What Green Really Means
Green has exploded into the marketplace. Everybody wants “green,” but with no established definition, who knows what they really want?
By John Wagner
Tired of green already? You’d better not be. Green building will be with us for years to come. Consumers expect to double their spending on green products and services in 2008, totaling an estimated $500 billion annually or $43 billion per month. You want some of that spend? Gotta go green...
The research also found that 90% of Americans agree that there are important green issues and problems, and 82% believe it is important for companies to implement environmentally friendly practices1. That’s crucial for lumber dealers, because consumers (and therefore your contractor customers) not only want green products, but they want to buy them from companies that have gone green with their own operations.
Want some more convincing data? There’s plenty of it out there. Green building will be a $40 to $50 billion market by 2010, representing a huge upsurge of activity in the green sector from the $7.4 billion spent on green building components in 2006.
The motivation for this upsurge: 63% of green home owners said that their green purchases were motivated by lower operating and maintenance costs that come with energy- and resource-efficient homes. However, in addition to lower operating and maintenance costs, “environmental concerns” and their “family’s health” were significant motivating factors for going green, cited by 50% of those surveyed2.
With half the people citing their family’s health as a motivating factor, the price of a product will not be the metric by which its value is appraised. The ultimate value may be found in a product’s performance and how it affects indoor air quality. A contractor may say to his customer, “Ok, Misses, to have a floor adhesive with no harmful fumes will cost you more.” These days, an increasingly typical response will be, “I don’t care if it costs a little more, I don’t want my kids breathing poisons.”
Additionally, due to rising fuel costs, the historically long “return on investment” and payback—which stopped many people from purchasing products to reduce heating and cooling loads—can now be achieved in a shorter time. A beefed-up insulation package that used to have a return on investment that stretched 7+ years (the average number of years Americans stay in their homes) can now be paid off in a much shorter time; it’s an easier sell these days. A survey by McGraw Hill found that 51% of people will spend between $5,000 and $11,000 to save on utility costs; 32% would spend less than $5,000 and 16% will spend more than $11,000.
Consensus Green Principles
Green is a frothy topic these days; it’s hard to pin down. Standards are proliferating, and building codes at all levels are requiring green practices and performance. With so much to read and digest, I did some advance work for you. I looked at the leading green building standards and determined five consensus green principles.
I then looked at what products could help you comply with these standards. By familiarizing yourself with these consensus
green principles, you can develop the confidence and critical judgment to sell green products, with or without green labels.
GREEN PRINCIPLE (1)
A product is green it improves the indoor air quality or reduces chemical exposure within a home, thereby improving the health of the people who live in it or work on it. This would include all products that reduce mold, because mold can dramatically compromise indoor air quality.
Products to help you comply:
– Duct seam sealants
– Green-certified carpet
– High efficiency HVAC air filters
– Isocyanate-free, formaldehyde-free spray foams
– Low- or no-VOC adhesives
– Low- or no-VOC caulks
– Low- or no-VOC floor finishes
– Low- or no-VOC paints
– Low-emitting or formaldehyde-free batt insulation
– Low-emitting or formaldehyde-free lumber (or at least phenolic resin formaldehyde glue, instead of urea formaldehyde)
It includes products that control moisture, air infiltration, and mold:
– Paper-free drywall
– Drainable house wraps
– Balanced HVAC systems
– Window flashing kitsIt also includes products that protect person’s safety:
– Carbon-canister masks
– Green cleaning products
– Lead test kits
– N95 dust masks
GREEN PRINCIPLE (2)
A product is green if it lowers pressure on the environment through the use of materials that are renewable or “sustainably harvested.” That is, harvested in a way that doesn’t permanently deplete the source of the material.
Products to help comply:
– Any building products with high recycled (or recycle-able) content:
• Insulation made from recycled products
• Recycled paint
• Recycle-able carpet, or carpet made from recycled materials
• Wood flooring
– Certified lumber (SFI or FSC)
– Decking (PVC, composite, wood)
– Metal roofing
– Roof shingles
GREEN PRINCIPLE (3)
It reduces the use of water throughout a home, thereby lowering demands on freshwater sources and the energy intensive infrastructure required to pipe, store, and purify it.
