LEED Lasts in Latest NC Bill (news note)

stack of woodAs many of you may be aware, the North Carolina legislature was considering a bill that would effectively take away the option of LEED certification for public projects.  In a misguided effort to protect the NC timber industry, the original bill would essentially take away the option of using LEED for public projects.

Thanks to the strong potests from many industry groups, and the great coverage of the issue by Bob Kruhm and the folks at his paper NC Construction News, the NC Senate passed an amended version of House Bill 628 on Monday night that retains the option of LEED certifciation for State construction projects.  Read the full story here.  [For the original bill and other versions, click here].


The Old Defeats the New (Usefulness of LEED?) (News Note)

Last week, I mentioned the renewal of the tax credits for wind energy.  Another report which came across my desk recently is one from SustainableBusiness.com, in which it is reported that some (although certainly not all) of New York City’s oldest buildings are out-performing LEED-certified buildings.7 World Trade Center

The magazine compares the new 7 World Trade Center, a LEED-Gold certified project, to the 1930s-era Chrysler Building, which is more energy efficient.  The 7 World Trade Center building has an Energy Star score of 74, while the Chrysler building scores 84 (in part due to extensive efficiency upgrades).

The cited reasons include thicker walls, fewer windows and less ventilation in the older buildings, as well as the fact that LEED-certified buildings look at other environmental features, such as the kinds of materials used and recycled, water systems, and proximity to public transportation.

Does this surprise you?  Are you a critic of the LEED process or an advocate?  Share your thoughts below.

Photo (c) davidlat

How Green Building is Evolving Into Something Bigger (guest post)

Texlon green buildingToday, a guest post by the folks at Vector Foiltec.  Vector Foiltec  invented the use of Texlon (ETFE), and have developed the use of this innovative technology worldwide in the design and constructive industry. Some of the world’s most impressive offices, stadiums, and transport buildings have been developed by Vector-Foiltec.


Recent years have seen a surge in the number of designs and commissions of green buildings by designers and architects. All around the world, green, eco-buildings are becoming the benchmark of expectation. Not so long ago, a green building would standout because of how different it was. It would be something new, even quirky, and something unfamiliar that not everyone was comfortable with.

Those days have long gone, however, with a realisation that green building is the way forward, with environmental benefits as well as those attached to finances and quality of life improvements.

Eco-friendly buildings aren’t yet at the stage where we can celebrate them as the final frontier of construction, however. Yes, the new designs of buildings and the materials used certainly mean that an office block can be carbon neutral, but are they sustainable in other ways? The evolution of green building, now and in the future, will center firmly around the ability of designers and construction professionals to create buildings that are not only eco-friendly, but sustainable for use in terms of how they deal with extreme weather or other natural events, such as hurricanes and earthquakes, for example.

Always Working

Meeting the challenge of ensuring that a building can ‘always work’ has been an obstacle for designers. Placement of windows, for example, and the materials used within construction means that issues such as insufficient daylight are no longer an issue.

But what about when there is a power cut, or problems with the water supply?

To reach that searched for ‘final frontier’ that we mentioned earlier, designers need to make a building that can stand independently of central supplies such as electricity and water. This creates new challenges around energy recovery and storage as well as on-site water recycling, but it is possible to achieve results.

When a building is at the level where ‘always working’ has been achieved, a hurricane or other severe weather will then be minimally disruptive to it.

‘Always working’ represents a model for a truly sustainable building.

How It’s Made

The materials used are often the central focus of eco-building and have been responsible for many of the positive results seen in recent years. However, there is still a focus on developing eco-friendly construction materials further, and using them to best effect within a building.

So strong is this focus that there are now homes being constructed from ‘cob,’ and other similar compounds around the world. The great thing about these? They are lightweight, resistant to fire and earthquakes, and also stand up to events such as flooding and powerful winds.

The very meaning and identity of ‘green building’ is changing fast. Architects and designers that combine environmental benefits with true sustainability over the coming years are sure to find themselves in high demand.

Thoughts, comments?  Know of a ‘cob’ home that we should get pictures of?  Post in the comments section below.

Photo (c) Vector Foiltec

The Best (and Craziest) Green Home Design Ideas (guest post)

Adobe houseFor today’s guest post, we have writer and handywoman from DIY Mother  Katie White, who is passionate about self-reliance and conservation. She takes pride in making her home a more sustainable and comfortable place for her husband and two kids. She lives in Dallas.  Take it away, Katie!


