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?

 

 

Life Cycle Assessments and Environmental Product Declarations – Green Labels for the Home

Product Life CycleJust about everyone who shops for groceries looks at the nutritional label on the product.  I believe that we have been conditional to do so and it’s probably a good thing.  We should want to know what ingredients are going into the prepared foods that we eat. We can control the amounts of fat, sugar, salt and preservatives that go into the food we eat but only if we can easily get the data.

In a similar way, the building industry is moving toward tools such as Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) and Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) to test and validate the “greenness” of their products. These are some of the best tools available to help consumers make the right choices when selecting products to purchase.  Would you think to ask your contactor for the Life Cycle Assessment for the siding you are putting on your home?  If you care about the space you create and the world you live in then maybe you should.

Manufacturers work with third-party certifiers to test and quantify the environmental impact of all the materials used to make the product.  Companies that are undertaking these assessments are ’walking the green talk’ because it is a long process to secure LCA’s and EPD’s.

Beware of GreenwashingAs the demand in the marketplace for environmentally friendly products increased, manufacturers created a form of spin in which green marketing was used to promote the perception that an organization’s products, aims and/or policies were environmentally friendly.  This “greenwashing” is still happening today.

That is why consumers need to be aware of the “nutrition” labels for products they are using to build or renovate their homes. The life and efficiency of your home is important.

The Razor’s Edge – Casual Greening versus Authentic Sustainability

It’s remarkable when you think about it: there are literally hundreds of courses, webinars, certifications, and trainings all geared towards the re-education of built environment professionals for the purposes of moving towards a sustainable future.

But the colleges who teach future designers, architects, engineers and construction managers continue to lag behind the curve when it comes to the development and promotion of sustainable curricula. Sure, you’ll find a plethora of courses that feature “green” additions to an otherwise traditional course or new “Sustainability” programs that are cobbled together from existing courses under the mantle of collaboration and interdisciplinary work. Part of the disconnect lies in the fine line that can be drawn between “casual greening” and “authentic sustainability.”

The Razor’s edge, shown below, demarcates a chasm between “Greening”, which can be categorized as the mitigation of damage that results from the construction habitation and demolition of built structures; and “regenerative”, which seeks to reverse the long centuries of damage caused by the design and construction industries. In this model, “greening” is an important step towards more ambitious and more effective sustainable design. 

 

Razor's Edge

As we move further into the 21st century, the signals of pronounced climate change become more apparent; rising temperatures, wild weather, finite fossil fuels, and catastrophic oil spills form the context of a new era in the history of humanity. The question then remains, can the universities ramp up their offerings to authentically address the challenges that lie ahead? The answer is yes, but. Yes, educators are generally open to new ideas and are interested in change, albeit at a slow pace. But university structures as they are currently configured do not encourage teaching and learning pedagogies that are increasingly inclusive, collaborative, and interdisciplinary.

Collaboration is inhibited by antiquated credit structures. More ambitious holistic sustainability courses are blocked by outdated divisions between disciplines and the connection between what is taught in school and what happens in the real world continues to remain as wide as ever. So, what to do?

A major change can come from industry itself by building deeper and more meaningful relationships with university programs. By offering expertise, small amounts of funding, and some face time, industries can entice collaboration across disciplines at levels not seen before, engage with students and faculty in thoughtful discussions on the future of sustainability and ultimately help to build the kind of work-force that will play a pivotal role in leading companies to increased profit while building a more resilient and sustainable future.

This is a guest blog post and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of CertainTeed Corporation

Greenbuild 2012 Here We Come!

Moscone Center in San Francisco

The Saint-Gobain family of businesses are on their way to the “city by the bay” for Greenbuild 2012 with some very exciting, innovative products that are ideal for green building projects. Products such as VOC-scavenging materials, photovoltaic roofing technology, highly-sustainable countertops and hybrid insulation solutions will be on display along with information on high-profile installations.

You will not want to miss seeing the new carbon calculator developed by CertainTeed Building Scientist Lucas Hamilton and Sustainable Solutions Corporation which will make its debut at the show in Booth #4359N.

We’ve also launched a special landing page just for Greenbuild 2012 that serves as a hub for people interested in following the show. Whether you are at Greenbuild or back in your office, you will want to bookmark www.saint-gobain-northamerica.com/greenbuild/  to check out the posts from our bloggers about the show.  You will get a ‘feet on the ground’ view of the exhibitors, demonstrations and much more.

Join us in sharing thoughts and insights from the show by using hashtag #SGgreen.

If you’d like to have an in-person conversation that spans beyond 140 characters, stop by our booth. We’re always interested in engaging in conversations about the latest green building trends.

 

Will Homebuyers Pay More for Green?

