Setting the “Green” Bar Very High

Hat’s off to Mayor Michael Bloomberg for throwing down the gauntlet and launching a Carbon Challenge to the most populated city in America. The Mayor’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent over the next 10 years. In order to accomplish this, he created a task force charged with identifying large footprint tenants and their real estate representatives.  To date,10 commercial office partners, 17 universities and 11 hospital systems have joined the New York City Mayor’s Carbon Challenge.

 For some buildings, upgrading the windows and mechanical systems provided a great starting point in meeting the Challenge.  New York, like most east coast cities, has a great deal of old construction, some of which does not easily lend itself to energy upgrades because of the materials and construction techniques.

 Much of what the Mayor is going after is workplace tenant practices and behaviors and that’s a good place to start.  A great deal of energy can be saved simply by learning to operate the buildings we have more efficiently.  Adding sensors to turn lights on and off, for example, help to change people’s habits. This also helps to amend people’s habits when they go home as well. The combination of workplace and home energy saving habits will go a long way to curbing our thirst for energy.

Carbon Calculator

Carbon Calculator

 Here at our company we face the same hurdles and we have started to engage and challenge our employees in all our locations to identify ways to be more efficient with energy, water, recycling, and waste management– and it is paying off.  Are we net zero? Not yet but we have received the Energy Star Sustained Excellence Award for three years running. The key is getting everyone on the cart together and challenging each other to do better. 

Last year CertainTeed developed a Carbon Calculator that tracked the CO2 saved by our installed products. We equated those calculations to the number of trees that were saved or the number of cars taken off the road – things that the employee could relate to.  This has had a real impact on behaviors.  Now they can “see” the impact their work has on America. We are currently in a challenge pledge for GreenBuild 2013, which will be in Philadelphia, to reduce our employees’ carbon output by 10,000 gallons through carpooling and a work-from-home program. Like the old saying goes… when you see a turtle on a fence post you can be sure he didn’t get there alone… and you can be sure he isn’t getting off of there alone either.

 Are there great things that you are doing to encourage behavior changes at your businesses to improve energy efficiency?

 

 

A New Perspective on Environmental Impact

From a product standpoint, conducting life cycle assessments has become a fairly standard practice. Building industry professionals as well as end users expect this kind of transparency and want to be equipped with information on how products are manufactured, the raw materials that are used, and their ultimate fate at the end of their useful life. This is all good (actually it’s great), but what if we also look at the environmental impact of an installed product from a broader, collective perspective? For example, there’s a whole range of products that can save — and even generate — energy for homes and buildings. This energy savings and generation can equate to significant reductions in carbon emissions.

Working in conjunction with Sustainable Solutions, we set out on a mission to further explore this idea. Using Saint-Gobain and CertainTeed products —  such as fiberglass insulation, solar window film and photovoltaic roofing systems — we created a model based on data from the U.S Environmental Protection Agency. What we learned is that the carbon reductions of installed Saint-Gobain and CertainTeed products on an annual basis equates to the carbon dioxide emissions produced by more than 300,000 passenger vehicles or the amount of electricity needed to power more than 189,000 homes. Ultimately, these types of products have a long-lasting impact on the built environment and we take great pride in that…

Interested in learning more? Stop by the Saint-Gobain and CertainTeed exhibit #4359 at Greenbuild 2012.

Sustainability Gaining Momentum for Government Managed Buildings

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

I recently had the pleasure of doing a presentation to the General Services Administration (GSA) region 3 office in Philadelphia.  I was invited by a GSA architect who had participated in a previous seminar I had conducted for the American Institute of Architects (AIA).  The presentation was also simulcast to other GSA offices as well as employees who were telecommuting.

What I was not aware of prior to my visit is that GSA in responsible for public buildings that are non-military, non-postal service or other organizations that control their own real estate around the county. Not only do they have continuing education requirements within their organization they have a strong emphasis on sustainability. That’s exactly what you want to hear from government.

GSA serves as the property managers for many of the buildings around us every day. Given that at least 90 percent of our building inventory needs to be upgraded for energy efficiency, it was reassuring to see that the folks who are responsible for government controlled public buildings are on board with sustainability and are staying on the leading edge of knowledge. I was especially pleased to learn that the emphasis of sustainability doesn’t simply stop at how a building is designed and constructed but goes all the way through the way the GSA operates and procures for these buildings.

It was great to see that the culture of GSA is entrenched in sustainability.  That, for me, sends a message that we are on the right track of a very long road toward significant improvements in reducing the carbon footprint of our building inventory.

Energy Awareness Begins with You

As we approach the close of Energy Awareness Month remember it is never too late to start improving energy efficiency whether in your home or in you life.

With tax rebates about to end, possibly forever, this is the last opportunity to reduce the cost of replacing windows or doors or insulating that attic.

The most beneficial investment a homeowner can make is to conduct an energy audit.  This will give you a firm handle on where your home is losing energy and the improvements you can make to correct the problems.  These problems don’t have to be handled all at one time.  The important thing is now you have an idea of how to make adjustments to reduce energy loss while contemplating replacing aging systems with more efficient new systems.

As a way to boost energy awareness, Energy Star created a video challenge as part of their Take the Pledge program to increase participation from Americans in all walks of life.  Take the Pledge boasts that Americans participating in the Pledge have amassed $793,107, 376 in energy savings, eliminated 10,243,261,274 lbs in greenhouse gases and have saved 6,008,157,595 kilowatt hours of electricity.

The short videos in the video challenge are creative, instructive and entertaining. View a sample of these below:

You can view all the videos on the Energy Star Take the Pledge page.

Making changes, however small, in your daily activities to reduce your carbon footprint make a huge difference over time.  Changing your light bulbs to compact florescent (CFL) or light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs is one place to start.

But like many efforts to make substantive change – it starts with YOU!

Vicky Gallagher is Supervisor, Corporate Marketing Communications for CertainTeed Corporation

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

The Philadelphia Eagles Really Know How to Go Green

I attended a Green Drinks event recently in the Philadelphia area sponsored by Sustainable Solutions Corporation, a company that provides comprehensive sustainable development and green building services for corporations, municipalities, developers and homeowners. Lucas Hamilton wrote about these events in his “Starbucks” of Sustainability Blog.

The guest speaker was Leonard Bonacci, director of event operations for the Philadelphia Eagles.

I’m a football fan and religiously watch the Eagles play every game, but I was not aware of the incredible commitment the Eagles organization and Lincoln Financial Field were making in their efforts to “Go Green.” Theirs is a top-down commitment, starting with the Eagles owners Jeffrey and Christina Lurie. Christina leads this charge, which started when the team moved into their new home, Lincoln Financial Field.

The Eagles are considered to be one of the most environmentally conscious Teams in the NFL. That is due to the enormous attention paid to reducing their carbon footprint, including:

  • Employing wind technology to power the lights.
  • Using napkins with recycled content and cups that are corn-based rather than petroleum based, and are totally biodegradable.
  • All of the grease from food cooked at the stadium is taken to a refinery to be combined with biodiesel fuel.
  • Composting of trash instead of sending to the landfill.
  • Requiring vendors to support their green initiatives by greening their operations, recycling and using energy-conscious products.
  • Recycling by staff and tailgaters, including easy-to-identify blue bags, dumpsters and trashing carts to collect recyclables.

The ultimate goal is for the entire enterprise is to be carbon neutral, which is no small task when talking about a stadium that hosts 70,000 people per game.

Their newest endeavor is a partnership with a company called Solar Blue which will help convert Lincoln Financial Field to function with self-generated renewable energy. This will be accomplished with wind, solar power and dual-fuel generated electricity.

My personal favorite conservation effort by the Eagles organization is Eagles Forest, a 6.5 acre site located in Neshaminy State Park, Bensalem, PA. The organization has planted 1,500 trees and shrubs, including 150 trees purchased by Eagles fans. Part of this program is dedicated to offsetting the team’s carbon emissions from away-game travel.

For me Go Eagles now has added value! What do you think of Go Green? Are teams in your area making similar commitments?

Energy is a National Security Issue

Lucas Hamilton

I believe that energy is a national security issue.  We import too much energy and are too dependent on that imported energy.  What we pay for energy is much lower than other places in the world and we have grown accustomed to having all we want when we want it. This fact puts us in a precarious situation with regard to international policies. Do we want to be at the mercy of other nations to meet our energy demand? It is in our best interest to produce our own energy through alternative sources and we need to do this sooner than later.

President Obama also recently talked about energy as a national security issue on a podcast that he syndicates every week. He also discussed a company in the Mojave Desert that will produce solar energy to power 140,000 homes in California. This is progress.  Wind farms are also being built in many parts of the country.  Alone they won’t replace fossil fuels but over time we will identify and perfect these alternative sources  to minimize our dependence on fossil fuels.

I was glad to see that the White House changed its position regarding solar power and acknowledged that the White House needs to lead by example and will put solar panels on the While House.

Given my recent blogs on both the Energy Star Pledge program and the Green Power Community Challenge it is clear that the educational component is kicking into high gear and we are all being encouraged as individuals, communities and businesses to assess our energy consumption and make changes to our lifestyles to lower our carbon footprints.  Things will not change overnight but if we are all focused in the right direction we can make quicker strides to ramping up alternative energy sources.

The two key areas where we can have a significant impact on energy reduction is to create a federal building code and changing our lifestyles with regard to home energy use. If you are making changes or upgrades to your home, consider solar reflective shingles, adding insulation or using programmable thermostats.

Make Energy Awareness Month 2010 your energy independence month and develop a plan to reduce your carbon footprint.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Home Energy Labeling – Leveling the Playing Field in the Housing Market

Home energy labeling could be a great motivator for encouraging homeowners to jump into energy improvements. The emerging trend toward creating energy labels on homes, similar to the energy labels on appliances, is one way to encourage homeowners in older homes to buy into the benefits of upgrading and the necessity to keep pace with other homes in their neighborhoods.