Products to help comply:
– EPA’s WaterSense-rated products
– Low-flow faucets
– Low-flow showerheads
– Low-flow sink components (aerators)
– Low-flow toilets
– Permeable pavers
– Rain water harvest
– Water filtration systems (point of use or whole-house)
GREEN PRINCIPLE (4)
A product is green if it reduces pressure on the waste stream, by being made from recycled or recycle-able materials.
Under this principle, look for high-recycledcontent ratings, either in label statements or statements like “made from recovered and recycled material.” This will likely include engineered lumber, wood flooring, and some decking.
Take a role in pointing out the recycleability of products, such as
– Batt insulation
– Metal of all kinds
– Whole-house recycling
Other products that help comply:
– Mercury-free thermometers and controllers
– Rechargeable batteries (Become a
battery recycling drop off location)
GREEN PRINCIPLE (5)
A product is green it if reduces the “carbon footprint” of a home.
The carbon footprint is CO2 emitted by the energy burned to heat and cool a structure over its lifetime and the CO2 emitted by energy burned to generate power for the home and the CO2 emitted by energy used to manufacture the building components.
Products that help comply:
– Cementious siding with fly-ash additives
– Compact Fluorescent lighting
– Energy-Star-rated appliances
– Energy-Star-rated lighting
– Energy-Star-rated three-tab or
– Energy-Star-rated windows
– High-efficiency HVAC systems
– LED lighting
The award-winning author of many articles and books—and a sought-after green trainer and keynote speaker for dealer events— JOHN D. WAGNER is the Green Editor for LBM Journal and the content manager for the Certified Green Dealer Program. Contact John: John.Wagner@LBMJournal.com. Or visit: www.JohnDWagner.com
GREEN VS. SUSTAINABLE
It’s all about life-cycle analysis
Let’s look at what the difference is between something that’s green versus something that’s sustainable. Take an everyday example. I have an iPod, and it holds 1,700 songs (and I have the small one!). Since I download those songs from the Web, the CDs I would normally buy don’t have to be produced (plastics and paper) or shipped (CO2, fuel). So is the iPod green? In the sense of reducing waste and shipping, it is. But what if you knew that the iPod was largely powered by coal, a notoriously un-environmental way to generate electricity. The iPod may be green but it’s not sustainable—it can’t be a viable long-term green product—if the iPod is powered by a power source that degrades the environment. How about an iPod that is powered by hydro or solar? That’s a product that is green and sustainable. Let’s use a building industry example, like adhesive. An adhesive may be lowor no-VOC, which makes it very green. But if it was manufactured in a way that degraded the environment, produced poisonous waste, treated the workers unfairly, and was toxic when disposed of, it isn’t sustainable. What we are doing here is a “life-cycle analysis.” We are looking at the entire product lifecycle, from cradle to grave. A product is both green and “sustainable” when it performs as a green product, has low or no toxicity, is manufactured in a green way, and isn’t toxic when disposed of.
WHAT’S A “CARBON FOOTPRINT”?
Estimates vary, but just to heat and cool a home, the average U.S. home contributes 60 tons of CO2 each year. That’s the equivalent pollution from 10 cars/year. Energy is also used to manufacture the structure’s components, and that energy is also sometimes referred to as a structure’s “embodied energy.” Whether or not global warming is a concern of yours, what’s the worst consequence of green homes with lower carbon footprints? It’s less pollution, less fuel burned, lower costs, and greater occupant comfort.
Green Rating Agencies
There are green rating agencies that “certify” or rate green products, structures, and professionals. Here is an overview of the most widely known thirdparty agencies, along with a brief explanation of what each agency provides.
A global organization, the Forest Stewardship Council promotes forest management practices and has stakeholders in a number of categories, including environmental groups, forestry professions, indigenous people’s organizations, corporations and forest certification organizations. FSC sets standards that protect forests, water quality, wildlife habitats, and local communities. FSC also accredits third-party organizations to verify those standards. There are two FSC certificates: Forest Management Certificate (an inspection for compliance with FSC Principles of Responsible Forest Management) and a Chain of Custody Certificate (a guarantee of all successive stages of processing and distribution.) More info: www.FSC.org.
The American Forest & Paper Association developed the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) Program to reconcile the economic benefits of forest management with environmental protection. SFI certifies producers of wood products and the product itself. The SFI guidelines are governed by the Sustainable Forestry Board (SFB), a multistakeholder organization made up of representatives from environmental nonprofits, the forest products industry, and the broader forestry community. More info: www.AboutSFI.org.
The Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) is a carpet and rug industry trade association. It created the Green Label. Through independent testing by Air Quality Sciences, carpet is tested using ASTM methods. A product can use the CRI Green Label if the test results do not exceed CRI’s emission criteria. A more strict CRI standard, Green Label Plus, claims that the carpet complies with California’s stricter Section 01350. More info: www.carpet-rug.com.
Green Seal is a third-party organization that offers environmental testing and certification for building products like paints, windows, and doors. Green Seal evaluations can examine a product’s entire life cycle, from raw material to disposal. Applicants pay an assessment fee to be appraised. Green Seal publishes Choose Green Reports, which reviews a wide range of products. All Green Seal products have undergone third-party verification. More info: www.GreenSeal.org.
The Master Painters Institute (MPI) Green Performance Standard examines paint performance and looks at paint content for toxins and VOCs. MPI has established a green standard for paint and it issues a list of products that meet MPI standards. The categories on the list range from exterior oil wood primer to low- VOC interior latex. MPI’s standards usually exceed EPA minimums. More info: www.SpecifyGreen. com; www.PaintInfo.com.
A third-party certifier, Scientific Certification
Systems (SCS) certifies a wide range of products for such attributes as recycled content and biodegradability. Their Environmental Claims Certification program is a truth-in-labeling seal. SCS will certify Environmentally Preferable Products (EPP) for their relative environmental impact. SCS also provides audits of forests under FSC guidelines and certifies claims in these categories: biodegradable, indoor air quality performance, poison free/alternative to poison, and material content (recycled, postconsumer, etc.). More info: SCScertified.com.
Program tests and certifies a product’s emissions (including VOCs and formaldehyde). Greenguard certifies a wide range of products, from adhesives and flooring to paints, floor finishes. Testing follows ASTM, EPA, and state standards. Greenguard also offers the Greenguard for Children and Schools Program for products used in schools. They also offer the Greenguard Mold Protection Program to appraise mold risk and they even certify design and construction. More info:
Since 1992, the EPA’s Energy Star program has labeled energy-efficient products, and its system now looks at appliances as well as the building envelope, roof types, windows, and air filtration. (Energy Star–qualified homes are independently verified to be at least 30% more energy efficient than homes built to the 1993 national Model Energy Code or 15% more efficient than those built to state energy codes, whichever is more rigorous.) See the guidelines at www.Energystar.gov.
To qualify as Energy Star home, the home must meet baseline criteria in the building envelope, ductwork, and with Energy Star–rated products. The home must be field-tested through the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET)-accredited provider network. Energy Star–qualified homes are verified to be at least 30% more energy efficient than homes built to the 1993 national Model Energy Code or 15% more efficient than those built to state energy codes, whichever is more rigorous. More info: www.EnergyStar.gov.
WaterSense, a partnership program sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “makes it easy for Americans to save water and protect the environment.” WaterSense approved products are generally 20% more water-efficient than similar products in the marketplace. More info: www.epa.gov/watersense.
Created in 1999, EarthCraft House is a residential green building program of the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association in partnership with Southface. This program has served as a blueprint for energy- and resource -efficient homes. More info: www.EarthCraftHouse.com.
The Certified Green Dealer™ Program is a Web-based “distance learning” program that certifies the nation’s
lumberyards and building material dealer locations as sources of information on green building and green products through online training and printed resource material. It is the only dealer certification program available. More info: www.CertifiedGreenDealer.com
Is Lumber Green? You Bet. Green as it Gets Beats steel hands down. And it’s getting greener every day.
Wood is clearly a renewable, recyclable resource that can be a very green product indeed, especially if it is extracted responsibly. The two leading wood certification programs in the U.S., FSC and SFI, both do an excellent job of ensuring sustainable harvests. Currently, USGBC recognizes only FSC lumber for LEED points, but the NAHB’s National Green Building Standard accepts both FSC and SFI on par for points in the lumber category.
If you want lumber points in the LEED commercial or LEED-for-Homes (LEED-H) programs, you have to get an FSC registration and carry FSC products in your yard (no small task, given the record keeping and separate inventory requirements), or broker FSC purchases for your customers.
However, some industry groups have pushed steel as a green alternative. Yet when you consider steel as an alternative to structural wood, wood wins hands down, and study after study tells us so. Why? When you do a lifecycle analysis of steel and see the total “embodied energy,” it’s widely agreed that the energy it takes to produce steel studs and steel beams is far more than the energy it takes to produce equivalent wood products. So, the “embodied energy” of steel is higher than wood, making wood (including “uncertified” wood) a greener choice, to say nothing of the extractive industries required for steel production.
