Taxonomy Term en 10068 Could Resilience Become the New Green?
The latest EBN feature article is new available. Click on image to enlarge.

A new feature article in Environmental Building News examines how a focus on resilient design could advance green building more quickly than our current focus on sustainability.

Sometimes advancing sustainability feels like pushing a boulder uphill. Are we like a modern-day (benevolent) Sisyphus who keeps pushing the idea of sustainability uphill only to have it roll back down as other priorities grab society's attention?

I thought about this question during a six-week bike trip through the Southwest at the beginning of my sabbatical from BuildingGreen. To be sure, there has been a lot of improvement in building practices over the past few decades. Standard levels of insulation have risen in homes, and windows have gotten better. We're using daylight more effectively. Efficiencies of virtually all mechanical systems have improved. Photovoltaic modules have become more cost-effective.

There are innumerable improvements being made to buildings, but climate scientists tell us that we're only chipping away at the edges. If we are to prevent a climate catastrophe in the century ahead, we need to make far more dramatic progress. Rather than incremental improvement, we need threshold improvement--an order-of-magnitude reduction in fossil fuel consumption. How will we get there? I thought about that a lot in the hot, dry sunlight of Arizona and Texas as I snaked my way across 1,900 miles of gorgeous terrain.

Resilience as a motivation for change

I came to the realization that we need motivation beyond simply "doing the right thing" or staving off climate change--a distant and overwhelming-sounding task. What if people did all this stuff (building carbon-neutral homes and weaning themselves from automobile dependence, for example) not because it was good for the planet, but because of self-interest?

For you and me, that probably isn't necessary. Anyone reading Environmental Building News or perusing BuildingGreen resources regularly is probably already convinced that we need to make these sorts of changes for reasons of altruism. But for lots of other people, that isn't the case. And even people committed to the need for addressing climate change are sometimes overwhelmed by the shear magnitude of the challenge and what can seem like insignificant contributions that they are making.

Drought in West Texas--on my bike trip through the Southwest last year. Photo: Alex Wilson. Click on image to enlarge.
The idea with resilient design is to turn sustainable design practices into necessity in an age of advancing climate change. We need to build ultra-low-energy homes and create bicycle-friendly communities to keep our families safe as a warming climate makes storms more frequent, causes more flooding, knocks out power more frequently, and produces extensive regional droughts.

These are some of the arguments I make in our latest EBN feature article, "Resilient Design: Smarter Building for a Turbulent Future" (requires log-in). The article addresses five general observations about resilience and why we need it, then presents 59 specific strategies in a detailed Checklist of Actions.

By implementing these actions, we can create homes and other buildings that will maintain livable conditions in the event of extended power outages, loss of heating fuel, or shortages of water. We can transition to communities that have strong, locally based economies and rely on locally produced food. We can reduce our dependence on cars so that if political turmoil in the Mideast doubles or triples the price of gasoline, we won't be as affected.
Record wildfires plagued West Texas during last year's drought. Here's the Chihuahuan Desert Museum entrance near Fort Davis. Photo: Alex Wilson. Click on image to enlarge.

These are practical, common-sense solutions that can drive the green building movement, I believe, more rapidly than is possible when we make change only because it's the right thing to do. In fact, due to the life-safety benefits, some of these measures could actually be incorporated into building codes. We require seismic codes in areas prone to earthquakes. Why not implement building codes that will ensure that new houses incorporate enough insulation, passive solar gain, and natural cooling strategies that they will never put their occupants at serious risk should extended interruptions occur in our power or heating fuel supplies?

I look forward to your input. Is this a reasonable argument? We instituted seismic codes after the San Francisco Earthquake and fire codes following the Great Chicago Fire. Is it time for building codes to mandate superinsulation and passive solar design as safety measures, just as we did in response to those other catastrophes?

Alex Wilson is the founder of BuildingGreen, Inc. and the executive editor of Environmental Building News. To keep up with his articles and musings you can follow him on Twitter.

2012-03-01 n/a 11893 Confronting Water Shortages — Post-Greenbuild Travels in Southern Arizona
(click photos for larger versions)
Greenbuild in Phoenix was the usual high-energy panoply of educational sessions, new product introductions in an ever-larger trade show, networking events, and — the reason our company sends so many of us — opportunities to promote our green building information resources. But this year, I was also looking forward to some vacation time following the conference. Jerelyn and I took five days' of vacation after Greenbuild to explore southern Arizona and celebrate our 25th anniversary. As day transitions to night on the flight back east, I reflect on that time. On Saturday morning, we traveled southeast from Phoenix, past Tucson, to the Hacienda Corona do Guevavi bed & breakfast in Nogales, Arizona, just a stone's throw from the Mexican border. The region is rich with wildlife and draws thousands of birders and others from throughout the world each year. Along with hundreds of bird species in the canyon oases sprinkled throughout Cochise Country (we saw about 60 species in our travels) are such exotic mammals as coati, ringtail, antelope jackrabbit, collared peccary (javalina), cougar (mountain lion), bobcat, and maybe (at least before the border fence) the rare cats ocelot and jaguar. Other than the antelope jackrabbit, we didn't see any others of those mammals, but it was great imagining them watching us from hidden spots rock ledges during our daily hikes. On all of these hikes, at least when I wasn't trying to identify another new bird species, I spent time thinking about — and discussing with Jerelyn — the water crisis facing this region.
Saguaro deeply ribbed and skinny; prickly pear wrinkled and thin; palo verdi leafless and brown; ocatillo appearing lifeless

Many formerly year-round creeks and rivers are dry or low; even huge waterside cottonwoods are stressed and sickly

Sabino Canyon
Nature adapts to water stress. The dramatic saguaro cactus, the signature species of the Sonoran Desert, shrinks in diameter during times of low water then swells when its wide skirt of shallow roots absorb water after rains, This year, the saguaro's circumference is deeply ribbed and skinny, putting this adaptation strategy to the test. Prickly pear cactus pads were wrinkled and thin. The thorny ocatillo wands looked lifeless as they await moisture (after a heavy rain they sprout leaves in a matter of days) — a wait that has lasted for months. And the palo verdi (Arizona's state tree with its distinctive green stems and trunks) were similarly bereft of leaves, leaving only the photosynthesizing stems and thorns to keep them going. Everything we saw was a study in adaptation to water stress. But the water table, upon which many of the species ultimately depend, has been falling with abandon in recent decades. Creeks and rivers that ran year-round a century ago are now dry beds, save for the occasional flash flood. Cottonwoods and sycamores along Sonoita Creek, where we spent a wonderful day exploring the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area in Patagonia, are stressed and sickly. What will become of these trees, some of which are hundreds of years old and towering — we measured the diameter of one massive cottonwood at 27 feet — should the water table keep falling in the region? In Tucson, where we spent our last two nights in the wonderful Desert Dove B&B (a short walk from an entrance to the eastern, Rincon Mountain district of Saguaro National Park), they had virtually no rain during their usual July-September rainy season and less than half of the usual annual 11-12 inches on rain has fallen in 2009. The city's water table has fallen as much as 150 feet just since the 1960s! Perhaps most remarkable to us is that hardly anyone seems to be paying attention. Other than officials whose job it is to deliver water, residents seem to be in denial. Predictions of climate change show that Arizona, like most of the western U.S., will become far dryer than it was during the 20th century, but even without climate change the region is in a water crisis. Perhaps there is such little focus on the water table in Arizona because Tucson now gets over half of its water from the ("renewable") Colorado River, and that fraction is projected to increase — so a falling water table isn't so important. Are they not aware of warnings from some researchers that the Colorado and its massive reservoirs could effectively run dry in the next few decades? Lake Mead, the nation's largest reservoir, is currently only half full — or is that half-empty? Where would a loss of the Colorado's water leave the parched cities of Tucson, Phoenix, and Las Vegas? The thought is almost too scary to talk about — let alone do something about. Draconian measures are needed to dramatically curtail water use. Development restrictions — as a start — are needed if Arizona is to come to grips with this crisis. In a state where residents can openly carry sidearms (as we saw displayed in a coffee shop in Patagonia by a swarthy chap among a group of rather rough-looking motorcyclists) and where John McCain's tenure as a senator is threatened by his "liberal" views, who is going to stand up and tell a property owner that he or she can't put in another subdivision? I wonder if, unconsciously, residents of Arizona — and Nevada and southern California and elsewhere in the Southwest — know that, ultimately, there are just too many people living there and drawing from its precious water supplies. How do you talk about a crisis that might necessitate people not only giving up their way of life — their swimming pools and 15-minute showers and irrigated lawns — but actually recognizing that the land and climate can't support the human population it contains and moving back to Michigan or Pennsylvania? No wonder the topic is taboo. Jerelyn and I talked about all this as we reveled in the arid beauty of the area. I can see why people like Arizona and want to retire there. Indeed, we very much look forward to coming back and seeing the Sonoran Desert at a different time of year (perhaps a "wet season" when desert vegetation comes to life in brilliant colors to compete for the scarce pollinators). But, as with our recent vacation, we would be temporal visitors to a region whose human carrying capacity is far lower than its current population. You can follow more of my musings on Twitter.
2009-11-20 n/a 11895 Alex Wilson and Peter Yost Interviews These shorts were filmed at West Coast Green; for more like them, see

