims of energy savings. One radiant barrier company has stated that their product can reduce energy bills by more than 50%. In hot southern climates, where radiant barriers work best, energy savings range from 2% to 10%. Tests by Oak Ridge National Laboratories have shown that the percentage reductions for winter heat losses are lower than those for summer heat gains.

Radiant barrier chips
While radiant barriers can reduce cooling costs, houses in the Pacific Northwest consume more energy for heating than for cooling. Before installing a radiant barrier to reduce heating costs, the following issues should be considered:

At times radiant barriers may actually result in higher heating bills.

When the sun is out on cool winter days, it provides some heating of structures by radiant heat transfer through the roof. A radiant barrier will negate some of these gains.

Radiant barriers may create moisture problems.

If placed on top of the ceiling insulation, a radiant barrier will get cold in the winter and may become a surface where moisture laden air escaping from inside the house may condense. This may cause the ceiling insulation to get wet and become less effective.

Investing in additional insulation and better windows, and stopping air leakage are proven methods to reduce your energy use. Be wary of any salesperson making exorbitant claims about reducing your energy bill. As the old saying goes: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Contact the Northwest Building Efficiency Center at if you have questions about energy efficient buildings.

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Greenwash or green-wash? Let’s talk toilet

Posted on September 26, 2008

Though a necessary part of life, we don't do much talking about toilets. However, in the last week I've been hearing a lot about toilet efficiency, toilet brands and how to test them.

This product could be yours!

So when I got a press release for the Brondell Swash Ecoseat, I wasn't surprised but rather perplexed. The Ecoseat bills itself as an "ecofriendly" way to save trees. Rather than flushing 100,000,000 rolls of toilet paper worldwide per day representing 55 million trees each year, the press release says, you can do simply buy this product and wipe all that eco-guilt out of your life.

The product is a battery operated "dual wand seat with an integrated bidet which features adjustable water pressure (for a refreshing feminine and posterior wash) and push button controls." In other words, it uses water rather than paper to clean you off.

Is it really environmentally friendly or are the company's claims eco greenwash? In June, the Washington Post carried a story by Blaine Harden about how energy use in Japan is soaring and how one major factor is high tech toilets that "warm one's bottom, whisk away odors with built-in fans and play water noises." They also play relaxation music like "Ave Maria." But they also consume energy at an alarming rate because they are always plugged in. The article says people are also using the toilet more, because it's a comfortable space. Some even get addicted to it.

Here in the U.S, old fashioned toilets are getting more and more water efficient.

This is what your toilet would look like
Recently at a water conference i attended, Water Expert Roger Van Gelder told attendees that new super efficient systems using 1.0 gallons per flush or less can be just as strong or stronger than older models that used seven gallons. The water use of a toilet doesn't make it a better toilet and stronger toilet, he said, instead it's the product's systems that do the job.

But with all toilets, he said, you have to actually test the toilets to see how well they work. "Anything that you get, you can't really believe what it says on the box." 

So how about believing the Swash Ecoseat's box. It is battery operated so it doesn't plug into the wall. But it still uses energy. What do you think readers, is it greenwash or a green solution?

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The best green products of 2008… but are they really the best?

Posted on June 24, 2008

I have a story in today's DJC on the year's 10 best new green products, according to (our kind of competitor) the Sustainable Industries Journal... but were they really the best?

The products range from odd to ordinary, at least in what their function is. Here are three of them:

I'd never heard of the Solar Tracking Skylight by Solar Tracking Skylights rooftop-z.jpgof Chicago but it sure sounds interesting. It's a self-contained, self-managed skylight with mirrors that move to adapt to the sun's position. It's designed to provide light all day, not just when the sun is shining directly above. They're half the size of typical skylights and customers include Whole Foods, Wal-Mart and the U.S. Military. ... and they also look like they came out of a space movie! Yea for space movie products! (If you want to see a video of how it works, visit the Web site at the above link).

Lamberts Channel Glass by Glasfrabriks Lamberts of Bavaria, Germany is a self-supporting column that can be used as interior or exterior walls. They're nelsonmuseumsmalssmal.jpgmade from 40 percent recycled glass and are decidedly pretty, judges said. At left is the product in use at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo. One judge, Clark Brockman of Sera Architects in Portland, said, "Let's just face it, it's sexy."

Sexy. Usually a word NOT associated with green building products (or projects for that matter). But judge for yourself from the picture at left....

