DJC Green Building Blog

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.

Guenther

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.

SXC.hu 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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This is not your grandfather’s heavy timber structure

Posted on August 17, 2012

The following post is by Brad Kahn:

The last few months have been busy at the Bullitt Center construction site on Madison Street, with structural, glazing, mechanical and other systems taking shape.

Photo by John Stamets

Glaziers install windows on the sixth floor.

The Type-4 heavy timber structure is a first for Seattle since the 1920's, when heavy timbers were used in most commercial buildings. In the interim, the technology of heavy timber structures has advanced, with glued-laminated timbers replacing solid wood in many cases. Of course, forestry practices have also improved in the last 90 years, with 100% of the wood used at the Bullitt Center coming from Forest Stewardship Council certified forests.

At this point, the structural work at the Bullitt Center – designed for a 250-year lifespan – is largely complete, with the roof firmly in place.

With the structure complete, work turned to the curtain wall. Of particular note, the Schuco window system being used is arguably the most efficient in the world. Yet before the Bullitt Center, these windows were not easily available on the West Coast, since the manufacturer was in Germany – quite a distance to ship windows weighing hundreds of pounds each. To address this challenge, the team was able to connect Schuco with Goldfinch Brothers, a glazing company in Everett, WA. Now Goldfinch is the exclusive manufacturer of the Schuco window system on the West coast, providing windows for the Bullitt Center and other projects.

Photo by John Stamets

A rainwater collection and treatment system is being built throughout the project.

On the mechanical side, the rainwater collection and treatment system is being built throughout the project, from roof to basement. While approval to use rainwater for drinking is pending, it is our hope that the Bullitt Center can help demonstrate that ultra-filtration, UV and activated charcoal can treat water as well as – if not better than – chlorine (which can't be use in the project, because chemicals are not allowed for water purification by the Living Building Challenge).

At this point, the Bullitt Center is on track for completion later this year, with occupancy by commercial tenants starting in January 2013. Conversations with potential tenants are underway, and interested companies should contact Point32, the project development partner, for more information.

Brad Kahn is president of Groundwork Strategies. He manages communications for the Bullitt Center project.

 

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Roof going on at Bullitt Center

Posted on May 16, 2012

The following post is by Brad Kahn, president of Groundwork Strategies. He manages communications for the Bullitt Center project.

The roof of the Bullitt Center on East Madison Street is under construction now and all the structural elements are in place.

Skylights are being framed into the roof to maximize daylight and reduce the need for lighting.

Photo by Sky-Pix

Today President Rosen Plevneliev from Bulgaria, who is a former real estate developer, will tour the Bullitt Center as part of a trade mission to Seattle.

After campaigning for president on a platform that included energy efficiency in buildings, Plevneliev will be in Seattle today before heading to the NATO summit in Chicago next week. His visit to Seattle is focused on international trade and economic development. In particular, he is interested in learning about green building and clean energy technology, which is why he is touring Bullitt Center, the world’s greenest office building.

In the next few weeks, we will begin outreach to brokers to begin marketing office space inside the Bullitt Center. It will be marketed at rates comparable to new class-A space in downtown.

Photo by John Stamets

The HVAC system is going into the building, including the six-story composting toilet system.

McGivra Place, the park next door, now has a final design direction and the process is moving forward, with re-development expected later this summer or early fall. The park project is the first to pursue the Living Building Challenge for landscapes.

 

 

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Get a glimpse of green ‘pod’ home

Posted on April 20, 2012

A compact, green-built “pod” home designed by Ann Raab of Greenpod Development of Port Townsend is open to the public at the GreenDepot site until April 29 from 10 am to 6 pm M-F, 10-5 on Saturday and 11-5 on Sunday. Workshops will be offered daily.

Outside Waterhaus

The pod was part of last weekend’s Green Home Tour sponsored by Northwest Ecobuilding Guild, featuring new and remodeled homes designed for low energy use and built with nontoxic materials.

Raab’s 450-square-foot pod is factory-built using all green products. It can be delivered to any city in Washington.