2009-11-18 n/a 11868 Living With Climate Change: How to Design Buildings and Communities for Adaptation
The living space in this new home built by Global Green in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans is elevated four feet (1.2 m) to keep it above expected flood level. Numerous other "passive survivability" features are included.
A lot of people have been working for a long time to try to head off global warming — and some progress is being made. Buildings are becoming more energy-efficient, fuel economy standards for vehicles are finally rising again, and use of renewable energy is burgeoning. We need to continue these efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon dioxide, but the reality is that it's too little, too late to prevent climate change. Even if the CO2 spigot were turned off tomorrow, the earth would still see significant warming and the other predicted impacts of climate change: more intense storms, flooding, drought, wildfire, and power interruptions. It's time to design our buildings and the built environment to adapt to the very different climate that scientists say is going to be with us. That's the subject of the feature article in our September 2009 issue of Environmental Building News: "Design for Adaptation: Living in a Climate-Changing World" (requires log-in) (no login required — see Alex Wilson's note in the comments, below). Andrea Ward and I interviewed some of the nation's top climate scientists, including Stephen Schneider, Ph.D., of Stanford, and Jonathan Overpeck, Ph.D., of the University of Arizona, to establish context for the article — making the case that not only is climate change happening, but it's happening more rapidly than the best climate models predicted just two years ago. We address the question of mitigation vs. adaptation — whether we should put effort into preventing climate change or adapting to it — and argue that we must do both simultaneously. "The bottom line is that you've got to adapt to what won't get mitigated," says Schneider in the article. Moving on, we focus on measures for adapting to climate change. We describe 36 strategies, organized into five categories, providing context for each of the categories and succinct explanation for each strategy. These strategies are listed briefly here (details appear in the full article): Warmer temperatures
  • Design cooling-load avoidance measures into buildings
  • Design natural ventilation into buildings
  • Limit internal gains by specifying high-efficiency lighting and equipment
  • Model energy performance with higher cooling design temperatures
  • Provide landscaping to minimize cooling requirements
  • Address urban heat islands in building design and landscaping
  • Plan for termite ranges extending north
Drought and water shortages
  • Avoid new development in the driest regions
  • Specify water-efficient fixtures and appliances
  • Plumb buildings with water-conserving fixtures in mind
  • Plumb buildings for graywater separation
  • Harvest rainwater
  • Plant native, climatically appropriate trees and other vegetation
More intense storms, flooding, and rising sea levels
  • Avoid building in (expanding) flood zones
  • Expand stormwater management capacity and rely on natural systems
  • Design buildings to survive extreme winds
  • Raise buildings off the ground
  • Specify materials that can survive flooding
  • Install specialized components to protect buildings from flooding or allow flooding with minimal damage
  • Elevate mechanical and electrical equipment
  • Install check valves in sewer lines
  • Begin planning for rising sea levels in coastal areas
  • Specify Class A roofing
  • Eliminate gutters or design and maintain them to minimize fire risk
  • Avoid vented roofs or protect vents from ember entry
  • Install high-performance, tempered windows
  • Choose deck materials carefully
  • Install noncombustible siding
  • Manage vegetation around homes
Power interruptions
  • Design buildings to maintain passive survivability
  • Provide dual-mode operability with high-rise buildings
  • Design mechanical systems to operate on DC power
  • Provide site-generated electricity from renewable energy
  • Provide solar hot water
  • In urban and suburban areas, maintain access to the sun
  • Plan and zone communities to maintain functionality without power
The article also describes the work Global Green is doing in New Orleans to create homes that are better adapted to climate change, and we take a brief look at the idea of "engineering" our way out of the climate crisis (intentionally modifying the climate to offset or balance the warming that's occurring). If there is good news in all this, it is that most of the measures that help us adapt to climate change have other benefits, such as reducing operating costs, improving building durability, and reducing environmental degradation. The challenges are huge, but green building practices are at the leading edge of both mitigation and adaptation to climate change. You can follow my musings about this and more on Twitter.

2009-09-09 n/a 11848 Men Should Pee Sitting Down Men should pee sitting down. Now before you call me a strident feminist, let me say that I'm backed up on this one by male colleagues and the reasons aren't what you think. I'm not arguing for toilet equality here. I'm talking about urine-separating toilets, which are much easier to use for men and women when sitting down. The bowl of these toilets takes urine in the front, feces in the back. It's hard enough to aim for the whole bowl (or so the evidence of many bathroom floors tells me), much less the front part of the bowl. One guy put a pee can in the corner, but that seems inefficient: pee in the can, then pour it down the toilet. Why not just pee in the toilet? Why should you care? Because urine contains up to 90% of the nitrogen and 50% of the phosphorous in domestic wastewater. Those chemicals make for great fertilizer — stuff we have to use a lot of energy to produce artificially. In healthy populations, urine is sterile, and removing it from feces makes composting the solids easier and more effective. Two models of these toilets are available in the U.S., both from Ecovita. But before you rush out to buy one and change your life, remember that composting solids and using urine to irrigate your tomatoes isn't legal in most places. You might be able to get special dispensation from the building code folks, but like most things involving wastewater treatment alternatives, it won't be easy. Watch for the coming article in the September issue of EBN. Update - the article is online (members only, though). Urine Separation: The Next Wave of Ecological Wastewater Treatment 2009-08-18 n/a 11852 How Green is Polystyrene Insulation? EBN's Position, and How It Affects GreenSpec-Listed Products
Chart from the feature (requires login):
Human Health and Environmental Concerns with Polystyrene Constituents
(click image to enlarge)
The August EBN feature article, "Polystyrene Insulation: Does it Belong in a Green Building?" (requires BuildingGreen Suite membership) and an accompanying editorial "Rethinking Polystyrene Insulation" (free content) has led our company to reexamine some of the products we list in the GreenSpec Directory. As those articles (and the related blog post, "Avoid Polystyrene Insulation") point out, there are some troubling health and environmental concerns with both extruded and expanded polystyrene insulation (XPS and EPS). These concerns relate both to the underlying chemistry of polystyrene (especially the benzene used in its manufacture) and a flame retardant, HBCD, that is used in all building-related XPS and EPS products. Given these concerns, our editorial staff reached the conclusion that polystyrene insulation made with HBCD is "less green" than most other insulation materials. This doesn't mean that there aren't green products made with EPS or that alternative products are necessarily benign. But when there are alternative insulation products that we consider to be more attractive from a health or environmental standpoint and when they offer comparable energy performance, then we consider those alternative materials to be preferable. So, what does this mean relative to our GreenSpec listings? Due to environmental concerns with ozone-depleting HCFC blowing agents (which are to be phased out by the end of this year), we do not, and have never, included XPS products in GreenSpec, so there is no change there. We did remove several EPS boardstock insulation products, and we are working hard to replace them with what we believe to be greener products, such as additional rigid mineral wool insulation products. However, there are a lot of EPS-based products that are remaining in GreenSpec because we believe that their energy-saving benefits outweigh the health and environmental concerns. These are mostly structural insulated panels (SIPs) and insulated concrete forms (ICFs) — of which we list dozens of each — as well as some specialized products, such as exterior insulation systems used for insulating existing buildings. These products are being used in many of the lowest-energy buildings being built today. Note that our inclusion of these products may be reconsidered in the future if good, non-EPS alternatives emerge in the marketplace and EPS manufacturers fail to find an alternative to HBCD. While we very much hope to see the HBCD flame retardant removed from these products — and we are confident that manufacturers are working to identify safer replacement chemicals — we recognize that energy performance of buildings is a top environmental priority, and EPS continues to play a vital role with many such products. We look forward to participating in a dialog about life-cycle concerns with polystyrene insulation and hope that our position begins that discussion. We welcome any comments you wish to post about this issue — use the comment function below. You can follow my musings about this and other issues through Twitter.
2009-08-11 n/a 11825 Committee tightens up NSF-140 carpet standard Ah, if only it were possible to be a fly-on-the-wall in every committee for every standard... I know this is a fantasy only a standards-geek could have, and is one of those fantasies you don't really want to actualize, but there's no doubt much of the real work defining the rules of the game is done in committee meetings that most of us never hear about. In their last meeting, with little fanfare, the NSF-140 committee approved a simple change that greenwash-fighters should approve of, while finding the need for it unfortunate. The language in the standard was changed to say, "A certified and non-certified product cannot have the same trade name designation." What this means is that a company can't get, for example, NSF-140 Platinum on select options for a product line, and then go and market the main product line as NSF-140 Platinum. Apparently, this issue was brought to the table because one company was doing just that — marketing the product line as NSF-140 Platinum despite the fact that the platinum prerequisite of 10% post-consumer recycled material was only met with special order options. The discrepancy is being fixed by the company — as is the standard by NSF. The NSF-140 committee also removed a durability test that required 350 parts per million of fluorocarbons for stain resistance (after debating the counter-intuitive rationale for including a test in a sustainability standard that requires addition of an environmentally problematic substance). They also required less persistent C6 instead of C8 fluorocarbons; a change that suppliers are apparently making proactively given growing concern over the potential environmental and health impacts of fluorocarbons. None of this is final — there is more discussion to come and then at some point the decisions will be folded into the next version. But in general, I'd call all of this a good story of self-correction by the industry. When competitors police each other's greenwash and have animated discussions on proving durability without compromising other aspects of sustainability, we're starting to get somewhere — recognizing of course, that we still have a long way to go. From EBN: Making Carpet Environmentally Friendly and more 2009-07-16 n/a 11834 LEED User? Word's been filtering out recently about, which — marked by today's press release and a notice in the current issue of Environmental Building News — has officially soft-launched in beta with partial content. Registration is free, but only for a while. What is it? The press release explains:
Responding to the need for comprehensive help with the new LEED rating systems that's based on real-world experience, BuildingGreen, LLC, publishers of the widely respected Environmental Building News and GreenSpec Directory, have created LEEDuser with support of the U.S. Green Building Council. This new website, at, provides credit-by-credit guidance for teams working on LEED certification. Included are clear descriptions of credit requirements, tips to streamline LEED submissions, online calculators, and online user forums related to specific credits. LEEDuser facilitates LEED certification for projects using the five recently launched LEED 2009 rating systems: New Construction, Core & Shell, Schools, Commercial Interiors, and Existing Buildings Operations & Maintenance.
Real Life LEED has already weighed in, noting, "If you've been a long time reader of this site you might remember that I think these guys are top-notch, and what I've seen on the site so far gives me no reason to expect anything less from LEEDuser." From the press release:
LEEDuser is available now in beta release with free registration. It already covers the credits that users have found most challenging, and it will continue to expand throughout the summer. Beginning in October 2009 the website will be available by subscription.
For a view from deep inside the project itself, take a look at what one of its technical web developers — our own Brian Fending — wrote. Here's a snippet: "It's INSANE how good this is at delivering the required content... Impossibly awesome and without a single peer in this and many regards."
2009-07-08 n/a 11838 Making ice at night to cool buildings
Calmac IceBank tanks at One Bryant Park, one of the nation's greenest high-rise buildings.
Photo: © Gunther Intelmann for Cook+Fox Architects
What surprised me most in researching thermal energy storage for the EBN feature article this month is that it's not incorporated into virtually all commercial buildings. In a nutshell, the idea is to use electricity at night to make ice and then use that ice during the daytime as the cooling source for the building. Thermal energy storage (TES) can also involve chilled water (instead of ice) or electric heat stored in bricks or other thermal mass, but I focused on ice with this article. A number of very well-known green buildings rely on ice-based TES cooling. One of the newest such buildings is the 2.1-million square-foot (195,000 m2) Bank of America building in New York City at One Bryant Park. I visited the sub-basement (three floors down) to see the 44 eight-foot-diameter, insulated CALMAC tanks in the building that collectively provide about a quarter of the building's cooling. Each of these tanks holds about 1,600 gallons of water that is alternately frozen and thawed by circulating a glycol solution through about three miles of plastic tubing. It's high-tech, but the result is surprisingly simple. Benefits of ice-based TES include the following:
  • Saving money by using less expensive off-peak electricity for cooling. Most utility companies offer less expensive off-peak electricity rates for commercial and industrial customers.
  • Saving money by reducing electric demand charges. Demand charges are based on the peak electricity consumption of a building. By shifting the operation of energy-intensive chillers or compression-cycle air conditioners from daytime (when electricity consumption in commercial buildings is highest) to nighttime, peak demand can be significantly reduced.
  • First-cost savings can often be achieved by downsizing chillers, pumps, ducts, and other components. In some cases, floor-to-floor height can also be reduced, because smaller ducts are used, resulting in dramatic savings.
  • Even though there is an efficiency loss with any heat-exchange process, a lot of the losses inherent in ice-based TES can be offset by higher efficiency that results from operating the chiller or A/C system continuously at night (eliminating the on-off cycling) and by operating the equipment with cooler nighttime air temperatures.
  • Reduced pollution emissions? This depends on where the building is located and how the local utility company generates power during on-peak and off-peak periods. If the baseload generation is hydropower and nuclear and peaking plants are natural gas or oil, minimizing peak electricity use can significantly reduce emissions — but with baseload coal plants and peaking hydropower or cleaner-burning natural-gas plants, the opposite can be true.
  • Using off-peak electricity for cooling will allow us to benefit from wind power and other renewable electricity sources. When the wind is blowing isn't always when we need power. That's fine if wind energy is only providing a few percent of our electricity, but if that fraction grows to 20% or more, it could be a problem. Shifting cooling loads to nighttime hours is an important way to help us benefit from wind power.
More detail on these benefits, plus explanations of how different types of ice-based TES systems work, is described in Buildings on Ice: Making the Case for Thermal Energy Storage. The article lists more than a dozen companies that produce these TES systems, including CALMAC Manufacturing, Baltimore Aircoil, EvapCo, and Ice Energy. All but the latter of these companies produce TES equipment that works with chillers; Ice Energy makes TES equipment for smaller, packaged A/C systems. To access the full article, you have to be a paid subscriber to (Because we don't carry advertising in EBN, we have to charge for access to our information.) If you're not already a subscriber, you can either sign up for a week for $12.95 or get an annual membership for $199. Alex Wilson is the executive editor of Environmental Building News.
2009-07-04 n/a 11804 New to Green Building? Try GBA.

