DJC Green Building Blog

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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Architecture, art, fashion – sustainable?

Posted on January 23, 2009

This week, I attended a panel discussion hosted by the Seattle Art Museum and by the Cascade Land Conservancy on how art, design and sustainability fit together. Lucia Athens, sustainable future strategist at CollinsWoerman, moderated the panel. Panelists were Tom Kundig of Olson Sundburg Kundig Allen Architects, Rebecca Luke, co-founder of the Sustainable Style Foundation and stylist, and Roy McMakin, Northwest artist.

The conversation twisted and turned around how sustainability intersects with art,

Sustainable home? Courtesy OSKA
style and architecture, but overall, all speakers said they wanted to create something that lasted. Whether it was art, a beautiful house, or a great dress, they said it was more sustainable to create or buy something you'd use forever, rather than something that you would dispose of in a year or a decade.

The problem with that is sustainability is so new it's not always clear what is truly sustainable (for more on this, read a previous post here  or look under the tag 'greenwashing' below). And for art and outfits, fashions come in and out of style. Kundig summed it up nicely when he said: "Culturally, we don't understand the decisions we're making now and what their larger effects are... architects don't know yet what is truly sustainable and what is not."

Sustainabilty also means different things in different locations. In nature, it's about being light on the land and letting nature be the focus. But in the city, he said it's more about density. In either space, Kundig said there are many conspiring issues that must be balanced from land use to environmental concerns to planning. "How they're resolved is what we hope is good architecture."

I love attending discussions that bring different disciplines together, because you often get tossed out of your comfort zone.

Sustainable furniture? Courtesy Domestic Furniture Co.
Roy McMakin was an interesting voice to have in on the panel. One of the impediments to becoming more sustainable, he said, is the tension between individual rights and the common good. It's hard to come together and agree something is best for everyone, he said, when this country is founded on the individual being able to do what they think is best for them.

Another point McMakin made is that honestly, we could have everything we talk about in panel discussions - from more art in public places to more sustainable infrastructure - if we just agreed to tax ourselves more and give more of our income to the common good. But realistically, how many people in Seattle would vote to do that? He has a point.

Luke pointed out that it's important to have different disciplines sharing information

Sustainable clothing? Courtesy the sustainable style weblog
or working together on issues of sustainability, otherwise every industry ends up reinventing the wheel, which she said doesn't need to happen. In her work with style, she said she tries to connect the experiences of different disciplines. 

Unfortunately, all of these things cost money and require some serious investments. Buying a great dress that will last for years? Pricey. Buying a house designed by OSKA that reflects and respects the local environment? Pricey. Buying furniture that is art, which will become a family heirloom? Pricey. Sustainability, it seems, does not come cheap.

I leave you with this quote from McMakin: "Sustainability is partly the idea that it's not ephemeral, it's used for a long time ... but we're humans. We do stuff. We have ideas ... I'm an artist. I want to create stuff but how do you deal with the impacts of what you do?"

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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 katiez@djc.com. If you like (or don't like) parts of green design, green buildings, green products etc., comment or e-mail me at katiez@djc.com. 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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Green products not so great, says Gehry specifier

Posted on April 25, 2008

Often, I long for your comments though they never come. In response to my post below on the Stranger's not so pleasant coverage of Seattle City Hall, I got more than I bargained for from Anne Whitacre.

bookWhitacre is a senior associate at Gehry Partners in Los Angeles, though she spent 30 years working in Seattle at firms like ZGF and NBBJ. She's a full-time specifier there and deals with products, both green and not green, on a daily basis.

Whitacre isn't against green buildings or green products as a whole... rather her qualm is how a product's "greenness" often trumps whether it actually is a good product.

Among her comments in her very informative letter to me, she said, “I simply do not understand the bally-hooing of LEED buildings. From a design professional’s perspective, there are “good” buildings and there are “bad” buildings, and the procuring of a LEED rating does not automatically turn a “bad” building into a “good” one.”

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