Greenpod’s Waterhaus model has a Kangen water system with adjustable pH for drinking and cleaning. It also has a waterfall and living wall.

Waterhaus kitchen

Ann Raab said pods are meant to be low maintenance dwellings that are environmentally safe, healthy for occupants and “a joy to live in.”

The Waterhaus model uses multi-use furnishings, color, lighting and windows to make the living space feel larger. The waterfall and living wall are sculpted from metal by industrial artist Ray Hammar of Sequim. Michael Hamilton of Port Hadlock made the tables and benches. Seth Rolland of Port Townsend created the bathroom vanity from rock and fir. Wall textures are applied by artist Gail Miller of Whidbey Island. The interior is decorated with an exclusive line of organic fabrics by Suzanne DeVall.

The pods are built by Greg Barron of Greenpod Builders.

Waterhaus living area

They are built to meet King County’s requirements for an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) and are aimed at people who want to downsize, age in place or care for family member in a separate unit. They also work as cabins, second homes, home offices and small commercial buildings. Pods can be stacked and configured to create communities. More information is at (800) 569-0831 or GreenPod.us.

 

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Heavy timber framing at the Bullitt Center

Posted on April 6, 2012

Photo by John Stamets
The following post is by Brad Kahn, president of Groundwork Strategies. He manages communications for the Bullitt Center project.

When the Bullitt Foundation began work on the Bullitt Center, Denis Hayes, the foundation's president and CEO, had a clear vision that the architecture should be regionally relevant. Noting that buildings in Seattle and Phoenix are too frequently designed in the same ways, Hayes set out to promote the idea of a "regional vernacular" in architecture that draws on the environment surrounding Seattle for guidance. And in the Pacific Northwest, there is no environmental feature more prominent than forests, making wood a logical building material.

Add in the fact that when it comes from a responsibly managed forest, wood is among the most environmentally friendly building materials, and it is only natural that the Bullitt Center is a heavy-timber framed structure.

As the first commercial building to pursue the Living Building Challenge, the Bullitt Center team is working hard to meet all 20 "imperatives," as the requirements are known. Included in this list is an imperative focused on "Responsible Industry," requiring that "all wood must be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)" or from salvaged sources.

With construction well under way, wood framing for the Bullitt Center has begun.

And anyone who has passed the job site on 15th & Madison has likely noticed the glued, laminated timbers, or "glulams" as they are known in the industry. Manufactured by Calvert Glulams in Vancouver, Wash., the glulams offer several environmental benefits, in addition to being stronger than traditional sawn timbers. First, they are from forests certified to the standards set by the Forest Stewardship Council, which is widely recognized to be the most rigorous and prescriptive benchmark for forest management globally. All wood for the project comes from within a 1,000-kilometer radius, as required by the Living Building Challenge. In the case of the glulams, the wood came from FSC-certified Douglas fir forests in Idaho, so the project is helping support a regional economy for wood from responsibly managed forests. And because the glulams are manufactured by combining smaller dimensional lumber, they reduce pressure to harvest larger, older trees that historically were needed to mill large dimension timbers.

Brian Court from Miller Hull Partnership addresses some of the other design considerations for heavy timber framing on the Bullitt Center blog.

Over the next few weeks, expect to see the Bullitt Center take its full form, as the six stories rise from the construction site. The project is on track to be completed later this year.

 

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GreenBuild Day 2: bifacial solar panels and natural swimming pools that use plants, not chlorine!

Posted on November 18, 2010

I've been through about an eighth of the GreenBuild Exhibition floor so far and wanted to share two of the things I've seen with you.

These are the Sanyo bifacial panels that will be on the Bullitt Foundation's Living Building on Capitol Hill. The collect energy from both sides while letting some light in at the same time. Bullitt was attracted by the transparency of the panel.