No denying it, Green is in, and with all the energy savings and earth saving potential, why not? We’re not talking about greenwashing here; these are some great, albeit a little hardcore, ideas for environmentally friendly home design. Here is the short list:

1. Evapotranspiration

Staying with the outdoors for a moment, let’s talk about Evapotranspiration; it’s the hot topic in the blogosphere… well really, it’s a cool topic. Evapotranspiration is really just a fancy word to explain what happens when a plant moves and releases water vapor. That movement actually cools the plant and the immediate surrounding area. Combine that with the shade that trees provide, and you can cool an area by an astounding 9 degrees Fahrenheit. So strategically surrounding your home with trees can significantly reduce your power consumption once summer rolls around.

2. Radiant heating (and cooling)

Radiant heating systems supply heat directly to the floor (via panels) of a home. The most popular and cost-effective version of these pump heated water through tubes in the floor. To maximize the effect of radiant heating, floors covered in ceramic tiles are best because they conduct heat well, and add thermal storage. With a heating system in the floor, and a cooling system in the ceiling, these designs maximize efficiency and keep homes comfortable at low cost. In most cases, radiant heating should be paired with a tankless gas water heater to avoid wasting heat on stored water in the tank.

3. Shag insulation

Interestingly, some homeowners are installing shag carpet to go green—not for the floors, since those are decked out with ceramic radiant heating panels—but to insulate fridges and furnaces. Heat loss from refrigerators causes about 8% of homeowners’ electrical bills, so this technique can save quite a lot of energy. To maximize this effect, insulation board is taped to the top and sides of the refrigerator (not the doors), then the whole fridge is coated with a luxurious layer of disco. A full fridge with clean coils reaps the most benefit from this insulating design.

4. Ditch the toilet

This is one of the wilder green ideas that is growing in popularity, at least on the internet. The idea here isn’t to completely remove toilets from houses (although older models are usually replaced with high-efficiency models), but to reduce how often they’re used. More and more people are advocating urinating outside, which doesn’t have to be totally like camping. Many people are building outdoor restroom areas, (they prefer not to call them “latrines”) and by doing so save up to 5 gallons of water every time they choose to go outdoors.

5. Adobe housing

Adobe building techniques are a great way to go green, and it’s pretty stylish too. Adobe is efficient because it has low environmental impact, and it has a high thermal mass… meaning it retains temperature pretty well. Until recently, adobe did have a downside—it was seriously vulnerable to moisture—but new methods involving adding small amounts of stabilizers make adobe much more resilient against water damage. It’s still not workable in very rainy climates, but adobe is a great way to keep cool and save energy in arid and semi-arid regions.

Your turn!  What crazy green design ideas have you seen? worked with? recommended?  Share in the comments below, or drop me an email.

Welcome, too, to the new subscribers who signed on this week.  If for some reason, you didn’t get your free white paper on the 7 Critical Mistakes that Engineers and Architects Make, drop me a note and we’ll set you up. 


Greenwashing–an Interview with James d’Entremont (guest post)

James d’Entremont headshotToday, a guest interview on the always timely topic of greenwashing. Alex Levin is a writer for Seeger Weiss LLP, a top ranking Plaintiff’s law firm specializing in consumer protection, commercial disputes, and defective product injuries.  Please welcome Alex to the blog, as he shares a greenwashing interview with us. ______________________________________

As the public grows increasingly aware of the environmental costs associated with the modern consumer lifestyle, it also grows increasingly concerned. Such public concern has become a major factor in driving the industrial world to the adoption of an environmentally friendly façade, which has come to be known as greenwashing. While such companies may strive to be seen as addressing environmental concerns, not all of them are actually doing so, and some may be responsible for severe harm to the environment even while claiming to be catering to it. To what degree then can the government or the public regulate such “false advertisement,” or discern between those truly conscientious organizations and those which mislead?

James d’Entremont may be something of an expert on the topic of greenwashing. A Baton Rouge – based attorney for Moore, Thompson & Lee, he is also on the board of directors for the Louisiana chapter of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), having both spoken and written extensively on the subject of greenwashing. He spoke to us about the surprising degree to which this rapidly growing practice is illegal, and what the public can do to fill the void left by the government’s limited involvement.

