|Building Green, Building Better|
Ask a construction professional to define “building green” and you’ll hear all about site planning, water management, energy management, material use, indoor environmental air quality, and standards. Ask Brookstone Builders’ and you’ll hear “It’s not building green, it’s building better.”
Green building means building office facilities, retail facilities, factories and homes that “give back” to the earth, rather than draining it, wherever possible.
It’s building from scratch using recycled materials wherever practical; appliances that are energy-efficient and water-efficient; orienting the building to take advantage of passive solar energy; adding solar panels to maximize whatever solar exposure exists, and using native plants wherever possible to both please the eye and protect the site.
It’s remodeling an existing facility to leverage all possible benefits of the existing site, adding natural protection and plants wherever possible, passive solar collection, replacing existing lighting, heating and air conditioning with systems that can be zoned for greater efficiency (not heating the whole office when you only need it cool in one room), improving insulation, and replacing energy-hogging appliances with energy-efficient appliances.
Brookstone Builders adds, “It’s also the use of local resources, which minimizes environmental impact because you’re saving the cost of transporting materials over a long distance.”
When you go green, you give back to yourself by creating an interior environment that is comfortable without undue waste; to your community, by creating a site that has minimal impact on existing natural resources; to the future, by showing others how it’s done, and encouraging more green building.
How green is green?
The increased interest in green building has given rise to a number of organizations devoted to developing guidelines for green construction. These guidelines help consumers evaluate how green their building plan or building professional really is, before they commit. The two most prevalent sets of guidelines come from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), Greenpoint, and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).
In the words of Triad Homes’ correspondent Lew Sichelman, “LEED is synonymous with green commercial construction.” They developed a rating system for new commercial construction in 2000, and some sort of LEED certification is required in 22 states and 55 cities across the United States. Like NAHB, LEED is a collaborative and voluntary effort, having developed its rating system in an open, consensus-based process that included input from the NAHB. The LEED guidelines were officially launched in November 2007.
LEED also provides programs to educate construction professionals in green building principles. Brookstone Builders’ is a LEED-accredited professional.
A local organization which has also recently rolled out standards for green building is GreenPoint. GreenPoint is a Bay Area organization which has recently rolled out its own standards for green building. GreenPoint has also been around since 2000. The performance benchmarks addressed by the GreenPoint criteria were designed in California, by and for Californians. They are completely compatible with both LEED and NAHM criteria.
NAHB has put forth a set of voluntary green building guidelines that can serve as a template for market-driven green construction throughout the country. Unveiled 2-1/2 years ago, the NAHB's guidelines were derived from a consensus of more than 60 industry stakeholders, including environmentalists, building products manufacturers, architects and research groups. According to the trade group, which claims it has no financial stake in the success of the guidelines, there are now two dozen local green building programs in operation that are based on the NAHB's rules and 100 more are in development.
Standards for green building are important to consumers for the same reason they are important to green builders: they help separate the practitioners of green building from the hucksters of greenwashing.
“Greenwashing” is a term for companies who spend lots more time or money advertising how green they are, than they do on ensuring that their practices are environmentally sound. A study released in December 2007 by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing surveyed 1,018 consumer products at random, and found that 99% of them were guilty of greenwashing. According to Terra
Choice, the Six Sins of Greenwashing are:
• Hidden-Trade-off: Using a single environmental attribute to suggest that a product is green, without attention to other important environmental issues; for example, calling something green because it is packaged in recycled cardboard, but ignoring the impact of its manufacture on the environment. Common construction materials that may sin this way include framing products, plywood, and insulation.
• No Proof: Making an environmental claim that can’t be easily proven (in other words, not available either at the point of purchase or at the product website). Common materials that may sin this way include household lamps and lights that claim to be energy efficient without showing any supporting evidence.
• Vagueness: Making a claim that is so broad, or so vague, that it’s impossible to evaluate and is likely to be misunderstood. For example: “chemical-free” (everything is made of chemicals, even water!), “non-toxic” (anything can be toxic if you consume enough of it), “all-natural” (uranium is natural, but it’s also poisonous), “environmentally friendly” (by whose criteria?). Even saying the product contains “recycled content” can be misleading, if the label does not specify what percentage of the product is recycled.
• Irrelevance: Making an environmental claim that may be truthful but is unimportant and unhelpful for consumers seeking environmentally preferable products. Thus, it distracts the consumer from finding a truly greener option. The most frequent example given of an irrelevant claim relates to chloroflurocarbons (CFCs), which have been legally banned for almost 30 years because they were a principal contributor to ozone depletion. So why are we still seeing products that claim to be “CFC-free” today?
• Lesser of Two Evils: Claims that may be technically true, but distract the consumer from the greater environmental impact of that whole category of product; for example, organic cigarettes or ‘green’ insecticides. Thus, the claim has questionable value.