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

This question has been popping up in builder polls.  The discussion is around the motivation on the part of consumers for buying green.  The latest trend seems to be there is a decrease in the number of people willing to pay more for green products or green construction on the premise that it is good for the planet. However, there are more people willing to pay more for sustainable products to save money or because it is better for their health.

In these times of economic difficulty, people are focusing more on the health aspects and potential energy savings related to sustainable products based on the benefits over the life of the product.  This is a significant maturing over the old “up-front cost factor” which drove so many decisions in the past. Obviously, there is a growing need to validate products through tools like Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) in order to provide the long term data needed for these types of decisions. People are looking for this information and validation as to the benefits.

For the sustainable manufacturing sector this is good news.  Since many progressive manufacturers have been performing the data collection needed to generate product LCAs and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) it’s only a matter now of providing that data to consumers in a form they can use.

It is time to have the life cycle conversation with people rather than just showing pictures of polar bears on ice caps in an effort to pull on their heartstrings. Consumers want the facts in order to make smart, sustainable choices.

Postponing Changes to LEED will Only Strengthen Our Sustainability Momentum

 

Lucas Hamilton

We are repurposing this blog post for this page. It contains thought leadership you may find interesting.

It was recently announced that the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) decided to postpone the balloting on LEED 2012 until 2013 and they are changing the name to LEEDv4.  It makes perfect sense to create a more generic name since the shelf life of the standards are not related to a specific period of time.

Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO & Founding Chairman of USBGC outlined in his Blog the reasons for postponing and the following seem to be the key reasons:

  • The changes in the rating system where too much, too fast, especially in a weak real estate market.
  •  Some of the changes need more refinement especially with regard to the Materials & Resources category.  There appear to be whole new approaches to material selection which underwent continual revision with each public comment draft.
  • The tools and resources needed to achieve credits would not be widely available by the time the new system was slated to launch.

I applaud them for having the wisdom to postpone based on the feedback they received from their stakeholders in the build community. 

If you recall, when ENERGY STAR tried to make a leap from version 2 to version 3 it was such a significant change that many stakeholders felt they were not prepared a to meet the new standard.. This caused ENERGY STAR to back off on the full upgrade and we were left with a 2.5 version to enable the build community to bridge the gap.

I think that USGBC’s decision to postpone will help them to deliver a new version of standards that are achievable while still being a stretch. Programs such as this are important to help us to continue to raise the bar in the sustainability arena. LEED has been pivotal in moving the marketplace with regard to green building and we are seeing this in the changes to state building codes across the country. 

Stay tuned.  There will continue to be feedback opportunities as LEEDv4 is revised.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

The Road to GREENBUILD 2013 is Paved with Corporate Commitments to Sustainability

 
 
 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

I went to the Best of GREENBUILD session that was held by the Delaware Valley Green Building Council (DVGBC) as part of the Road to 2013 GREENBUILD Conference which will be hosted by Philadelphia. Philadelphia GBC members are very excited about hosting the Conference and are committed to putting on the best GREENBUILD ever. A component of this is to transform all 5 million people living in this region into good will ambassadors to the show through education and awareness. To this end the DVGBC is taking a variety of actions to challenge and engage.

As good corporate citizens, many of the DVGBC sponsoring companies and firms have made public pledges of positive actions they will accomplish between now and the show.  As an example, in addition to the multitude of sustainability programs we have as a corporation, CertainTeed and our parent company Saint-Gobain have committed to saving more than 10 thousands gallons of gasoline in our personal cars between now and the time of the 2013 GREENBUILD show. This will be accomplished through a combination of “work smart” scheduling and carpooling to our facilities. The Philadelphia Chapter is planning to show these commitments of the sponsoring companies at the 2012 Convention in San Francisco to promote the 2013 event.

I smile a little on the inside because it is also such a “Philly” thing to do. Please try to remember that when we threw snow balls at Santa Claus during half-time of that Eagles game it wasn’t because he was Santa- it was because the guy wearing the cheap Santa suit could have done a much better job of making us believe. Don’t think us cruel; we’re as hard on ourselves as we are on everyone else.

You can be certain you will be hearing much more about his event as we get closer!

Save It Lancaster! A Move from Gray to Green Infrastructure

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

The protection of our water systems and the problems associated with stormwater runoff and combined sewer overflow are not going to go away.  Following my blog about the efforts gearing up in Philadelphia to control stormwater run-off, I recently became aware of an initiative taking place in the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania in the heart of Amish country.

The city has launched a major educational initiative and website to help residents control contamination of the Chesapeake Bay. Save It Lancaster is part of Lancaster City’s Green Infrastructure Plan.  The first of its kind in Pennsylvania, Save It Lancaster serves as a model for other small cities. The focus is to move from gray infrastructure, defined as the human-made system essential in every community that includes sewer and wastewater facilities to green infrastructure which employs natural systems to manage rainwater where it falls. This allows water to soak into the ground, evaporate into the air or collect in a rain barrel or cistern thereby using natural systems (such as the ground) to essentially treat rainwater instead of more expensive gray systems. 

