DJC Green Building Blog

When it comes to certified wood, GSA is right to question LEED

Posted on April 4, 2013

The following post is by William Street:

Contrary to what Meghan Douris wrote in these pages in your Building Green issue (“Is LEED’s Future with Federal Projects Under Threat?” 2/28), the Government Services Administration is correct to seek opinion regarding LEED’s acceptability for public procurement projects, given the cost involved with LEED certification and LEED’s unfortunate discrimination against two respected and widely used certification standards, the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the American Tree Farm System (ATFS).

Photo by Luciano Burtini/sxc.hu

There's more than one forest certification system.

The fact that GSA is seeking input on their use of green building rating systems is a positive development. This will hopefully shed light on the problem with GSA’s use of the US Green Building Council’s LEED rating system. USGBC, unlike Green Building Councils in Italy, Germany or Australia -- all of which recognize the importance of all forest certification systems -- has been victimized by narrow interest groups seeking to push their own political agenda at the expense of actual science-based energy efficiency, local jobs, competitiveness and inclusivity. USGBC has never publicly explained why they only reward wood certified to the Forest Stewardship Council standard.

PEFC, the world’s largest and only purely non-profit forest certification system -- which includes SFI and ATFS,  both of which are independent, non-profit, charitable organizations -- has proven on every continent and in all governmental procurement and independent and neutral evaluations that it is a superior system to FSC. PEFC affiliates are recognized by Green Building Councils in many other countries, but not by the USGBC. Thus, wood products from SFI and ATFS are placed at a market disadvantage while forest products from FSC (many of which are sourced outside of the U.S.) are accepted, even though FSC‘s for-profit structure is not recognized by, and fails to comply with, the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) and ISO guidelines.

In the U.S., SFI and ATFS are the only forest certification systems to require and enforce compliance with the International Labor Organization’s core labor standards for forest workers.  Strong labor standards mean safer work, better wages, sustainable jobs and viable rural communities that depend on them.

Rather than attempt to create a monopoly for FSC, USGBC should do what practically every other national and third-party system has done: recognize and reward wood from all sustainably managed forests. To do otherwise is to promote deforestation in the tropics and the conversion of sustainably managed forests here into resorts, golf courses and second homes.

It’s well past time to stop fighting over the well-managed forests of North America and start speaking with a single voice to send a unified message to the rest of the world: that green buildings benefit from using wood from all sustainably managed forests. By speaking with a single voice, Americans can truly be a force against deforestation and the conversion of forests to other land uses.

William Street is director of the Woodworkers Department of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

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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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Greenbuild recap: Seattle represented!

Posted on November 22, 2010

GreenBuild is done for another year. Looking back, I can definitely say the Pacific Northwest - and Seattle in particular - represented.

From speakers (there were at least 35 from the Pacific Northwest) to people in the crowd (I must have seen at least 50 people from the area) to a reference in Rick Fedrizzi's opening speech to the Living Building Challenge to expo hall presenters, there was a giant contingent representing what

The expo hall at GreenBuild, by Katie Zemtseff
some *ahem* consider to be the greenest region of the country.

Overall, I noticed a change in GreenBuild presenters. It seemed (to me) that there was a little less architectural focus and more focus on the financial aspect of green building from the real estate side. Speakers came from Kennedy Associates, Wright Runstad & Co., Hines, PNC Real Estate, Lease Crutcher Lewis, Vulcan, Jones Lang LaSalle etc. To me, this reinforced the idea that "green" is becoming more and more mainstream. While the design aspect is important, the financial metrics really sell it -- just look at LEED volume. I also noticed a focus on the sustainability of the site, versus just the sustainability of the building.

I enjoyed the focus of the expo floor to reduce waste. Instead of a flood of literature that stays on my desk for months, presenters were encouraged to limit waste and only give away business cards. It was impressive.

I also enjoyed some of the wild outfits that turned up. Especially colorful cowboy hats, a full fake animal print suit in different colors and the myriad of cowboy boots worn on people's feet. A friend of mine said there seemed to be a lot more suits at GreenBuild this year - which she said is a good thing "cuz we need 'em!"

As for dislikes, I heard a lot of complaints about the lack of vegetarian food (this is GreenBuild afterall!) I also heard a lot of people complaining about two elements of Colin Powell's speech: his discussion of the state of terrorism in the U.S. and abroad and his statement that coal, nuclear and oil need to be just as much a part of our energy portfolio as solar and wind energy.

What did you think of GreenBuild? Comment below and tell me what your favorite - or least favorite part was. Would love to hear your reaction!

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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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GreenBuild Day 2: There’s something about GreenBuild

Posted on November 18, 2010

I'm mid-way through my second of three days at GreenBuild and something is different this year.

For the most part this conference just seems.... on. First, let me tell you that this is my third GreenBuild I went to GreenBuild 07 in Chicago, GreenBuild 08 in Boston and had guest posts on the blog at GreenBuild Phoenix last year. To read posts from each experience, click the 'greenbuild' tag below.

Personally, of the three, I think this is the best year yet. All the problems I had with my first Chicago GreenBuild experience:  insanely long lines for the keynote speaker, no clear way to compost food or recycle name tags, a tiny nonfunctional press room, teaching sessions focused on the lowest common denominator, almost rampant waste with giant programs and a general disorganization - are gone.

In its place three years later is a well organized, smoothly run conference. Sessions are easy to get into and focused on pertinent topics. People I've spoken with so far agree that this year, everyone seems to have a deeper level of green building knowledge. The press room is large with easily accessible outlets. Compost and recycling is clearly marked and encouraged. There's also signs all around this exhibit hall stating that the carpet is going to be recycled or that giving out fliers is strictly prohibited without USGBC permission.  The USGBC also worked with food suppliers at the conference to make sure everything was organic.

