KISS: Keep it Simple Sustainability! – Part 1

 

Aman Desouza

Aman Desouza

Aman Desouza is Director, Innovation and Sustainability for CertainTeed Corporation

Not least among the challenges of sustainability are the challenges of recognizing and avoiding greenwashing. The market seems to want sustainability and demand greener products but it also wants to know, understandably, that the claims of sustainability are credible and have been verified. 

From a manufacturer’s standpoint, we look for ways to provide that credibility, which in turn we hope will give us a competitive edge, accelerate the adoption and sales of our products and bring value to our sustainability efforts.  We are, after all, a competitive and profit oriented bunch. So, over the last few years, most manufacturers have moved from making blanket statements about sustainability towards fact based claims and they are now moving even further towards the use of third party labels. 

This is all very good and generally positive, but does it help the customer?

The problem is that not all labels are created equal and for the most part, labels are not even comparable, which does not help the consumer much.  While there is certainly value in the 3rd party validation that a label offers, we are essentially shifting the burden of credibility from products to labels. 

I propose that what consumers need to facilitate good decisions are not verifications of a myriad claims of uncertain value in their context, but a few simple, relevant facts and the knowledge required to evaluate them in context. 

Should the facts be verified? Certainly!  That’s where third party validation would be valuable. 

 This is part one of this blog.  Watch for the second installment.

Embodied Energy Versus Operational Energy

Lucas Hamilton

Recently during a webinar I was conducting, the topic came up of embodied energy versus operational energy.  This topic continues to come up as building scientists evaluate systems with regard to their sustainability.

There are two things that can make a product green. It can be green in its manufacture or it can be green in its application.  One of the important topics for understanding the manufacture or delivery of a product is the concept of embodied energy – how much cumulative energy went into the extraction of the raw materials, the manufacture of the product and the transportation of the product to its final application.  This is the concept of embodied energy. Operational energy relates to how much energy the product uses or can save once it has been applied or installed into a system. 

For instance, look at insulation. Many types of insulation are actually very energy intensive in their manufacture, however once they are installed they can save many times over within the very first year of their application. A perfect example of operational energy is fiberglass insulation. In its first year of use, fiberglass insulation can save 12 times the amount of energy it took in making and transporting the product.

So let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. Sometimes, material that is superior in performance with regard to the life cycle of a building may have a little bit of negative upfront energy costs, however in its use can be very positive. 

So don’t make a judgment solely based on the embodied energy but rather on the life cycle of the project to determine if it is positive or negative for the project itself.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications 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

Life Cycle Assessment Tells the True Green Vinyl Siding Story

In a previous blog, Who Says Vinyl Siding Can’t Be Green, I started to discuss the move to manufacturing vinyl siding products with recycled content making it a more sustainable product.  This began a quest to dispel the misconceptions about vinyl siding and the fact that vinyl is a more sustainable cladding solution than brick, stucco or even cedar.

Vinyl siding has long been viewed by some as a product assumed to not be environmentally friendly.  Well, I am here to tell you that following a very long and tedious process of conducting what is called a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) on CertainTeed’s vinyl siding products that vinyl siding is GREEN!  Based on all the elements that go into the LCA such as raw materials, transportation, production, and installation vinyl siding clearly leads the way in sustainability. CertainTeed’s vinyl siding LCA has been accepted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) through the Building for Economic and Environmental Sustainability (BEES) program which is a leader in the credentialing of LCAs.

The LCA provides full public transparency and ensures that manufactures are not engaging in green washing.

The LCA is an analytical tool used to quantify and interpret the flows to-and-from the environment over the entire life cycle of a product, process or service.  It is also referred to as cradle-to-grave analysis. The goal of the LCA is to compare the full range of environmental effects assignable to products and services in order to improve processes, support policy and provide a sound basis for informed decisions.

The term ‘life cycle’ refers to the notion that a fair, holistic assessment requires the assessment of raw material production, manufacture, distribution, use and disposal including all intervening transportation steps necessary or caused by the product’s existence.

Our first step was to create LCA’s for all of our vinyl siding lines.  In all cases, our vinyl siding outperforms alternative cladding products such as brick, stucco, Dryvit Outsulation and even cedar in all of the environmental impact calculations identified in the BEES methodology.

CertainTeed is committed to product stewardship and the LCA, as well as the entire process to complete the LCA because it provides us with information to continue to improve processes to reduce their environmental impact.

CertainTeed will continue the LCA process on all of our siding product lines as a firm commitment to our mission in sustainability.

The U.S. Regenerative Network Creates New Level for Sustainability

Lucas Hamilton

CertainTeed was recently invited to participate in an event in Berkeley, California which could be the next rung on the ladder of sustainable building.  The U.S. Regenerative Network was founded and is led by David Gottfried.  Gottfried is considered a pioneer in the green building industry and is a founder of the U.S. Green Building Council.

The U.S. Regenerative Network brings together a select group of leading non-competitive product manufacturers and service providers from the green building industry to form an innovation incubator.

The Network brings together:

  • Product Manufacturers and Building Service Providers (Network Members)
  • Real Estate Portfolio Owners (Network Affiliates)
  • Architects, Engineers, Contractors (Network Affiliates)
  • Green building and sustainability Experts (Network Experts)
  • Staff (Network Coordinators)

At the event in Berkeley, there were a variety of activities designed to bring together emerging needs and technologies. The activities allowed world class manufacturers to brainstorm with each other as well as to engage with pioneering designers and construction professionals. The very nature of the organization allows for deep and meaningful engagements, which usually take years of relationship building, to occur very quickly. It reminds me of the difference between velocity and acceleration. As sustainability begins to accelerate, we see an increasing rate of change in change and we must keep up. If not, the pioneers are going to take an awful lot of arrows and our growth will come to a stop. This is a true next generation effort to bring together non-competitive stakeholders to engage in collaboration and best practices toward the creation of exceptional buildings.

The race to zero energy has been won.  We can do zero energy buildings.  We can do zero carbon footprint but can we regenerate and actually move beyond negative or neutral to become positive?  This is exciting stuff.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Getting on the LEED H ‘Cart’ with YouthBuild

YouthBuild design charrette participants

I was privileged to participate in a design charrette which was held at the YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School on Broad Street in Philadelphia.  The charrette was conducted as part of the partnership between Saint-Gobain, CertainTeed and YouthBuild USA. The partnership aims to help low-income, disconnected young adults transform their lives and their communities by working towards their high school diploma or GED while learning green construction and job training skills.

The Philadelphia project is a renovation of an abandoned row house in the Germantown area of Philadelphia as a hands-on learning in sustainable design and construction for the students.  The project will be seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Homes (LEED H) certification.

The concept of a charrette is from the French meaning cart.  In the 1800’s, architecture students created most of their models at home. When their models were due to be reviewed by their professors, the school would send a cart around Paris to pick up their work. Because they were rarely finished with the models or drawings by the time the cart came by, the students would often get on the cart to finish their work while it wound its way back to school. As a result, collaborations between the students started to happen regarding the various design projects.  The collaborations, charrettes, continued, expanded and are currently used when discussing design projects by groups of interested parties.

While I have participated in charrettes working with architecture firms I have never participated in a LEED charrette.  This is a field function of LEED and it is a very comprehensive analysis of the project. The YouthBuild students were able to participate in something that most builders have not experienced unless they are building LEED H homes.

The  key stakeholders in the renovation include a representative from the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, college professors, city officials, sustainability experts, architects, renovation specialists, developers and, of course ,YouthBuild students. The charrette was led by Sustainable Solutions, a Philadelphia area company dedicated to sustainable construction.

This was an incredible opportunity for the students to see a LEED design charrette in action and have hands-on knowledge which will help them immeasurably when seeking employment.  By walking through many of the sustainable aspects of the project –  the site review and preparation, architectural/structural issues, the envelope, materials and systems and finishes/appliances in one continuous process the YouthBuild students saw firsthand how everything on the project is interrelated. Each step in the process is critical to satisfy all the requirements for LEED H.  This will keep all the stakeholders moving in the same direction.  Of course, the charrette ended with “next step’ assignments for all of us.

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Friendly Sparring with Ecoman and the Skeptic on the Radio

Lucas Hamilton

Sustainability experts Rob Fleming, associate professor of architecture and director of the M.S. in Sustainable Design program, and Dr.Chris Pastore, professor of engineering, both from Philadelphia University host an innovative radio show called Ecoman and the Skeptic, the first green radio program to broadcast live from a college or university. The show is broadcast on Thursdays at noon from the ”fishbowl” in the Kanbar Campus Center at Philadelphia University and then syndicated through Voice of America’s Green Talk Network

The show is designed to educate, inform and entertain listeners on a wide range of topics relating to sustainability with a broad spectrum of special guests.

I recently served as a guest on the show. The topic was Building a Better Building and we discussed current issues regarding sustainability, energy efficiency, new products that are available and how manufacturers are working to meet the needs of the marketplace to build a better envelop.  The format is rather loose so the topics covered are not set in stone.

The great thing about the show is that you have two hosts with opposing points of view. Rob is Ecoman, the idea guy, thinking outside the box, challenging the status quo and finding inventive ways of doing things and Chris, the engineer, is the Skeptic bringing a more practical, grounded perspective, routed in reality.  You need both of these viewpoints, especially when looking at new, innovative concepts and creative solutions.

You can listen to Building a Better Building here.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Are We Entering a Decade of Growth for Remodelers

Rosemary Hayn

Rosemary Hayn

Every two years, The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University publishes a report supported by the companies and organizations who participate on two of their committees; the Policy Advisory Board and the Remodeling Futures Steering Committee.

The most recent report, A New Decade of Growth for Remodeling provides some insights that can help building professionals as they continue to struggle with a sluggish housing market.

If you follow the industry to great lengths, as I do, these reports provide a great deal of factual information from an historical perspective but only a small amount of forecast data.

For example, it is a given that older metropolitan areas have older stock that need energy efficiency upgrades while growth areas in the South and West have newer inventory. The number of remodeling opportunities, therefore, will be more abundant in older parts of the country.

When reading this report the questions one should ask are:  What’s new? What’s different? What do I need to know? 

Here are a few highlights:

  • Green projects will continue to provide important growth opportunities.  The results of the National Green Remodeling survey indicate that important projects where homeowners specified green features increased by 25% over all projects. Tax incentives due to energy efficiency, under the Federal Stimulus, helped support that increase.
  • The share of replacement product systems upgrades that support energy efficiency will continue to grow.
  • Energy efficiency upgrades for new and existing homes offers a huge potential for remodelers.
  • With the economic downturn, immigration has slowed but as the economy recovers, new immigrants will contribute greatly to the remodeling industry over the next decade.
  • Homeowners will continue to invest in small upgrades that provide a quicker payback or have incentives attached to them.  With the reduction in the 2011 Economic Stimulus to $500 the projects could remain very small in scope.

From 2000-2005 there was a  7.3 percent growth rate for homeowner improvement spending, followed by a five year trend showing a -1.4 percent in spending.  The report anticipates a 3.5 percent annual growth rate in home improvement spending which puts the 2010-2015 period in the middle of the two previous five year periods.

Also, in the next five years the number of households moving into 55 – 64 and 65+ age ranges will be preparing for retirement.  If they plan to age in place they will, most likely, need to make renovations to their home to improve the energy efficiency and lower the maintenance needs of the structure such as increased insulation or low maintenance exterior cladding. This will be another opportunity for remodelers.

From 2002 – 2007 there was a 23% increase in specialty contractors and self-employed remodelers but since then, remodelers have struggled due to declines in homeowner spending and the increased competition from builders-turned-remodelers. 

What we don’t know, because the data isn’t collected annually, is how many have survived the economic downturn. Clearly those who diversified their services or moved into niche markets, such as energy efficiency upgrades, most likely, have survived.

Rosemary Hayn is Manager, Market Research and Planning for CertainTeed Corporation

YouthBuild Inspires on a Cold Winter Day in Philadelphia

Current building

At this time of year, many of us are looking for something inspiring to get us in the holiday spirit.  That “something” came for me during a recent partnership announcement between Saint-Gobain, CertainTeed and YouthBuild USA.

It was a very cold day in North Philadelphia. Representatives from Saint-Gobain, CertainTeed, the City of Philadelphia and YouthBuild stood on the street in front of a corner home that had been vacant for 20 years. That vacancy is destined to end soon, because the house will be renovated by the YouthBuild Charter School of Philadelphia with support from Saint-Gobain and CertainTeed. When completed, this building will again be an affordable home that is may be LEED certified, for a first-time homebuyer.

Artist rendering of renovation

But it was not the partnership or the scope of the project that inspired me.  It was seeing and hearing the excitement in the nearly 200 teens and young adults who are part of the YouthBuild Charter School and who will work on this project. These students had dropped out of high school but, realizing that they needed to make a change in their lives, found their way to YouthBuild. Together with the YouthBuild staff, they are studying for their GED and learning skills in the building trades that will help them secure jobs when they finish the program. That was inspiring!

Two of the students shared their stories; teen pregnancy, substance abuse, criminal activity – you get the idea. You could feel that their stories were representative of most of the students braving the cold, winter air.  The spirit on the street was overwhelming and particularly so when Dorothy Stoneman, president and founder of the YouthBuild USA program spoke about their commitment. That was inspiring! 

YouthBuild was started by Stoneman in East Harlem, New York in 1978 to address core issues facing low-income communities – housing, education, employment, crime prevention, leadership development and she has seen the program grow to 273 programs in 45 states, Washington, D.C. and the Virgin Islands. 92,000 YouthBuild students have built 19,000 units of affordable, increasingly green, housing since 1994.  That was inspiring!

As this partnership develops and our experts, like our main blogger Lucas Hamilton, help train YouthBuild students in green techniques, product knowledge and best practices in building we will share more inspiration.  Have you been inspired recently?

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?