Sanyo panel, photo by Katie Zemtseff

And this is the BioNova Natural Swimming Pool. The swimming pools use natural systems (meaning plants in gravel) instead of chlorine and other chemicals to treat water. That means the water color is darker, looking more like a lake than a traditional pool. It also means that people that use them need to get used to the idea of sharing their pool occasionally with frogs or other critters. James Robyn, CEO of the company, said the pools aren't for everybody. "Whoever doesn't like that sort of thing shouldn't do this."

bionova

Robyn said the pool technology came from Europe, where it has been used for 20 years. He said it has a low carbon footprint, is all natural and is "perfectly healthy." Robyn, who is based in New Jersey, said he's being asked about the pool system all across the country. In fact, he was in Seattle giving a lecture last month though he said there are not yet any of his pools in process in the Seattle area.

There are basically five ways to build the pools but each involves about 1 square foot of treatment space for 1 square foot of pool. That means if you want an 850-square-foot-pool, you need 850 square feet of treatment space. It's more expensive but it certainly looks cool!

For more on BioNova, check out its Web site.

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Local team does deconstruction Extreme Home Makeover style

Posted on November 19, 2009

If I were to take a poll, I bet that nine out of 10 people have seen at least one episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (commonly called ABC’s Extreme Home Makeover). I have now worked on two episodes and the most recent one was the first time ever in seven seasons that they have allowed a group to completely disassemble a home to the ground. I was asked to fly out and help deconstruct a 2,700-square-foot, two-story home in 15 hours, and that is exactly what we did.

Crews gather to re-make a home!
I won’t spoil the show by giving out details, but I can say that it opened the door to reusing materials in the new building and in the surrounding neighborhood. That my friends, is exactly what Extreme Home Makeover did! They immediately found ways to incorporate the materials in their plans and much of the lumber will never be more than a block away from the property. It is true that the show has its critics. Many of them complain to me that it glorifies demolition. If I had a TV, I would watch the show on a regular basis, but the few episodes I have seen do make demolition look ‘fun’.

Hopefully, we have opened the door for them on alternatives to demolition. Each show I watch seems to have a growing focus on green building and this might be the next step for them. Given the tight timeframe allowed for demolition and site work until now, they really haven’t had a choice. Our industry offered them no solutions given their extreme situation. For me, this is all part of the path toward making green building a mainstream choice, systematically pursuing projects that we couldn’t touch years ago, until we become an option for anyone interested. Over the last 16+ years working in the green building field, I have realized that my work consists of one part natural resource conservation, one part reduced energy demand and two parts basically helping people. This is the path of Extreme Home Makeover, so keep watching and encouraging them to raise the bar higher, because that is exactly, what I plan to do.

A picture of the home\'s foundation

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Want to invest in a growing green market? Try organic cotton

Posted on March 31, 2009

According to a report by nonprofit Organic Exchange, global retail sales of organic cotton apparel and home textile products grew 63 percent from its 2007 number of $1.9 billion. In 2008, the report says, it reached $3.2 billion.

Organic cotton

The top ten brands that use and sell organic cotton might surprise  you.  They are Wal-Mart, C&A (out of Belgium), Nike, H&M (out of the UK), Zara (out of Spain), Anvil, Coop Switzerland, Pottery Barn, Greensource and Hess Naur (out of Germany). 

A press release says the report says the brands plan to expand their use of organic cotton to result in an estimated $4 billion market in 2009 and a $5.3 billion market in 2010. To learn more, visit Organic Exchange's Web site. But beware, it looks like they want to charge you (and me) $400 for the full report!

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This is what LEED platinum looks like

Posted on August 11, 2008

Wondering what that LEED platinum home looked like? Here are some photos for your entertainment:

this-one.jpg

That's Sloan Ritchie, the project's developer, walking into the house.

greenroof.jpg

That's the pretty green roof outside the master bedroom.

inside.jpg

That's open house visitors enjoying the living room.

kirei.jpg

This is kirei board, an engineered panel product made from the leftover stalks of the sorghum plant, which is used for food.

arggh1.jpg

Here's Ritchie with a SIP - a structural insulated panel or polystyrene panel that combines framing, insulation and exterior sheathing in one system. They can be used for roofing, walls or floors over crawl spaces.

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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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