There are also many more of my favorite kind of session: off site visits that demonstrate the unique aspects of the city you're in.

There's been changes in the exhibit hall. Rather than the standard conference practice of having every exhibitor give out literature that is often thrown directly in the garbage, the USGBC has instituted a program to curb that waste. More about this later.

That's not to say that everything is perfect. But overall, I'm pretty impressed and looking forward to the rest of today and tomorrow.

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GreenBuild Day 1: Colin Powell says he knows more about green building than you think

Posted on November 17, 2010

This morning, former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell gave the keynote speech at the USGBC's GreenBuild Conference in Chicago. He said he knows more about green building than you think.

Powell's green building credibility, at least during his talk, came from three things: a $1 billion annual budget for building embassies during his time as a politician, his work with Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers that is funding

Colin Powell
Bloom Energy, and his association with a LEED platinum affordable housing building in the Bronx bearing his name.

However, his talk didn't really focus on green building. Instead, it focused on the state of the country, motivating Americans and creating true leadership to support our economy and continue improving America. A big part of this effort, he said, is energy efficiency.

Powell said those in the green building sector need to look at what they're doing and see the broader purpose:

"Your purpose is to help the world use less energy, to help the world promote its environment and above all to help the world grow economically so that more people can come up out of poverty and despair... you have got a purpose for your future.

"What you’re doing is building green buildings and that's wonderful but what you’re really doing is helping the world deal with its energy needs and helping the world create growth for those in need."

Powell said this effort is playing a major role in the U.S.'s national security policy because it is reducing energy needs. However, he also said the U.S. can never be totally energy independent and that we need all sorts of energy: wind, solar, nuclear and coal. I'm guessing a number of you would take issue with that.

Overall, the talk careened from America's place in the global economy to our country's future to terrorism to leadership. Powell spoke personally about having a 2.0 GPA in college, being a son of immigrants and being a new soldier soon after the army was desegragated. None of these things matter, he said.

"It doesn't matter where you start in life, it's where you end up but more importantly, what did you do along the way?”

He spoke about aging in a world of new media "I'm analog trying to become digital" and about the emptiness he felt immediately after leaving his post as secretary of state (to deal with it, he needed to find other intellectually challenging opportunities, such as his work with Kleiner and with his effort to promote education nationally).

As a speaker, Powell was engaging and funny, repeatedly making the audience (and me) laugh. It's nice during these talks when you can lose yourself to some degree in what the speaker is saying and allow yourself to be transported, rather than always remaining detached from the subject matter. If you have a chance to hear him speak, I would highly recommend it.

Are you here? What did you think of the talk? Were you impressed with the overall inspiration or upset that it didn't focus more on green building? Would love to hear your thoughts!

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Going to GreenBuild!

Posted on November 15, 2010

Hello lovely readers! I will be at the USGBC's GreenBuild Conference in Chicago this week and will be right back here throughout, updating you on all the sustainable  happenings of the event!

However, one can only blog so much. If you want more news and timeline tidbits, follow me on Twitter. My handle is @KatieZemtseff.

I'm looking forward to learning a lot. Hope you are too. Starting Wednesday, check back often!

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$100 million class action lawsuit filed against LEED, USGBC

Posted on October 19, 2010

According to Environmental Building News, Henry Gifford, owner of Gifford Fuel Saving, has filed a class action lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Green Building Council and its founders.

"The suit argues the USGBC is fraudulently misleading consumers and fraudulently misrepresenting energy performance of buildings certified under its LEED rating systems, and that LEED is harming hte environment by leading consumers away from using proven energy-saving strategies," the article says.

The lawsuit looks like it is based at least in part on research by Washington's very own New Buildings Institute.

I don't know the details so I will refer you to those that do: first, read the excellent Environmental Building News Article. For a more opinionated article, check out this Treehugger piece. For a lawyer's take, go to Green Building Law here. If you read the articles, don't forget the comments. There's some pretty interesting opinions.

This blog has covered green building problems before. For our related archives, click the tag 'problems' below.

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What others are saying about Greenbuild

Posted on November 12, 2009

If you want to follow Greenbuild from a couple of other perspectives, check out John Jennings posts on the Betterbricks site:

http://blog.betterbricks.com/design/

Penny Bonda's perspective is always fresh and engaging:

http://www.interiordesign.net/blog/1860000586.html#940050494

And if you want the party line, visit:

http://www.greenbuildexpo.org/News/blog.aspx

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Al Gore and Sheryl Crow start Greenbuild off right

Posted on November 12, 2009

Amidst the energy, networking and commotion of Greenbuild, last night's keynote by Al Gore set the stage for the attendees ramping up their time here in Phoenix.  Gore was met with laughter as he told the same old

Sheryl Crow sang at Greenbuild this year
jokes and then launched into his insightful 'rise up and speak out' message of finding courage in challenging times.  Whether in politics, or in the realm of development, Gore's message was age old - find your own voice, activate it, and reach out and activate others - as we currently have the technologies and tools at hand to solve our vast global crisis.

Rick Fedrizzi's opening message lacked the inspiration and insight of past years. The power of the founderand CEO's opening plenary came from the mass of voices from an international stage: leaders of the Green Building Councils of countries including Canada, New Zealand, India, South Africa, Germany, Italy and others. These international voices magnified the incredible work of the USGBC to forge hope and alliances around the world.

Sheryl Crow topped off the night, bridging industries with her incredible celebrity, musical talent and lust for life to the stage.  At least I heard Sheryl 'rocked,' as I grabbed the opportunity to network outside the venue. The truth is, as Sheryl sings, 'All I Want to Do Is Have Some Fun...'

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