According to the Save It Lancaster website property owners in the City of Lancaster are responsible for approximately 750 million gallons of polluted water flowing into the Conestoga River and eventually into the Chesapeake Bay annually. The rainwater falling on the streets and buildings picks up pollutants before running into the storm drains.  Add to that, the water and sewage from homes and buildings that enter the co-mingled system and Lancaster’s wastewater treatment plant manages more than 7 billion gallons per year. This is probably similar for many small cities.

The website provides ideas for projects that can be done by residents as well as commercial property owners to let nature treat the rainwater.  The goal is to upgrade everything from buildings to sidewalks to parking lots with green technologies. The website even provides ideas based on the amount of time one can commit to making changes in their lifestyle to conserve clean water. 

Many older small cities in the United States share the same problems that are now being addressed by Lancaster. Now there is a model for how to educate and provide projects that property owners can do to make lasting, sustainable change.

YouthBuild Akron, Ohio Goes for LEED with CertainTeed

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

CertainTeed and our parent company Saint-Gobain have a three-year partnership with YouthBuild USA providing expertise and products for projects they are undertaking in various cities around the U.S.  Last week, I conducted some training programs for the YouthBuild organization in Akron, Ohio on the building envelope and how to select products to help them meet their LEED goals. YouthBuild helps train young adults in green building techniques and construction practices on hands-on projects in their community.

This project is a renovation of an existing home and based on the information from their design charrette, they may reach LEED Platinum which would be awesome not only for a low income housing project but as far as I can tell it is the first LEED H Platinum project in Akron.  The best part is that the house next to this home was previously rehabbed by YouthBuild and is nearly identical in layout so they should be able to do some comparisons of the energy savings.  Of course, results won’t be as “cut and dry” as we might like because you can’t control the behaviors of the occupants.  However, we should be able to get some relative comparisons as the homes are of identical size with identical orientations.

Based on the products and systems Akron YouthBuild are planning to use, they are hoping to renovate to a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) score of 65. This means that the home consumes 35 percent less energy than what is building code standard of 100.  This is a very aggressive score. HERS is a program of the Residential Energy Services Network and a registered HERS rater is working with them on this project.

While not all the products/systems have been selected, during our visit we made some suggestions especially for insulation, gypsum and roofing based on their goals and the building assembly to help with the EPP (Environmentally Preferable Products).  We were also able to add points because of the proximity of CertainTeed plants to the project location.

It is great to see these projects educating builders of the future in green and sustainable techniques. I also believe it sends the right message to the community in that a sustainable habitat is possible for everyone.

KISS: Keep it Simple Sustainability! – Part 2

 
 

Aman Desouza

Aman Desouza

Aman Desouza is Director, Innovation and Sustainability for CertainTeed Corporation

When I’m making a decision, the engineer in me likes to start with the facts.  Not opinions, not beliefs, not recommendations – those are all very interesting and sometimes even entertaining, and they do have their place, but only to compensate for the absence of facts. 

But where and how do we find facts that are scientifically relevant to performance and standardized to allow comparison?

The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is one tool that generates scientifically grounded facts and is fairly comprehensive because it takes into consideration the entire life of a product.  When converted into an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD), it gives us facts that are not only science based, but also relevant to performance and standardized thanks to Product Category Rules (PCR).   LCA’s can be published to the Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability (BEES) program offered by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) that allows the comparison of various products based on the environmental and economic impacts as assessed in the LCA’s.

Great!  Now we have facts that we can use to start our decision making process and to make fair comparisons.  So why isn’t everybody using them?

Well, to be fair many are asking for them but only a few are using them because there aren’t that many to use!  The problem is that EPD’s are complex and time consuming to generate. The process begins with Product Category Rules (PCR).  A PCR is a form of guidance and rules for the collection of data and other information. A PCR is established for a specific product category and remains consistent for all products within that category that are seeking to publish an EPD. 

An LCA must be performed  and an EPD developed with guidance from the PCR to deliver a concise explanation of the environmental impacts found from the LCA. EPD’s provide us with the facts about the sustainability of a product. 

If that isn’t hard enough, there is another barrier.  For some products, there are no product category rules because they have not yet been created in the U.S.   In order to create these rules there needs to be consensus among all the “players” in a particular category. For innovative products, you may only have one player. 

As an industry we, perhaps, should consider creating a standard Product Category Rule across an entire category or large groups of categories that level the playing field for all players. Once that is in place, it removes one barrier to EPD’s coming into the marketplace.

After all, does the “Nutrition Facts” label on your bottle of milk look any different from the label on your bag of chips?   Sure the values are different, but it’s the same set of facts measured the same way.

Facts that are scientifically relevant to performance and standardized = transparency.