Engineered wood is an even greener choice. Here’s why. A great deal of engineered lumber can use “secondary demand”
lumber that wouldn’t otherwise be appropriate for dimension sticks. So, engineered lumber uses more of the tree. To span (or even header off) larger spans, engineered lumber clearly is the greener choice in terms of lowering pressure on premium raw lumber products. Think of how many structural sticks it would take to replace what an LVL, glulam, microlam or I-Joist can do with secondary demand lumber, with no compromise in structural integrity.
As we are now seeing with the adhesives used in sheetgoods, you will see more and more attention to the adhesives used in engineered lumber. A common component of many wood adhesives is formaldehyde, a VOC and known carcinogen. Formaldehyde has come under intense scrutiny and regulation, especially in California markets. A growing number of sheetgood manufacturers have responded with zero-emitting or low-emitting formaldehyde products, and you may well see this trend continue in all lumber products, including engineered lumber.
Trusses are another very green alternative. Though you will probably never find a green label on a truss, they are very green products indeed. Trusses can span great distances that would otherwise require large, long sticks. Yet trusses are made from smaller-dimension lumber. Moreover, a truss with a raised heel (sometimes called “energy trusses”) can offer a dramatic advantage for the thermal envelope by giving builders an opportunity for adding insulation where the bottom chord meets the top plate. With raised-heel trusses, foam or batts can really add some R-value there, because they are not squeezed down to nearly zero at that spot with traditional gable trusses. The take-away? A naturally renewable and recyclable material, wood is green indeed, and engineered and truss wood products are even greener. Sell wood to your green clients with confidence.
GREAT GREEN WEBSITES
BuildingGreen is an independent company that provides accurate, unbiased, and timely information about green design and products. BuildingGreen brings this research to you—partially free, partially for a subscription fee—through its publications: Environmental Building News, the GreenSpec directory of green products, and the BuildingGreen Suite for online research.
California Air Resources Board (CARB)www.carb.ca.gov
CARB is the California state agency that regulates air quality. Its policies often have national implications.
Carpet and Rug Institute/ Green Label www.carpetrug.com
CRI performs independent testing of carpets and rugs to check for chemical emissions.
The Cool Roof Rating Council (CRRC) www.coolroofs.org
CRRC is an independent organization that rates roofing products for their ability to reflect or emit heat.
Department of Energy (DOE) www.doe.gov
DOE promotes America’s energy security through reliable, clean, and affordable energy. DOE’s website has an expansive offering of free material focused on energy consumption and energy efficiency.
US DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) www.eere.energy.gov
This site offers authoritative information on energy efficiency and renewable energy.
This residential building guideline, originally focused on homes in the Atlanta region, has served as a national model for wellbuilt green homes.
Environmental Home Center a.k.a ecohaus www.environmentalhomecenter.com A catalog source for green building products.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) www.epa.gov
EPA’s website provides a wealth of free information, including lists and sources of products that are in compliance with EPA’s various programs.
Green Building Supply www.greenbuildingsupply.com
A catalog source for green building products.
Green California www.green.ca.gov
The State of California’s green building standards are outlined here, and they offer good guidance to homes built
The Greenguard Certification Program (run by the Greenguard Environmental Institute) certifies low-emitting products for indoor air quality.
Green Seal www.greenseal.org
Green Seal provides environmental testing and certification for a wide range of materials including building materials.
Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute www.icpi.org
A helpful website that offers excellent resources, installation tips, and material sources for concrete pavers.
State by state energy resources listed by the Department of Energy: http://www.eere.energy.gov/states/alternatives/resources_by_state.cfm
A compendium of energy efficiency rules and rebates listed by the Alliance to Save Energy:
U.S. Green Building Council’s local green building programs. http://www.greenhomeguide.org/green_home_programs/other_green_homebuilding_programs.html
NAHB’s list of local green programs:http://nahbgreen.org/WhoIsGreen/pro_findprogram.aspx
EPA’s summary of national green building funding opportunities. http://www.epa.gov/greenbuilding/tools/funding.htm
|Roll the dice.||10%|
|Test the waters.||37.5%|
|Yes, this time.||32.5%|