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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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
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.
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
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.
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 Info@nwBuildings.org if you have questions about energy efficient buildings.
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.
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.
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?
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 of 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 made 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 have 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.
These are three of the 10. To learn about the other seven, read my story here.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com. If you like (or don't like) parts of green design, green buildings, green products etc., comment or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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!