Then there's local winner Salvaged Hardwood Tables by Urban Hardwoods of Seattle. Urban Hardwoods has salvaged 3,000 trees, that would urbansmall.jpghave otherwise ended up being wasted,  and turned the wood into tables. This one was salvaged from Kirkland and costs $4,200 for the tabletop.

But like it or not, these are all the opinions of a handful of (granted knowledgeable) judges. Perhaps you too are a judge in disguise. If so, tell me about the best green product not on the list. Post your comments below.

SI assures us all the products are real green products rather than examples of great greenwashing. But how well green products work is also controversial. For more on that topic, click the tag green materials below and read the entry 'Green products not so great, says Gehry specifier,' and comments.

Other blog posts on this at Jetson Green and Portland Architecture.

These are three of the 10. To learn about the other seven, read my story here

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Getting lost in “green” messages

Posted on June 12, 2008

subway-small.jpgI've spent the last week in Boston and New York, riding subways that people in the Pacific Northwest can only dream about.

But while riding those subways (which are largely, at least in NYC, responsible for why the average person's carbon footprint is so low) it struck me that green is becoming mainstream so quickly, it's becoming many things to many different people. And often, because the message isn't defined, it gets lost.

It happens in the definition of a "green building:" really, does LEED make a building green? What about a regular building that uses Energy Star appliances and PVC-free paint.... that's in the middle of nowhere?

It happens in materials: FSC wood... is it really green to use South American or European wood, ship it to Asia to be milled and ship it back to use in your Seattle home?

And in happens in advertisements. Take the subway in NYC for example. On one train, overhead signs urged riders to recycle newspapers in recycling bins. On another, overhead signs begged newspaper readers to just throw their papers away to keep the subway clean. If you're going to advocate one message, which is more important? Recycling or cleanliness?

That example represents the entire green movement. There are so many different messages out there, it's easy to get lost. Especially if you're a new "convert," it's really easy to be misled. Sometimes it's intentional "greenwashing," sometimes it's just plain confusing.

For Earth Day this year, I got a press release from Horizon Air about how flying between Portland and Seattle was more eco-friendly than driving. I got another from Fairmont Hotels and Resorts and Lexus Hybrid Living on eco-friendly luxury suites in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., that are "the ultimate cosmopolitan experience for environmentally aware travelers." Guests get organic towels, robes and free use of the Lexus LS 600h hybrid.

Is that really green? Who's to say. The truth is it's such a new field and word that just about anything can be spun the right way. And often, what really is "green" just gets lost in the spinning.

To learn more about greenwashing, click the tab below. To see what consumers think about "green" products or share your reviews, check out this site.

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Does only half the story get told too much? Readers respond to post on green products

Posted on April 28, 2008

Readers, you liked the post that directly preceded this one, about how Anne Whitacre, a specifier for Gehry Partners in Los Angeles questioned the claims of green products. In fact, you liked it so much that the long version of it (after  you click 'more') directly shot up to the most popular post I've ever written.

thankyou1.jpgPeople read it from Lansing, Mich., from Salt Lake City, from Washington, D.C., from Atlanta, and all throughout Washington and Oregon.

We got interesting comments in our mailbox after running the full editorial too. One reader named Jason wrote, "BINGO! I think Anne nailed it. The second Green design became more about paper work and check lists, is the second green design failed."  

Another said, "Finally, bang on, thanks for posting that."

A third said, "People need to use intellect and reason to evaluate the results or benefits of these ideas in relation to short term and long term costs. Further 'sustainable' does not always mean better and certainly does not mean more efficient. These concepts are meant to make us 'feel good' and provide comfort for some imagined guilt for having a successful culture."

Here's what I have to say: thank you for responding! My job (and the job of any credible journalist) is to report both sides to the best of my ability, though often (in non-DJC publications of course) I see that only one side of the story gets told. Your thoughts help me see the whole story, so thank you for your input in either direction.

READERS: I am more than happy to investigate these topics and sound them out, but I need to know what you care about. If you like (or don't like) what we're doing, comment or e-mail me at If you like (or don't like) parts of green design, green buildings, green products etc., comment or e-mail me at I promise that I read all my comments and all my e-mails, and want to hear what you have to say, both good and bad.

We have been up and running for just over a month now. Thanks for reading and thanks for your comments. Keep 'em coming!

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