Green Product Certification – The Demise of Greenwashing

Lucas Hamilton

Over the past decade we’ve witnessed the expansive growth of the sustainable building movement. Sustainable design and building professionals are constantly raising the bar in the creation of long-lasting, healthy structures that minimize carbon footprints.  A key factor in the propagation of this trend is green product certification.

The growing emphasis on green living and sustainable building has increased green claims by companies about their products and manufacturing processes.  False green product claims have come to be known as “greenwashing” and it has far reaching consequences – it harms the credibility of manufactures who do take sustainability seriously, as well as the consumer.  When consumers lose faith in manufacturers’ green claims after too many incidents of greenwashing, they may lose faith in the entire green building movement.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) continues to fine tune the Green Guides to provide more specific requirements for the green claims that manufacturers are making today. Of course the most important element is the enforcement of the Green Guides for companies that don’t comply or those making inaccurate or unsubstantiated green claims.

In the meantime, the best way to fight greenwashing is to use only products that are certified by an impartial, independent third party, such as GREENGUARD Environmental Institute, the U.S. Department of Energy, Forest Stewardship Council and Green Circle.   

Third-party certifications examine a variety of green performance criteria that are most important to the certifying body, as well as the overall sustainability of a building.  These include energy efficiency, low VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions and other contributions to high indoor air quality, moisture resistance, and high recycled content. Some certifications will focus on one criterion and are therefore known as single-attribute certifications. Multiple-attribute certifications look at several different green product characteristics.  It is important for manufacturers, consumers, builders, architects and building owners to be education on the importance of specifics and accuracy with third-party certifications.  With product certifications, the more detail, the better.

The most extensive, reliable certifications are those that involved life cycle assessments (LCA).  These assessments examine a product’s total impact on the environment throughout its useful life.  Environmental impact factors include: raw materials used, how the product is manufactured, how it performs in a building and what happens to it after its useful life has ended.  CertainTeed recently published an LCA for our vinyl siding products and revealed the results in a blog.

Green building product certification is a vital factor in the growth and longevity of the sustainable building movement.  Until more stringent standards are developed by the FTC, it is crucial for building professionals and product distributors to be educated on which product certifications carry the most weight.  By directing customers toward green building products with reputable, third-party certification you are helping to preserve the environment for future generations.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

New OSHA Directive Highlights Hazards to Roofing Contractors

Falls from roofs, or other heights, are the number one cause of death for roofing installers.  In 2009, there were 283 falls on construction jobsites that led to serious injury or death. The reality is that falls can easily be avoided by utilizing the appropriate fall protection gear. The importance of utilizing fall protection is under renewed scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) and the fines for non-compliance can be crippling to roofing contractors.

Residential construction employers need to comply with the agency’s new directive to provide residential construction workers with appropriate fall protection. OSHA has implemented a three month phase-in period for the directive, which began on June 16 and runs until September 15, 2011. During the phase-in period contractors who are compliant with the old directive (STD 03-00-001) will receive a hazard alert letter informing the employers of the fall protection methods available, but also reminding contractors that they need to have a site-specific fall protection plan in writing.  If the contractor complies with the old directive it is likely that OSHA will not issue fines or stop the contractor from working until the contractor complies with the fall protection directive.

However, if the roofing contractor is not complying with the old fall protection directive, OSHA may enforce the new directive, and issue fines against the contractor.  OSHA also has authority to require a jobsite to be shut down until the site comes into compliance with the OSHA regulations and/or directives.

The Citation Policy includes;

  1. If an employer is engaged in residential construction, but does not provide guardrail systems, safety net systems, personal fall arrest systems, or other fall protection allowed under 1926.501(b), a citation for violating 1926.501(b)(13) should be issued unless the employer can demonstrate the infeasibility of these protective measures or the existence of a greater hazard.
  2. Under STD 03-00-001, the employer was not required to have a fall protection plan that was written and site-specific. With the cancellation of STD 03-00-001, fall protection plans under 1926.502(k) must be written and site-specific.

Roofing contractors have argued that fall protection can get in the way of the work they perform because of the way it is tethered on the roof.  Fall protection manufacturers have tried to address this concern by creating feasible controls that can be put in place to protect the workers from fall hazards and not create tripping hazards for contractors that work on roofs. OSHA’s Residential Fall Protection page is a great resource for contractors and provides several documents that are easy to navigate and understand. One of these, Guidance Document on Fall Protection in Residential Construction is an excellent resource that provides examples of new protection gear and how they work.  It also provides photos, brief explanations, and is easy to follow. The Public Residential Fall Protection Presentation provides details on guardrail and safety net systems.

As a manufacturer of roofing materials, CertainTeed is committed to safety in the production and application of construction products.  We also feel that it is important  that you abide by OSHA directives in order to avoid placing your employees or workers in unsafe situations that could result in fines or a shutdown of a jobsite.  Creating safe practices in the workplace and on the jobsite protects the business and its employees.  Choose safety first.

Human Comfort is Best Delivered by Water Not Air

Lucas Hamilton

While attending the Regenerative Network conference in California, I spent time in a LEED platinum certified building which is radiantly heated and cooled.  Recently, I have been giving presentations on human interactions with their environment. This has caused me to consider how differently the radiant heating and cooling system in the David Brower Center influences our perception of comfort.

We understand certain things about human senses such as how temperature, humidity, air speed and radiation are inter-related and together influence our perception of our surroundings.  These are the four things that will dictate how comfortable you are.  Because these things are inter-related, the way that heating and cooling is delivered has a huge influence on how you perceive your comfort level. As background and in simplified terms, these energy delivery methods are conduction, convection and radiation. A pot on the stove is conducting heat, when you pull out the spoon and blow on it to cool it is convection, and radiation is when you can stand a few feet away from the pot and feel the heat.

We traditionally heat and cool our buildings with air.  This is a most inefficient method. The idea of trying to store energy in something that has little mass makes little sense.  Using water to deliver energy as a way to comfort is very, very efficient.  This gives you radiated comfort as opposed to convection or conducted comfort.

To achieve the desired goals in energy savings delivering comfort by air may be on its way out. Using water to heat and cool buildings is a far more efficient method and it will save lots of energy going forward. But, we will have to make some personal sacrifices to accommodate this change. We may have to give up on instant gratification and develop patience through acceptance.

If you are outdoors on a cold day and enter a warm building, it will take awhile for the body to warm again to where you would say you are comfortable. However, after walking outdoors on a hot, humid day and entering an air conditioned building the cool rushing air will evaporate the sweat on your body and you cool off very quickly.  It’s like the building is blowing on the hot spoonful of soup.  When you condition a building space using surface temperatures, the energy exchange between the building and the person becomes largely dominated by radiation. While this will cool you down by allowing excess energy in the form of heat to flow out of your body and into the building through radiation, it will not be nearly as quick a process as having cold air blowing across your sweaty skin. Chances are you will continue to sweat for a few minutes after you have come inside so be ready for it.

Being patient and waiting for the comfort to occur is a small price to pay in order to make our energy go further. It sounds like a contradiction to say “exercise patience” but there you have it.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation