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Asking the Right Questions About Sustainable Materials

Posted October 12, 2011 2:23 PM by Jennifer Atlee
Related Categories: Greenbuild '11, GreenSpec Insights, Product Talk

Are there any sustainable materials? What does that even mean?

Near the end of another exciting and exhausting Greenbuild, I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with three other women deeply invested in sustainable material management: Lindsay James, InterfaceFlor; Gail Vittori, Center for Maximum Building Potential Building Systems, and Sarah Brooks, Natural Step Canada. We started the session with the question "Are there any sustainable materials?" and ended with the question " What does material stewardship look like in a sustainable society?"

In between these two questions lives a world of aspiration and complexity followed, if you're lucky--or defiant--by deeper aspiration. The thing is, this stuff is hard. It's complicated and can be messy. Simple answers can lead to different problems. The deeper answers we need to figure out together--no one can single-handedly provide the roadmap.

There's already been a lot of excellent debate around the new LEED Pilot Credit 43. I find myself agreeing with both sides! Here's where I stand in what may be the eye of the storm.

LEED is supposed to be about buildings--and market transformation

On the one hand, LEED is fundamentally supposed to be about designing high-performing green buildings, and product and material selection is one integrated component. It's not supposed to be about cobbling together a building out of greener products and materials. If the core purpose gets lost amidst the debate surrounding one material (yes, I'm talking FSC/SFI), we all lose.

On the other hand, LEED is at this point a major market driver for green building products. We need to use all the levers we can find to create truly sustainable manufacturing and sourcing if we're ever going to make it through these pivotal times into a vibrant, thriving, truly sustainable world. So we ought to use LEED for all it's worth in pushing real substantive improvements down through the supply chain.

More Sloppy Cotton Batt Installations from Bonded Logic

Posted June 9, 2011 9:13 AM by Tristan Roberts
Related Categories: GreenSpec Insights, Product Talk

Based on its own videos, the Arizona-based maker of recycled-denim Ultratouch insulation still doesn't get it when it comes to installation quality. 

What do you do when a green product doesn't live up to expectations? Here at BuildingGreen, we really want to see green building products succeed in the marketplace, and make it easy for professionals to find the best of the best in our GreenSpec guide.

But when we see something substandard, we feel it's important to point it out. To win the mainstream over to sustainability, we have to deliver on promises of reduced environmental burdens along with superior performance.

A little while back, I took Bonded Logic to task for flaws its Ultratouch cotton batt design and installation process.

The problems with Ultratouch


Should Some Recycled Content Claims Get an Asterisk?

Posted June 2, 2011 1:53 AM by Jennifer Atlee
Related Categories: Product Talk

EPA offers guidelines for broken CFLs, but will we follow them?

Posted January 3, 2011 5:14 PM by Paula Melton
Related Categories: Op-Ed, Product Talk

New, improved guidelines from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about how to deal with a broken compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) are intended to take some of the mystery out of the purchase and use of CFLs. But by suggesting a response that borders on Hazmat lockdown, the guidelines may potentially add to consumers' uncertainties.

While CFLs have become more popular and less expensive in recent years, they still enjoy only around a quarter of the total market share for residential light bulbs--perhaps in part because of exaggerated reports about mercury toxicity and the difficulty of cleanup and disposal, some of which have prompted debunking sites like to clear the air. The average bulb contains around 5 mg of mercury, about 100 times less than an old-fashioned oral thermometer.

Still, mercury in any quantity should not be taken lightly, particularly in a home where children or pets live. Mercury in fish and other foods is a serious issue, but mercury vapor is even more toxic. Ingested mercury is not well absorbed by the body, while in contrast, inhaled mercury enters the bloodstream readily.

Architects, designers, engineers and others who need an affordable, comprehensive, flexible tool for specifying green building products will benefit from the a strategic partnership we just announced at Greenbuild. BuildingGreen will link our Web-based green products resource, GreenSpec, with the Healthy Building Network's Pharos Project to provide one trusted, authoritative, independent source for specifying green building products, information, and research.

GreenSpec provides a listing of approved products and guidance on how best to use those products in green buildings. Pharos scores products in specific categories based on what they're made of, in a highly transparent, data-rich tool. Our customers have asked to see the capabilities of GreenSpec and Pharos in one place, combining the in-depth research opportunities of Pharos with the direct advice offered by GreenSpec, and we believe this strategic partnership is the best response to their needs.

Future Concrete Research

Posted September 14, 2010 2:03 PM by Brent Ehrlich
Related Categories: Product Talk
Figuring out the structure of concrete at the molecular level will go a long way toward greening this ubiquitous building material. Photo: Michael David Rose Photography.

When I began researching concrete for last month’s EBN feature article "Reducing Environmental Impacts of Cement and Concrete," one of my goals was to figure out how toxins are bound within concrete’s structure. I naively assumed that after over the 2000 years or so that concrete’s been in use, we had figured out everything there is to know about the material. How wrong I was.

There IS a certification for hazard-free products!

Posted March 10, 2010 3:00 PM by Jennifer Atlee
Related Categories: Product Talk
Go figure I'd finish a feature article (Chemistry for Designers: Understanding Hazards in Building Products) saying there's no certification in the USA for products that are hazard-free and immediately a label gets launched. That's ok, I have no complaints with things moving fast in this field. I haven't dug into the details enough to vouch for this system yet – but the Hazardous Substance Free product label (HSF Mark), launched March 1, looks pretty good at first glance, though only for powered products (appliances, heating & cooling equipment, lighting, and home and office electronics). Products with the HSF Mark meet hazard restrictions set by ROHS, WEEE, or REACH (three European regulations addressing respectively, hazards in electronics, electronic waste, and a more general overarching program on chemical hazards in products).

Exciting Developments at Marvin Windows

Posted February 18, 2010 6:07 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: GreenSpec Insights, Product Talk
I was at Efficiency Vermont's Better Buildings Conference in Burlington, Vermont last week. It's a great conference each February to learn about energy-efficient construction and find out about innovations in energy-conserving products, from lighting to heating systems.

Wandering around the trade show at Better Buildings, my attention was caught by several cut-away window corners at the Marvin Windows & Doors booth. For years at conferences, I've made it a point to ask the mainstream window manufacturers when they will give more attention to triple-glazed windows. Usually I just get blank stares from the salespeople. Marvin has offered a one-inch-thick triple-glazed window since the early 1990s, though never widely promoted the product. Then last year the company introduced a 1-1/2-inch triple-glazed window. Either can be ordered with whatever type of glass, low-e coatings, and gas-fill you want.

SafeTouch Polyester Batt Insulation from Dow

Posted February 11, 2010 2:43 PM by Alex Wilson
Related Categories: GreenSpec Insights, Product Talk
Update: We have learned that SafeTouch was discontinued by Dow in spring 2011 due to poor sales. More detail in the comments below. We have confirmed that EnGuard polyester insulation, from Vita Nonwovens, remains available. – The Editors I gotta say, I was pretty surprised to come across this product recently. I make it a habit of keeping up with new products as they come out--especially insulation materials. I had somehow missed this.

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