• Fibbing: Making environmental claims that are just plain untrue.
How to avoid being greenwashed? Deal with construction professionals who are passionate about the environment, can tell you what their criteria are for planning and executing a green project, and are willing to submit their plans to outside scrutiny.
“Scoping” your green building project
‘Going green’ need not have an enormous impact on your project’s budget. The initial cost of a ‘green’ project may involve from 1-3 percent of a project’s budget.
Typical components of a green remodel include recycling of existing inefficient appliances in favor of EnergyStar appliances, landscaping renovation to maximize passive solar gain during the day and minimize the need to water, and designing a solar system that will cover about 60% of your site’s electrical needs and water heating needs.
There are many environmental benefits of solar power. Chief among them is the reduction of greenhouse gases, the main cause of global warming. Unlike conventional sources of electricity, solar power produces no harmful emissions to pollute the environment. On average, producing 1,000 kWh of electricity with solar power reduces green house gas emissions by nearly 8 pounds of sulfur dioxide, 5 pounds of nitrogen oxides, and more than 1,400 pounds of carbon dioxide.
Brookstone Builders begins with an initial site assessment to evaluate the feasibility of PV system installation. A detailed architectural quality drawing is prepared, indicating the exact location of the PV panels, inverters, mounting hardware, and conduit--all designed and engineered for code compliance. This process involves communication with you throughout, to insure that your project meets your satisfaction.
Once the project is completed and approved by the building department and PG&E, your new PV system goes live, and with the manufacturer’s warranty of 25 years on the panels you can enjoy worry-free energy.
Let Brookstone Builders help you “build better”, giving back to yourself, your community, and the planet with a beautiful home that is comfortable, economical, and walks gently on the earth.
US Green Building Council: http://www.usgbc.org/
Wikipedia (Green Building): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_building
Building Today for Tomorrow: http://www.greenhomebuilding.com/
The Green Building Revolution: http://envirovaluation.org/index.php/2008/01/26/island_press_www_islandpress_org_2
The Seven Principles of Building Green
From Triad Homes – News Record, Aug. 18, 2007
Depending on your location, any green building program will be guided by at least one of the following principles:
Energy efficiency: Often synonymous with green building and perhaps the largest component, energy efficiency covers the building envelope, mechanical equipment and appliances. Water efficiency: The second easiest aspect to quantify after energy, this indoor/outdoor element includes native, drought-tolerant landscaping, low-flow fixtures and water-saving appliances.
Passive design: Orientation of the house on the building site, cross ventilation and roof overhangs are just part of the design factor. But it’s more than just products: It’s how the systems work together. Call it value engineering.
Materials: Durable, low-maintenance, recycled, renewable and sustainable all come into play here. But so does locally purchased or manufactured products to cut down on transportation costs. Also important is the impact materials have once they are installed, and whether they are recyclable once you are done with them. Construction process: Making the most of what you have by limiting construction waste, thereby reducing the impact on landfills. Also being the least destructive to nature by limiting rainwater runoff and clear-cutting.
Indoor environmental quality: Thermal comfort, moisture control and even lighting play a role here. After all, sometimes what’s inside the house is more toxic than what’s outside.
Site and landscape: Native plants, animal habitats, erosion control.
Recommendations for Consumers
From The Six Sins of Greenwashing
© 2007. TerraChoice Environmental Marketing Inc.
Governments and standard-setting bodies have attempted to discourage greenwashing. But it is our observation that when environmental interest is high, as it is today, greenwashing is nevertheless prolific.
If the good intentions of consumers and the environmental benefits of their choices are not to be squandered, consumers themselves will have to play a role. Here are some suggestions that arise from this study.
Look for Eco-labels.
Eco-labeling – standardized by ISO 14024 and recognized around the world – arose as an answer to earlier efforts of greenwashing. They remain one of the most useful tools to avoid greenwashing. Look for products that have been certified by a qualified and independent third-party such as EcoLogoCM or Green Seal. Both EcoLogoCM and Green Seal develop standards for environmental leadership in an open, transparent consensus-based process that considers multiple environmental issues throughout a product’s lifecycle (from resource extraction to end-of-life).
Look for evidence of any of the “Six Sins” by asking the following questions:
• Is the “green” claim restricted to just one, or a narrow set of environmental issue(s)? (The Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off.)
• Does the claim help me find more information and evidence? (The Sin of No Proof.)
• Is the environmental and scientific meaning of the claim specific and self-evident? If not, is the specific meaning given? (The Sin of Vagueness.)
• Could all of the other products in this category make the same claim? (The Sin of Irrelevance.)
• When I check up on it, is the claim true? (The Sin of Fibbing.)
• Is the claim trying to make consumers feel “green” about a product category that is of questionable environmental benefit? (The Sin of the Lesser of Two Evils.)