Already utilized in Europe and Australia, this practice could incentivize homeowners so that they keep their home competitive in the marketplace. It is no surprise that Oregon is the testing ground for this new program given the State’s focus on sustainable and living building initiatives. The label would convey the home’s annual energy usage, energy costs, and carbon emissions.

According to research from the National Association of Realtors, Americans live in a house for an average of seven years.  Homeowners generally say they will buy a more energy efficient house the next time they buy rather than invest in their current house. Home energy labeling may make homeowners reconsider deferring energy upgrades to someone else.

If a prospective home buyer had the ability to look at two houses on the market and compare the energy consumption of the houses it would enable the buyer to make a more informed purchasing choice. As a homeowner, wouldn’t you want to have a better home energy label than your neighbor?

If a house sits on the market for one year, I guarantee that the homeowner will spend more money in a wasted mortgage than if he had made the energy efficiency improvements that would have sold the house quicker. For example, the average U.S. mortgage may be around $1,600  per  month. If your house sits on the market for one year while you are already in a second home, you will spend $19,200 in mortgage payments on the empty property. If home energy labeling were in place, spending a fraction of that mortgage expense on energy upgrades would have made the house much more marketable and created jobs for the trades who do such improvements.

Home energy labeling has definite merit in a free market economy and this could incentivize homeowners to improve their properties in order to keep competitive with newer homes.

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation.

Declare Your Energy Independence

Oil is seen inside protective booms around Queen Bess Island off the coast of Louisiana Monday, June 7, 2010. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

No one is immune from the images and newsfeeds regarding the BP oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico.  From all indications, it will be a long time before we recover from the effects that this event has and will have on wildlife, the economy in the Gulf region, the health and beauty of our southern coastal regions and, ultimately, the cost of oil.

So maybe now is a good time to Declare Your Energy Independence. Our dependence on oil could be curtailed if we could find affordable alternative sources of energy. The U.S. is a very large consumer of energy that is affordable unlike many other parts of the world. Now is the perfect time to re-evaluate and re-commit to embracing sustainable, energy efficient practices.  There are several ways to begin to reduce your carbon footprint both in buildings you occupy and in your personal habits:

  • Support research and development of alternative energy sources such as wind or solar technology to lower our dependence on fossil fuels.
  • Conduct an energy audit of your home to determine where energy leakages occur. EnergyStar.gov offers useful information on how to conduct your own audit or locate a professional.
  • Take advantage of the Energy Tax Credit of $1,500 which is available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 by improving insulation in attics and walls or reroofing with solar reflective or photovoltaic roofing products to the home.  The tax credit is scheduled to expire at the end of the year.
  • Show support for the Home Star legislation which provides rebates on energy efficient products and subsidizes audits. The proposed bill referred to as “Cash for Caulkers” includes 13 types of energy efficient retrofits that could be eligible for funding.
  • Walk or ride a bike instead of driving when possible.  Change to LED light bulbs. Dry your clothes outside instead of in a dryer.  Unplug charges and appliances when not in use. Consider adding insulation in your home to increase energy efficiency and reduce your energy costs.

On July 4, 2010 declare you energy independence and share with us your ideas for reducing your carbon footprint.

Mike Loughery is Director, Corporate Marketing Communications at CertainTeed Corporation.

A Courageous Builder Embraces Advanced Framing Techniques

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

Advanced Framing Technique, also known as Optimum Value Engineering (OVE), is a change from 2 x 4 to 2 x 6 home construction wood framing.  This concept has been around for quite awhile but has not been widely embraced by home builders.

Advanced Framing Technique enables a builder to use 20 percent less wood in the framing, which decreases the amount of labor and provides a stronger frame.  While it’s a better use of raw materials and can translate into 20 percent savings, it does present a significant learning curve to the builder.

In building science, we love OVE because it creates a 5-1/2” cavity rather than a 3-1/2” cavity which allows for a better insulated home. As an insulation manufacturer (among many other construction products and systems) we would like to see more builders embrace this because it makes a more energy efficient building. However, you can’t make a change in a building without affecting the rest of the building. This presents a learning curve for builders because material calculations may need to be adjusted and framers need to be retrained in this technique which takes additional time and resources.

It takes courage to go through this learning curve especially in this economy.

One of the most courageous builders we know, Hearthstone Homes in Omaha, Nebraska, as of January 11, 2010, has switched over to Advanced Framing Technique.  They are, as we discussed in a previous blog, very focused on the energy consumption of their homes and want to guarantee low energy bills to their home buyers.  When they have gotten through the curve, they will be able to demonstrate that they have been able to:

  • Reduce the consumption of raw materials and the associated costs, therefore, reducing carbon footprints for the homes
  • Reduce energy bills for the homeowners over time
  • Reduce their cost which allows them to be more competitive and invest it other features in the homes

Hats off to them for going through this learning curve in a market like this and paying the price now so that when the market returns, they can hit the ground running and meet the increased demand without slowing down.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation.