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My Green Policy Wishlist for 2014

Posted January 2, 2014 9:53 AM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, Op-Ed


Six items on my policy wish-list for 2014 and beyond.

Safe bicycle commuting and walking is high on my wish list for 2014.
Photo Credit: Yuba Cargo Bikes

It's fun for me to dream about stuff—building products and materials—and how we can make that stuff greener. I recently wrote about 7 wish-list items for greener building products and materials. Today I want to talk policy—six changes we need in the public sphere to bring more sustainability to our built environment and beyond.

1) Strengthen building codes by recognizing resilience

I believe that the need for buildings and communities that can withstand heat waves, more intense storms, flooding, drought, and other effects of a changing climate—as well as problems wrought directly by our fellow humans (like terrorism)—point to the need for strengthening building codes and land-use regulations.

Insulation Quiz: The No-Foam Challenge

Posted October 31, 2013 2:01 PM by Tristan Roberts
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, Op-Ed, Product Insights

How well do you know your insulation? Photo: BuildingGreen, Inc.How well do you know your insulation? Photo: BuildingGreen, Inc.A lot of people are questioning the widespread use of foam insulation. Are you familiar with their concerns, and the upsides and downsides of alternatives?

What are all the environmental and health challenges presented by foam insulation products? What about the healthier substitutes? Are they ready for prime time?

These are some of the questions tackled by our new report, and accompanying webcast and course, Choosing and Detailing Insulation for High-Performance Assemblies. Even as more designers and builders are thinking twice about using rigid and spray-applied foam insulation, the alternatives to these products are sometimes misunderstood.

Our pop quiz tests your knowledge of the application-specific challenges and opportunities of these materials. Score yourself, and then read our answers and explanations below.

What to Avoid in Interior Paints

Posted August 12, 2013 10:22 AM by Tristan Roberts
Related Categories: Op-Ed, Product Insights

Occupant health and performance are the key consideration when choosing an interior paint. Most people have heard of low-VOC paints, but there is a lot more to look for. And it’s easy to miss out on high-performing paints when low- or no-VOC is the main thing you’re looking for.

We have some editor's picks in this area, and we'll be offering more guidance like this in a members-only August 21st webcast.

First, check for emissions

First things first—paints that offgas a lot of VOCs are bad for installers and bad for occupants. Even after the air clears those compounds can adsorb onto fabrics and furniture in the interior and stick around.

There’s no perfect test right now for emissions from wet-applied products, so the best bet is to make sure it has both low VOC content (under 50 g/L), and has met California Section 01350 emissions requirements.

Why Can’t I Buy a Non-Toxic Sofa?

Posted May 14, 2013 12:46 PM by Nadav Malin
Related Categories: Op-Ed, Product Insights

Photo – Greg Habermann (Remixed under CC BY 2.0)Photo – Greg Habermann (Remixed under CC BY 2.0)After years of living with a nice-looking but rather uncomfortable daybed in our living room, my family and I went shopping for a new sofa. We explored a range of styles and configurations, trying to find something that looked good, would be cozy, durable, and fit in our rather small space. Oh, and we also wanted to avoid bringing toxic and ineffective flame retardant chemicals into our home.

Växjö, Sweden: A Model of Sustainability

Posted April 10, 2013 11:36 AM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, Op-Ed

Växjö, Sweden embraced the U.N's Agenda 21 and is now a model of sustainability

Växjö Energi AB's wood-chip-fired CHP plant. My host is standing in front of a large steam turbine. Click to enlarge.
Photo Credit: Alex Wilson

My blog last week about Kansas and efforts to outlaw any mention or promotion of sustainability was so depressing (to write as well read) that I needed to find a more uplifting sequel. I needed to remind myself—and readers—that even if some politicians in Kansas don’t want to make the world a better place for their children and grandchildren, that’s not a universal attitude.

There are lots of towns, cities, and countries around the world where planning for the future is a priority and whose sustainability stories are truly inspirational.

I’ll report here on one of those places: Växjö, Sweden (the approximate pronunciation is “VECK’ shuh”), which is often called Europe’s greenest city. Five years ago I had the good fortune to spend a few days in this municipality of 85,000, with an urban core of 60,000.

No April Fool’s Joke: Kansas Threatens to Outlaw Sustainability

Posted April 1, 2013 1:14 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, Op-Ed

Fear of Agenda 21 fuels a bill to ban sustainability planning in the state of Kansas

The Konza Prairie in northeastern Kansas.
Photo Credit: Bill Johnson

I love many things about Kansas—from the tall-grass prairies in the Flint Hills where I’ve hiked through rolling hills overlooking grazing bison to the dramatic waterfowl migrations in the Cheyenne Bottoms region in the western part of the state. But a bill currently in committee in the Kansas Legislature makes me wonder whether these natural treasures will be around for future generations to enjoy. Reading about this legislation simply left my jaw agape. At issue is whether the Kansas legislature should outlaw anything that even remotely encourages sustainability planning.

Anthropologist on the Design Team: The Making of An Unangan Home

Posted March 25, 2013 12:26 PM by Gail Beverly
Related Categories: Op-Ed
Orca house was a top finisher in a design compeition for Aleutian natives, thanks in part to cultural research.
Rendering: David Munford

This is the story of a design competition, the goal of which was to design an affordable, replicable, sustainable and inspiring home for a family in Atka, an island in the Aleutian Islands chain in Alaska. Competitor teams were to make the house compliant with the Living Building Challenge.

Transparency in Building Products, and HPD, Gain Momentum

Posted March 14, 2013 7:46 PM by Russell Perry, FAIA
Related Categories: Op-Ed, Product Insights

With the HPD now available as a recognized format, design professionals have started to request its use by manufacturers.

[Editor's Note: This guest post comes to us courtesy of Russell Perry, FAIA, managing director of SmithGroupJJR's Washington, D.C., office.]

The global movement towards transparency gains steady momentum. In the design and construction world, the 2012 Greenbuild conference saw the launch of the Health Product Declaration (HPD) format, the launch of the eagerly awaited Declare format, and USGBC CEO Rick Fedrizzi’s spirited defense of practitioners’ need to know what chemical exposure comes with material choices.

Automated Reporting of LEED, AIA Continuing Education Hours

Posted March 11, 2013 5:20 PM by Tristan Roberts
Related Categories: BuildingGreen Talks LEED, Op-Ed

Read the article, take the quiz, and sit back while your CEUs get automatically reported to AIA, GBCI, BPI, and NARI.

BuildingGreen is now directly reporting continuing education (CE) hours completed through our website to the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) for LEED Accredited Professionals and LEED Green Associates who use our course catalog to maintain their credentials.

When completing CE hours on, you can rest assured that your hours will be automatically reported with no further action on your part. BuildingGreen has long offered this convenience for AIA members and continues to do so. Reporting to GBCI took effect January 1, 2013.

To take advantage of this, you should double-check your account profile, however.

Check that your BuildingGreen account information enables automated reporting to AIA, GBCI, and more.

A New Venture

Posted October 2, 2012 11:52 AM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: Energy Solutions, Op-Ed

Introducing the Resilient Design Institute: a new nonprofit organization that has been created in Brattleboro.

A massive ice storm, in which up to four inches of ice were deposited in early January, 1998, destroyed over 100 power distribution towers and tens of thousands of wooden utility poles, leaving millions without power for up to three weeks in Eastern Canada.
Photo Credit: Hydro Quebec

Some 27 years ago, following a five-year stint as director of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (which was then based in Brattleboro), I launched my own company focusing on information about environmentally responsible design and construction. That company, now called BuildingGreen and with a staff of 18, remains a leading player in the green building world—a trusted source of information on green building products, the place to find objective news on happenings in the green building world, an independent voice on the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Rating System.

It’s a great place to work and I’m thrilled to serve as executive editor at BuildingGreen and be able to research and write about all the cool stuff that our subscribers need to know. Nadav Malin has been doing a superb job at running the company since I handed the reins to him several years ago.

My shift away from company management at BuildingGreen has given me the space to focus on where we’re heading in the building industry and what sort of changes will be needed to solve the many challenges we face, led by climate change. My sabbatical last year, which I began with a contemplative 1,900-mile bicycle trip through the Southwest, provided an opportunity to delve deeply into this thinking.

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