What measures has the US government taken and what measures do you think it should take to dissuade greenwashing?

James d’Entremont: The primary federal regulations aimed at preventing greenwashing are set forth in section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45(a) (1), and enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  The FTC’s Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, commonly known as “the Green Guides,” sets forth its interpretation of federal trade regulations governing environmental marketing claims.  The Green Guides and accompanying regulations require that parties making environmental marketing claims pertaining to products and product-related services have a reasonable basis for substantiating their claims.  According to the Green Guides, this “will often require competent and reliable scientific evidence” to back up the claim, 16 C.F.R. 260.5.  Moreover, the Green Guides require that an “environmental marketing claim should not be presented in a manner that overstates the environmental attribute or benefit” of the product or service and, further, that marketers “should avoid implications of significant environmental benefits if the benefit is in fact negligible.”  -16 C.F.R. 260.6(C).

The existing FTC regulations, while perhaps not perfect in every case, can provide a solid framework for adjudicating greenwashing claims.  That said, because the Federal Trade Commission Act does not provide a private right of action, private litigants must resort to other federal or state laws to bring a greenwashing claim, citing the Green Guides and relevant regulations as a “measuring stick” to judge the reasonableness or culpability of the defendant’s conduct.  Such actions may be based in state consumer protection laws, breach of contract, fraud, misrepresentation, commercial law or product liability.  Depending on the nature of the claim, various federal statutes may also provide a basis for relief.

What measures has the public taken to discourage greenwashing and what should the layman do in response to this trend?

JD: Social media has played a big role in addressing claims of greenwashing.  There are numerous blogs and websites addressing greenwashing in general and issues with specific products. For example, www.greenwashingindex.com is a website promoted by EnviroMedia Social Marketing and the University of Oregon that is devoted to identifying and indexing greenwashing claims across various industries and products.  In addition to this and other similar sites, there are also websites, blogs and twitter feeds devoted to specific products such as sprayfoamdangers.com which is focused entirely on problems related to spray foam insulation.  There are also an increasing number of private lawsuits addressing greenwashing claims.

As far as how the public should protect itself, the key is to seek clarification as to why the product or service is supposedly “green” and document any representations concerning the purported environmental attributes – as well as any potential environmental hazards – of the product or service.  Often times, the purportedly green product or service has certain environmentally friendly attributes – which are being promoted – as well as certain not-so-environmentally-friendly attributes which are either not promoted or completely undisclosed.

What are some examples of products that might be greenwashed?

JD: For one example, polyurethane spray foam insulation (SPF) is widely touted as green because its superior insulating capabilities can make a home or other building dramatically more energy efficient.  While this is certainly true, what is less well known – and what is generally omitted from marketing claims by SPF insulation manufacturers and installers – is that SPF is comprised of ingredients that, when evaluated individually, seem far from green.  These include isocyanates, amines and various flame retardants.  These chemicals are known irritants and, in the case of isocyanates, may cause sensitization or cause or aggravate asthma and other adverse health effects.  As a result, if proper precautions are not taken or if the SPF insulation is not properly installed, building occupants may suffer adverse health effects caused by the chemicals in or emitted from the SPF insulation.

Moreover, SPF insulation may not be appropriate for certain consumers, such as people with pre-existing asthma, allergies or sensitivity to one or more constituent chemicals.  In addition, because the SPF insulation dramatically “tightens” the house, there is less fresh air coming in from the outside which, in turn, may cause or trigger allergies due to increased moisture or airborne allergens.  Unfortunately, homeowners are generally ignorant of this because these risks are typically not disclosed to them.  Making matters worse, many manufacturers do not disclose all of the chemicals contained in their products.  In contrast, the purported green attribute – energy efficiency – is typically highly promoted.  The EPA is currently investigating health problems associated with SPF insulation and there are several individual lawsuits as well as at least one national class action, with more expected, seeking recovery of damages arising from this purportedly “green” product.

What factors encourage greenwashing?

JD: Rising consumer demand for environmentally friendly and high efficiency products and services is leading to more claims of greenwashing.  I expect this market trend to continue with a corresponding increase in greenwashing claims.

Now, dear blog reader, it is your turn.  Do you believe the green washing problems will get worse before they get better?  Share your thoughts in the comment section of the blog.