Recently, I broke one of my long-standing rules and blogged about something BuildingGreen-related at my own blog. My Costanzian fears were indeed warranted, and I've been egged on to cross-post it to the Live blog. Here she is, warts and all: my unvarnished opinion on the very best parts of the BuildingGreen product

I don't often blog about worky stuff here, but decided this week that my "Worlds Will Collide!" fears are probably completely unwarranted. Besides, I'm working on some cool stuff these days. And finally, when my wife asks me, "What have you been doing?," when I come to bed at an obscene hour, I have an acceptable answer: "Changing the world, baby. Changing the world."

BuildingGreen launched a new property several months ago, (GBA). Now, this was in process as I came into the company in September 2008 and involved a whole lot of organization and reorganization to get the team in place for even content production, but I can't get into much of that here. What I *CAN* get into are what I think are the absolute coolest content areas on this Drupal-based site.

Green Basics

It's really important to come at a new field with a common vocabulary. Think of this as a vocab-building primer of terms and concepts bandied about in Green but seldom explained or contextualized. Click anywhere on that page and you get access to detail diagrams and explanations of key concepts and terms. I subscribe to a couple of building magazines and use their sites a lot. NOTHING is as good as this, period.

Green Homes

Now, case studies are not something new for BuildingGreen given the popularity of the High Performance Buildings Database, but there's one aspect in the corresponding Green Homes feature area that stands out: these pictures are gorgeous and inspiring. Sure, I can look up a product if I hear about and learn enough to put it in myself... but watching it get installed? Or seeing it in a context that gives me another product idea?? Reading about the compromises that lead to selection of that product in tandem with another? That's pretty awesome.

Product Guide

The Product Guide is some content syndication from GreenSpec, another key BuildingGreen property that provides a ready-to-use index of green products, manufacturers, and product categories. They sum it up on the GBA page with this: "Product manufacturers can not buy their way on to this list." These are a true best-of and where I first turned for ideas when we did our kitchen remodel this year.


Now, I know I've probably alienated some portion of the site that's behind the payed membership wall (oh yeah, some of this content is part of a paid GBA Pro membership that gets you even more like CAD Details & whatnot), but these are the stand-outs from my perspective and key to what makes this site a truly amazing asset. At the time of this writing, you can get a 10-day trial to the premium GBA Pro content - the energy savings I've realized alone have outvalued the cost of this annual or monthly membership - or be a lurker for a while before you take the plunge. Personally, I'm probably not renewing some of those magazines whose sites I use in favor of this totally righteous tool.

2009-06-22 n/a 11811 BuildingGreen and ecoScorecard Announce Partnership The press release says,
This partnership pairs a respected and independent source of green building information with a platform that enhances the usefulness of green product information. The GreenSpec Directory helps the green building community find sustainable products, while ecoScorecard offers an effective way to identify and evaluate products against every significant environmental rating system.
ecoScorecard is a web-based system where manufacturers provide detailed, SKU-level information about its products. Those details are run through a calculation engine to produce submission documentation for LEED, GGHC, Labs 21, CHPS, NAHB, Re:Green and third-party certifications. Verrry handy for architects, designers, and other building professionals. The two systems aren't interchangeable — not all products in ecoScorecard will be listed in GreenSpec, and vice-versa. The collaboration provides users with a combination of ecoScorecard's thorough reporting with GreenSpec's independent review process. This partnership is similar to the arrangement between GreenSpec and the Construction Specifications Institute's GreenFormat program. BuildingGreen doesn't charge for listings, or accept advertising. The editors have sole control of product selection and product descriptions. For information on how products get listed in GreenSpec, see the article How do products get listed in GreenSpec?
2009-06-11 n/a 11798 Putting wind turbines on buildings doesn't make sense For the EBN feature article this month I spent weeks learning about building-integrated wind. I'm a huge fan of wind energy in general, and the idea of putting wind turbines on top of buildings — or actually integrating them into the architecture of buildings — was really appealing. Why not generate the energy right where it's needed, and by putting turbines on top of buildings wouldn't you be getting them up higher where it's windier? What a cool idea. Unfortunately, as I point out in this month's feature article, "The Folly of Building-Integrated Wind," it's actually pretty hard to get wind turbines to perform well on buildings and, even if you can, the economics are not very good. A huge challenge is noise and vibration. Spinning things tend to generate noise and vibration, and that can be a big problem when people are occupying the building those turbines are mounted on. I went from being open-minded about the practicality of building-integrated wind to believing that it's usually a pretty dumb idea. Another big drawback to building-integrated wind is that even though it's often windy on top of buildings, that wind tends to be quite turbulent. It's twisting around and not nearly as effective for wind turbines as laminar flow. But a lot of rooftop wind turbines are being installed — how are they working? It turns out that it's really difficult to find actual data on how rooftop or integrated wind turbines perform. You would think that information would be fairly available — after all, electric meters aren't that expensive. But wind turbine manufacturers seem reluctant to share that information; so do building owners. Getting hold of actual performance information on real projects was like pulling teeth. I did find some data, however, and it's not a pretty picture. In one year-long study of rooftop wind turbines in the U.K., the average "capacity factor" was found to be less than 1% — while 10% to 30% capacity factors are typical for commercial wind farms. This is not to say that there aren't some really well-designed, functional, attractive wind turbines on the market. There are. Probably the most thoroughly engineered product is the AVX1000 from AeroVironment, a California company made famous by its human- and solar-powered planes, General Motor's EV1 car, and the revolution in unmanned military planes. Aerovironment's 1-kilowatt turbine is specifically designed to harvest the accelerated wind at the parapets of commercial buildings. There's a row of 20 of these on a MassPort office building at Logan Airport in Boston. The AVX1000 is elegant and it works — but from my analysis, it's not as cost-effective as building-integrated photovoltaics (PV). Vertical-axis wind turbines look even cooler than the more traditional, horizontal-axis machines, and they are usually quieter. But their efficiency is usually quite a bit lower. We're seeing more and more green buildings that include wind turbines, and this worries me. These turbines aren't cheap; some of the vertical-axis turbines sell for $30,000 to $40,000. If they end up not performing as they are supposed to, it's going to give the green buildings they're installed on — and the green building industry — a black eye. The mainstream media loves to cover green buildings that aren't operating as well as expected. If you have highly visible building-mounted wind turbines that just sit there failing to spin, or if it comes out in USA Today that these turbines have a dreadfully poor economic return, green building could take a hit. What do you think? Use the comments field if you have an opinion on building-integrated wind. I'd love to hear your views. Alex Wilson is the executive editor of Environmental Building News. 2009-05-01 n/a 11765 Tough Choices on the AIA Top Ten Jury I've been involved with the AIA Top Ten Awards Program for a long time. In the early years, when Gail Lindsey started it as an informal program to generate some recognition for a handful of green projects, Environmental Building News was one of the very few media outlets available to provide that publicity. Later we participated in conversations with the national Advisory Group of AIA's Committee on the Environment (COTE) as they worked to refine the metrics and formalize the program. In recent years, BuildingGreen has provided technical support to the AIA Top Ten Awards. Because we manage US DOE's High Performance Buildings Database, which also hosts the Top Ten online submission forms, we've supported those submission forms — updating them with changes each year, providing technical support to applicants, and then editing and preparing the winning projects for publication on the website. As we edited and published the winning entries each year, I thought it would be great to sit in on the jury process and learn more about how they make their selections. So when I was invited to join the jury for 2009, I was thrilled. I'd finally have a chance not only to observe the process, but to participate! The jury that assembled in March to pick the winners was high-powered and diverse. Before diving into the projects themselves, we spent a little while talking about each of our priorities and intentions. That, in itself, was a fascinating conversation. Jurors talked about looking for projects that are "aggressively innovative," that have integrated the aesthetics with green performance, that don't rely on tacked on technologies — dubbed "green bling" — to achieve their results. There was an active conversation about whether the purpose and function of the building was a relevant criterion. After a while the AIA staff who support the program began suggesting ways for us to start making some decisions, but their concerns were unfounded. We had a team of leaders used to getting results, and it didn't take long for us to come up with some approaches to honing in on our top picks. It also helped that everyone came in well-prepared, having spent hours with the online submissions, making notes and identifying favorites. Before long a couple of key tensions emerged that stayed with us through the day. One was the fairly predictable push between energy efficiency and other aspects of design quality (primarily aesthetics and functionality). The other reflected differences of opinion on the jury about the best ways for a building to engage with its immediate surroundings. On a few projects we simply disagreed about whether the way a building met the street represented good design or not. In the end, there were a handful of projects that we all felt really good about, and others that we selected only after one or two jurors agreed to go along with a choice they wouldn't have made on their own. But the story doesn't end there. Last week architect Bruce Coldham asked me about the jury's process, and then circulated a letter questioning whether the jury had its priorities right. I've done some soul-searching in response to that letter. As someone who has a better grasp of energy data than architectural styles, I was a likely advocate for energy efficiency. And I wasn't the only one focused on energy efficiency as a priority — nearly everyone expressed how important it is. We set out to find projects that did it all — great design and great performance (at least as predicted by models). So how did we end up with a bunch of projects that are only moderately efficient, while passing over some better performers? I think it comes down to the fact that the jury as a whole was more confident about judging the aesthetics of the projects than their green performance. Of all the sustainability measures, energy was the only one on which we had a decent grasp, but unfortunately, the data we had to work with didn't inspire confidence. Not all projects reported their numbers consistently or reliably. In trying to find projects that inspired on all counts, we ended up, as a group, more willing to compromise on the energy performance than on the aesthetics. Do I wish we had done it differently? Perhaps — although I think that our best alternative might have to pick fewer winners. Maybe this was the year that should have only had a top five. But as someone who looks at data on green performance of buildings all the time, I was more interested in understanding the values of design — what makes for projects that people will love and care for — than in recognizing some high-performing buildings that are otherwise uninspiring. In the end I may have been too quick to indulge that fascination instead of drawing a hard line on energy performance. I had my chance — next year's jury will have another chance to declare its values. 2009-04-29 n/a 11763 Redux: What do you do when a good product has bad stuff in it? About three weeks ago I posted here about a product that decreases heat loss, decreases installation time, provides a termite shield, prevents damage, is cost-competitive, and is partly made with PVC. We ended up listing this product in GreenSpec, and to our members' credit, we got some pushback. I cross-posted a response from the members-only system to the public comments of the earlier blog post; now we've received another thoughtful member comment, so I figured I'd bring the concern back here to the blog to hear what you smart people have to say. A BuildingGreen Suite member wrote to suggest that this product, and any others containing EPS, should be reconsidered for potential removal from GreenSpec due to the use of hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), "a persistent, bioaccumulating, and toxic fire retardant [...] widely detected in household dust, sewage sludge, breast milk and body fluids as well as wildlife and the global environment. [... P]olystyrene insulation [...] is likely the primary source of the global contamination." What a great comment. What a can of worms. I wrote back:
Another mighty important subject. As noted in the Environmental Building News article, Insulation: Thermal Performance is Just the Beginning, "All foam plastic insulation materials rely on flame retardants to meet fire-resistance standards. EPS and XPS are produced using the brominated flame retardant HBCD (hexabromocyclododecane) at concentrations of 0.5-2.0% by weight. HBCD is not the focus of as much attention as another class of brominated flame retardants (PBDEs), but some evidence indicates that it is more bioaccumulative than PBDEs and just as likely to be toxic to humans." It then refers to another EBN article, Flame Retardants Under Fire, which goes into additional detail about HBCD: "Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) — the third most widely used brominated flame retardant in the world and the BFR of choice for polystyrene foam — may actually be more prone to bioaccumulation than PBDEs. HBCD is just as likely to be toxic to humans, according to an October 9, 2003 article in the American Chemical Society's journal, Environmental Science and Technology. The Chemical Stakeholders Forum in the U.K. determined in March 2003 that HBCD is persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic. The European Union is carrying out a risk assessment of HBCD, suspecting the compound of being an endocrine disruptor by impairing thyroid function." (It's interesting to note that Europe, having taken steps to ban penta and octa PBDEs, was in 2001 using more HBCD than the Americas, Asia, and the rest of the world together. I don't know if that has changed.) The problem is on our radar. The real difficulty comes in weighing the overall consequences of using a product with flaws versus not using it (when an equally viable alternative doesn't exist). Foamed glass insulation seems like it could be a great alternative for high-moisture applications, if only it were affordably — or even just readily — available in the Americas. Canadian manufacturer Roxul has mineral wool products that could do the trick, but they're almost impossible to get in the US. If I'm missing some obvious solution, I hope somebody will speak up. There was a timely conversation during the most recent GreenSpec review meeting. We were talking about glazed curtain walls, which are basically an energy catastrophe when weighed against other design options. (So why are all these big green high-rise projects being specified with glazed curtain walls?) The question came up: Even though GreenSpec only lists the highest-performing glazed curtain walls that set the bar for energy efficiency, should it be listing any of them at all? Discussion ensued. What is GreenSpec for, and how does it support the BuildingGreen mission of transforming the building industry? Should we put our energies toward supporting the bleeding edge, or toward facilitating change in the larger (perhaps less committed) green building community? The answer was that we need to continue trying to do both. It ain't easy. GreenSpec is intended to be a best-of-the-best directory, a starting point for further research — that's why each listing is accompanied by links to related information in BuildingGreen Suite, like the two articles I cited above. We've also been working behind the scenes to beef up the section introductions with deeper and more concise information about categories of products, and thinking about how to make that too-often-overlooked bigger picture more visible and accessible. Conversations like this are a definite help in that effort. So, back to slab edge insulation. Uninsulated slab edges can account for more than 10% of a home's heat loss. This is particularly exacerbated when "green-friendly" radiant-floor heat is used — the Radiant Panel Association says, "Slab edge insulation is a given. No one should be installing a radiantly heated slab, basement or on grade, without this important piece of insulation." (Why did I put "green-friendly" in quotes when talking about radiant floor heating? See the article Radiant-Floor Heating: When It Does — and Doesn't — Make Sense.) Uninsulated slab edges are a problem requiring a solution. This particular product, despite its incorporation of undeniably nasty materials like PVC and HBCD, can prevent significantly more toxic emissions and environmental degradation over their service lives by reducing energy consumption than if they weren't used. Deciding which side of the coin represents the worse consequence is no easy feat — this one's almost a lose-lose situation. As the article Building Materials: What Makes a Product Green? says, "The Holy Grail of the green building movement would be a database in which the life-cycle environmental impacts of different materials were fully quantified and the impacts weighted so that a designer could easily see which material was better from an environmental standpoint. [...] Very often, we are comparing apples to oranges. We are trying to weigh, for example, the resource-extraction impacts of one product with the manufacturing impacts of another, and the indoor-air-quality impacts of a third." On a note related to HBCD, the foam cushioning used in some furniture and lots of car seats can be up to 30% HBCDs (compared to 0.5-2.0% in rigid insulation). Especially as the foam ages and it becomes increasingly friable, HBCD-laden dust can be released directly into the room's air as people sit down, get comfy, stand up. It's even more acute when the fabric is ripped. There's also foam carpet padding to consider — the dust works its way up through the carpet when it gets walked on, thrown into the air when vacuumed... Which isn't meant to be an excuse. Just one more thing to think about. Here's another one that gets into PVC and flame retardants, if you'd like — Wire and Cable: Untangling Complex Environmental Issues. Thanks for your important note, and do keep up the good work. Please feel free to continue this dialog and to point out other concerns as you come across them.
For more about HBCD, see the Environmental Health Perspectives article, Brominated Flame Retardants: Cause for Concern? We're always willing to entertain doubts. Did we go too far in including this product?
2009-03-02 n/a 11741 Growing Greener Over 18 years and more than 160 issues of Environmental Building News, I've written quite a few articles — I hesitate to think about how many — but out of all of those, I think I had more fun and learned more in writing my most recent than ever before. "Growing Food Locally: Integrating Agriculture into our Built Environment" examines opportunities for producing food around, and on, our buildings that few architects, builders, or developers have yet considered. I think I had my first vegetable garden when I was five or six — back in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. There were a few years during college and perhaps some of my time in New Mexico when gardening didn't fit into my life. But other than that, growing some of my food has always been important to me. Thus, I surprised myself to realize a few months ago that I had yet to write — or even consider — an article for EBN addressing the potential for integrating food production into our built environment. I had nibbled (sorry!) around the edges with articles about green roofs and passive survivability, but for some reason it never occurred to me to tackle this topic of food production directly. So I dove in with weeks of concentrated research, interviews, and even a quick trip across the country to participate in a symposium on "Building-Integrated Sustainable Agriculture" in Berkeley, sponsored by the start-up company Sky Vegetables. Reflecting on this research, I gotta say, I think have the best job in the world — to be able to spend such concentrated time learning about such inspirational projects around the country! From a community gardening program in the poor, Puerto Rican neighborhoods of Holyoke, Massachusetts (Nuestras Raices), to a nonprofit farming operation in Chicago (City Farm) that figured out a way to grow vegetables safely even where soils are contaminated, to a half-acre rooftop greenhouse operation on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, to an innovative aquaponic operation in Wisconsin that generates all the nutrients needed for organic hydroponic vegetable production from aquaculture wastes... these are amazing stories that I think will inspire you as much as they inspired me. And if you want to learn about something really bizarre, check out the sidebar in the article on using black soldier fly larvae to turn all sorts of organic waste into high-protein food for chickens or fish. While we didn't squeeze it into the February issue of EBN, I also wrote an editorial, available only online, that elaborates a bit more on why food production should be a part of green building. — Alex Wilson 2009-02-03 n/a 11691 Videos from Greenbuild '08 at Greenbuild 365

From the Father of Green Chemistry to that guy from This Old House, a couple dozen videos of speakers and presentations from Greenbuild '08 have been posted at Greenbuild 365, "USGBC's interactive green building learning portal." Among them, there's a very special episode in particular. You may have heard that our own Alex Wilson received a Leadership Award from the USGBC during Greenbuild. (Okay, the story's getting old, but the quality keeps getting better.) Check out Mister Wilson now!

2008-12-24 n/a 11653 New Residential Green Building Website Posted live from Greenbuild. Press release:
BuildingGreen, LLC, announces a new online information resource on residential green building and remodeling., which will be officially launched at the International Builders Show in Las Vegas January 20, 2009, is an online suite of expert advice, proven construction details, and real-world tools for residential architects, builders, remodelers, and highly engaged homeowners. "GBA builds on the decades of experience and depth of the two partner companies that came together to create this resource: BuildingGreen, publisher of Environmental Building News and The Taunton Press, publisher of Fine Homebuilding," says BuildingGreen director of residential services Peter Yost. "In the works since the two companies joined forces in early 2008, will be the most comprehensive, useful, and easy-to-use online resource serving the residential green building community," noted Yost., which was previewed at the Greenbuild Conference in Boston, will include seven primary components:
Green building encyclopedia. is an encyclopedic resource on green building and remodeling, providing a wealth of information. For recent entrants into the green building field, introductory information makes it easy to get up to speed quickly. Green product guide. BuildingGreen has produced the leading national directory of green building products, GreenSpec, since 1997. GreenSpec products relevant to residential construction are all available through, along with links to other articles and discussions. Construction details. The site includes more than 1,000 highly sophisticated yet clear and thoroughly vetted green building construction details. Illustrations build on the well-known visual presentation and technical detail of Fine Homebuilding magazine, and are supported by the know-how of top building science experts. Users can paste the more technical CAD drawings directly into architectural drawings or print them out for subcontractors. Green building strategy generator. Users can enter information about a building project and will generate tailored green strategies. In-depth advice. is a forum for the exchange of information through blogs, forums, and Q&A­, drawing heavily from the 15 experts serving as Green Building Advisors. The website also links to detailed background information from Fine Homebuilding and Environmental Building News. Code issues. serves as a clearinghouse for information and advice on building codes as they relate to green building — providing clear, concise advice on streamlining the approval process. Real-world examples. provides a place to see how green building practices are being successfully used in hundreds of homes nationwide­including both new construction and remodeling. is a fee-based information service. Members will pay an annual or monthly fee for access, with annual access priced at $149.99. "Our primary goal is to serve the people who need and will use this information — builders, remodelers, architects, and designers," said vice president and publisher Bill Tine. "By offering subscriptions we ensure that our information is objective. BuildingGreen has proven this model for years as a way to provide high-value information that will help the industry advance." In addition to fee-based information, includes extensive free content, including the product listings, case studies, news, blogs, a community forum, and more. At the heart of this new resource are the "Green Building Advisors" — 15 of the nation's leading experts on green building, green remodeling, energy efficiency, and building science. This team includes builder John Abrams of South Mountain Company on Martha's Vineyard; mechanical engineer Joe Lstiburek, P.E., of Building Science Corp. of Westford, MA; remodeling contractor Eric Doub of Boulder, CO, who specializes in carbon-neutral houses and renewable energy; architect and green building materials expert Ann Edminster of Pacifica, CA; architect and used building materials expert Jennifer Corson of Halifax, Nova Scotia; green remodeling consultant Carl Seville of Decatur, GA; building inspector Lynn Underwood of Norfolk, VA; developer Vernon McKown of Ideal Homes in Norman, OK; and natural building expert and structural engineer Bruce King, P.E., of San Rafael, CA. The full list of Advisors can be found at once the site is launched January 20th. In addition to online delivery, a monthly print newsletter will be provided to members. "We will fully utilize online delivery of our content,"says managing editor Dan Morrison (until recently an editor at Fine Homebuilding), "but a lot of people still like to hold something in their hands and read it." Members will be able to receive the print newsletter in the mail or download and print it themselves. Also on the editorial team for are Martin Holladay, until recently the editor of Energy Design Update, and Rob Wotzak, a former remodeler specializing in historic preservation. Alex Wilson, the founder and president of BuildingGreen, is enthusiastic about this new online information source. "Since we launched Environmental Building News nearly 18 years ago, we have covered both residential and commercial green building," he said. "As the green building industry has matured, it became clear that we needed to target readers more precisely; with we are doing that," he said. " will be the most useful resource available on residential green building and remodeling." BuildingGreen, LLC, has been providing the building industry with quality information on sustainable design and construction since its founding in 1985. BuildingGreen's publications include Environmental Building News, the GreenSpec Directory of green building products; and the BuildingGreen Suite of online resources. In early 2008, BuildingGreen entered into a partnership with The Taunton Press.
2008-11-21 n/a 11656 ASHRAE Standard 189 committee getting back on track, says USGBC Posted from Greenbuild '08. A month ago, EBN was the first to report the news that the ASHRAE Standard 189-P committee, which has been developing the nation's first code-level national green building standard for commercial buildings, had been unexpectedly disbanded by ASHRAE. At a special Greenbuild update today, Mark MacCracken, a USGBC representative to the committee, referred to reports of the committee's disbanding as "rumors." Come again? He later acknowledged that the committee had been, in official terminology, "cleared," and that "this probably wasn't handled as well as it could have been, in terms of communication." MacCracken also publicly confirmed what we had suspected: that due to stakeholders feeling left out of the committee, the standard was in danger of being appealed to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) on procedural grounds, which would have bogged it down considerably. In response, ASHRAE cleared the committee and is now accepting applications as it reconvenes it. According to MacCracken, the committee is expected to expand from 23 to 30 members. (The former committee chair, John Hogan, about whom MacCracken spoke in glowing terms, resisted ASHRAE's moves, and ultimately resigned, according to our sources, in part because an expanded committee would potentially be unwieldy. Kent Peterson will be the new chair, said MacCracken.) The new committee is expected to be reformed and in operation by December 15th, with a goal of completing its work in 2009, following a third public review. It will start its work with the draft that passed through the second public review, including some subsequent revisions. USGBC has recommitted its support, along with IES, the other partner. Our headline from a month ago read "Uncertain Future for ASHRAE 189." Was that ever true? Is it still? I would say "yes" on both accounts. Process-wise, it looks like it will go ahead, which wasn't so certain a month ago when ASHRAE surprised everyone with this move. What about the content? Some of the targets, such as a baseline 30% energy savings, are quite aggressive for a minimum code-enforceable standard, and a variety of powerful players have lined up against the standard. Those players will now have the chance to get a seat at the table, and a vote. Interestingly, USGBC CEO Rick Fedrizzi announced at last year's Greenbuild that if 189 is passed, the most basic "certified" level of LEED may be phased out. That's presumably because 189 is based on that level of LEED, and USGBC would be advocating for compliance with 189 as a basic requirement for all U.S. buildings. 2008-11-20 n/a 11673 @bglive Tweeting at #greenbuild Hey, you Twitterers (there must be a few of you out there)... in addition to posting here, we'll be microblogging from Greenbuild. You don't need an account to follow along. Additionally, there's a #greenbuild hash that people are already using — you can follow everyone's Greenbuild Tweets here. 2008-11-17 n/a 11682 Getting ready for Greenbuild Here comes Greenbuild again. It keeps getting bigger. For instance, last year there were 480 exhibitors in the expo hall... this year, over 800. I've got the expo hall on the brain. Like last year, I've been mapping which of the exhibitors do and don't have products listed in GreenSpec. There's about 300 — something over a third of the hall. Frankly, I feel really good that there's about 500 exhibitors at this year's Greenbuild that don't meet the high GreenSpec standards. A couple days ago I wrote here that "GreenSpec is a 'best of the best' directory reserved for the top 10% or so of the most environmentally preferable products available... intended to be a reference to the best stuff we know about, and a launching pad for additional research," and that "Attempting to create and maintain a fully comprehensive compendium of everything that's even slightly green would not only be practically undoable, it would actually be much less useful in defining high benchmarks." Sure, there's undoubtedly a quite a good few new products that we'll learn about there, and some of them will end up added to the directory. Most of them won't. Here's a graphic of the expo floor; booths highlighted in green represent manufacturers with one or more products in GreenSpec. The variety of booth sizes is another encouraging sign to me — big fish or small fry, it doesn't matter.

(Stay alert! Here it Comes: The Year of Greenwash)

2008-11-10 n/a 11684 Foot Spa: Rhymes with "Chutzpah" The editors and researchers for GreenSpec get more submissions from manufacturers wanting to get their products listed than we can keep up with. As GreenSpec is a "best of the best" directory reserved for the top 10% or so of the most environmentally preferable products available to contribute to a sane built environment, we end up rejecting most of them for not meeting our high standards. Sometimes we get pitches for fine products, but they just don't represent the top of the heap. (GreenSpec is intended to be a reference to the best stuff we know about, and a launching pad for additional research. Attempting to create and maintain a fully comprehensive compendium of everything that's even slightly green would not only be practically undoable, it would actually be much less useful in defining high benchmarks.) Often, we get pitched products that are just plain outside of the scope — GreenSpec doesn't include things that aren't directly about the action of creating (and to a small degree, maintaining) the built environment. And, just as surely as it crosses your desks, ever-increasingly brazen greenwashing is crossing ours. Sometimes — rarely — we'll get a submission that comes in at such an unexpected curve that we just have to step back and admire the spin. I'm not talking about evil marketing cabals — I think that most people do honestly believe the things they tell us (and themselves) — nor am I talking about the delusional and/or the apparently clueless. It's our job to sort all of that out. I'm talking about unexpected, funny, and earnest, but utterly futile and inappropriate gestures from so far out in left field that we never would have guessed anything like it was coming. Introducing the Footopia Patio Foot Spa, from Ashiyu. It's a 40-gallon, double-walled resin, bowl-shaped Jacuzzi for your feet, lined with river rock and serviced by a 1.5 kW heater and a 1.5 hp pump — with several available options, including multicolored lights. In the submission form presented to us, the environmental attributes were described by comparing its energy, water, and chemical use to that of a four-person hot tub. Which is sort of like comparing a little tangerine to a big grapefruit, but the intent and merit of the argument was noted. There aren't any third-party efficiency standards in place for these kinds of devices, so that's what tends to happen. This product is appropriate for the glossy pages of lifestyle magazines, but it ain't our thing. Nor did we consider it all that green. What rocked our world (in a really fun way) was a couple sentences near the end of their submission:
"Also, our product is cool, smart and sexy. From experience we can say no one will fault your eco-impiety for listing our spas among less fun products like pavers or siding."
Outstanding! We laughed and laughed.

2008-11-08 n/a 11638 On the Path to Passive Survivability
Creating a superinsulated building envelope is one of the key requirements with passive survivability. I saw this superinsulated home feature when I was in Sweden last year.
Photo: Alex Wilson. Click for bigger.
(More below.)
Those who have kept an eye on the suggestions we've made over the past few years regarding passive survivability might be interested in some recent developments. By way of background for those who haven't tracked this issue, here's the thumbnail sketch: In an age with more intense storms, terrorist actions against our energy infrastructure, potential petroleum shortages, and drought, we should be designing homes, apartment buildings, schools, and certain other public-use buildings so that they maintain livable conditions in the event of extended power outages or interruptions in heating fuel or water. I had initially been proposing passive survivability as a smart design criterion. More recently I've been advocating that we mandate passive survivability through building codes. There are a number of developments along these lines:
Creating a superinsulated building envelope is one of the key requirements with passive survivability. I saw these superinsulated home features when I was in Sweden last year.
Photos: Alex Wilson.
Click for bigger.
First, an article I wrote making this case is coming out shortly in Building Safety Journal, the magazine of the International Code Council. I have no idea what the response to this article might be among code officials, but I'll be watching carefully. Second, I'm participating in a committee that's providing input to the upcoming revision of New York City's building codes. We're trying to figure out what it will take to make the city's buildings and infrastructure more adaptable to climate change. I'm not sure where this will end up, but one of the ideas we're pursuing is to require dual-mode buildings. Dual-mode buildings would operate with conventional HVAC systems in normal conditions, but could be switched over to a passive operation mode during a power outage. Third, I was recently in California speaking at a couple conferences — including on passive survivability at San Diego Green. Following the San Diego conference, I led a brainstorming meeting to address passive survivability. The group of a dozen or so individuals, including Bob Berkebile, Chuck Angyal, and Drew George, focused on three questions: 1. What constitutes "livable conditions"? We pondered whether a house would need to maintain 50°F in the winter to keep people safe (wearing coats), or if a house would need to be 55°F. How hot could a house get in the summer and not put its occupants at undue risk? We concluded that there's a significant body of knowledge out there to tap into on these questions — such as emergency management databases and ASHRAE technical committees on comfort. 2. How easy is it to model the "drift conditions" of buildings? I was surprised here to learn that our more sophisticated energy modeling software tools can do this without any modification — one only needs to vary the inputs. That's good news indeed. 3. Do we need "performance standards" for passive survivability or could "prescriptive standards" suffice? This is a tougher question. It's hard to deal with passive solar heating, daylighting, or cooling load avoidance on a strictly prescriptive basis, but we felt that having both a prescriptive path and a performance path would be ideal. We have a lot of work to do in answering this question and moving ahead with those prescriptive standards. One of the new ideas that came out of the San Diego meeting was to come up with labeling of houses to indicate how they stack up relative to passive survivability — perhaps an A through F scale — and get insurance companies to buy in to preferential rates for the higher-ranked buildings. I continue to believe that the insurance industry could be a big driver of passive survivability.
Lake Mead, which supplies 90% of Las Vegas's water, is less than half full today. Maybe it's time we begin designing buildings to get by if water shortages or water rationing become a reality — not all that unlikely, especially with Scripps Institute scientists telling us there's a 50% chance that Lake Mead will be functionally empty by 2021.
Photo: Ken Dewey. Click for bigger.
Finally, having just returned from Las Vegas, where I was attending the WaterSmart Innovations conference (about water efficiency and water conservation), I'm inspired to push harder to address water to a greater extent in defining passive survivability. In most cases, the idea with passive survivability probably won't be to create homes and other buildings that can be totally self-sufficient with water. Rather, we will push for buildings that can get by all right if water were to be rationed or only available intermittently for periods of time in the future. If anyone wants to be part of this ongoing discussion about passive survivability, reply to this posting or e-mail me directly:
2008-10-14 n/a 11628 Zero Energy Buildings Database

Today the Department of Energy's Building Technologies Program launched the Zero Energy Buildings Database with an offering of three Zero Energy Buildings (ZEBs) and one near-ZEB. A lot of work has been put into defining ZEBs and you can learn about the different types at the Net ZEB page. Also make sure to look at the overview page for each building to learn the associated types of ZEB. The Zero Energy Buildings Database is part of the High Performance Buildings Database and is hosted and maintained by BuildingGreen in conjunction with the Department of Energy.

2008-09-08 n/a 11584 Counting Carbon... Wrong?
Oops... (corrected graphic below)
Well, all you can do when you screw up is try to make it into a learning opportunity, I guess. The image we featured most prominently with our "Counting Carbon" article in July had a blatant error. In our defense, the image we asked for was OK — we just failed to make sure that the one we got was the same as the one we thought we were getting... The graphic had cubes representing one metric ton of steel, concrete, and wood, and much larger cubes representing the associated carbon emissions. The carbon quantity shown for concrete, however, actually represented the carbon associated with one metric ton of cement. A ton of concrete is responsible for much less carbon, because cement only represents about 12% of a typical concrete mix, and the other ingredients are much less carbon intensive. In addition to the fully justified outcry we got from the concrete folks about this graphic, we also got a complaint from the steel industry. They quibbled with the numbers, but they also had a more interesting point: that it is somewhat misleading to compare these three materials in this way, because their mass does not represent their utility. A structure made of concrete will weigh much more than a structure made of steel or wood, for example. (Here's a bonus graphic coming at it from this angle.) Here's the full text of both letters, plus a corrected graphic:
Corrected graphic

Dear Mr. Wilson:

For years I have admired Environment Building News' skill in providing balance on the many areas of sustainable development and design, clearly researching and documenting the details, in a manner that is easy to read and comprehend. So, it was somewhat surprising to see on the front cover of your latest issue (Vol. 17, Issue 7, July 2008) a volumetric depiction of a ton of three basic building materials and the carbon dioxide generated to manufacture them. If I had a nickel for every time someone confused cement and concrete, I'd be a wealthy man. It's easy to do, it happens all the time. Sometimes it is less important, like when someone speaks of installing a new "cement" patio. On other occasions, it matters a great deal. The design community is being asked to evaluate how we design, construct, operate, and deconstruct buildings in a carbon-constrained world. Carbon taxation and cap-and-trade issues are being discussed in the states; globally, nations vie for position on international climate change standards. Cement, as an ingredient in concrete, is energy intensive, but accounts for a small percentage of concrete's overall mix design (around 8 to 14%). The remaining ingredients of sand, gravel, and water generally require very little energy to obtain, process, and ship. Furthermore, today's concrete frequently contains supplemental cementitious materials (SCM) derived from industrial by-products. These further reduce the embodied energy and CO2 for a unit of concrete. Instead of the 1.2 metric tons depicted in the graphic, the Portland Cement Association has calculated the following CO2 equivalent per metric ton of concrete:
  • .11 metric tons for 3000-psi with no SCMs
  • .09 metric tons for 3000-psi with 20% fly ash
  • .065 metric tons for 3000-psi with 50% slag cement
Note: these numbers do not include the CO2 that would be absorbed from the air through carbonation over the life of the concrete. Also note that we get the same results using two other methods: The EDIP (Environmental Design of Industrial Products) method (Danish) and IMPACT 2000+ method (Dutch). We calculated the carbon equivalent footprint of three typical concretes using (1) the climate change factors from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with a timeframe of 100 years (this is one of the methods in life cycle assessment software SimaPro) and (2) the life cycle inventory data in from research (PCA SN3011). We chose a 3000 psi strength; however, specifications can range widely. I am not denying that the concrete industry does have a large footprint. However, the sole reason is not its energy intensive component, but because of concrete's multitude of applications. It's everywhere: from houses to high-rises, roads and runways, stormwater systems and stadiums. What was once a material for roads and building foundations has evolved to create high-performance insulated wall systems, water piping, siding, roof tiles, decorative flooring and countertops, and cultured stone. It's even a solution for in-situ soil remediation. The industry, however, is not merely dedicated to promoting the uses of its product. We recognize our responsibility to continue manufacturing and usage improvements. We have reduced the amount of energy to make a ton of cement by more than 37% since 1972 and pledge progress toward future reductions. Recycled ingredients make up an ever larger portion of our business. And our industry has invested a great deal of resources into better educating our customers about how to use concrete for superior sustainable solutions. The most significant environmental impacts over the building's lifetime are not from construction products but from the production and household-use of electricity and natural gas. Today, and in the future as we strive to improve our products, concrete's versatility and use in many green building applications makes it an excellent material for sustainable designs. Sincerely,
David Shepherd, AIA
Director, Sustainable Development
Portland Cement Association
Skokie, IL

Mr. Nadav Malin
Environmental Building News
122 Birge Street, Suite 30
Brattleboro, VT 05301
Dear Nadav, Your article, "Counting Carbon" in the July 2008 Environmental Building News is thoughtful throughout, as always. Unfortunately, however, the simplistic rendering on the cover page of this newsletter does not lend itself to "Understanding Carbon Footprints of Buildings" accurately. Specifically, the small and large cubes in the rendering very seriously misrepresent the carbon footprint of steel relative to concrete and wood. Additionally, the values provided for each material are believed in error. Steel, for example, is 1.7 metric tons rather than 2.0. We think the values for concrete and wood are out of date, too, but they are not our domain. Of course, the careful reader realizes for any given building application, one ton of steel does not equal one ton of concrete or one ton of wood. Steel has a very high strength to weight ratio and is strong in both tension and compression. Concrete is strong in compression but relies upon embedded steel reinforcing bar for tensile strength. Naturally, no building is made with all steel or all concrete. (The same is usually true of wood.) Case studies are available that show the quantities of steel vs. concrete in alternative building designs. The resulting carbon footprint for steel is smaller than for concrete. Another consideration that makes this rendering misleading is its failure to address end of life recycling for steel, as its embodied energy is amortized over many future generations of new steel. A growing case is also being made for an alternative end of life for steel, namely, re-use, as part of one or more iterations before its ultimate recycling. Steel is well known for durability. We see that its longer service life, with less replacement, is a major point not incorporated into the rendering. Therefore, the rendering in question offers no meaningful comparison of these three materials in a building application or in general. We recommend that EBN's on-line downloadable archive newsletter for July 2008 be revised by removing the rendering on page 1 and replacing it with the other rendering from page 11. We appreciate your consideration in making this important correction, as LCA and other approaches for studying and effecting environmental improvement go forward responsibly. Sincerely,
Gregory L. Crawford
Vice President, Operations
Steel Recycling Institute
Pittsburgh, PA

2008-07-23 n/a 11531 FSC-certified bamboo? Yes.

Smith & Fong's bamboo plywood panels are now available with FSC-certified bamboo.

If you're a regular reader of the posts here on LIVE, you might remember that we had a couple folks from Smith & Fong in our offices back in January. That was when we first got wind of their pending FSC certification — for bamboo. But it wasn't a done deal. Now BuildingGreen is pleased to be the first to report the breaking news that FSC certified bamboo plywood is on the ground and available for specification. Though Smith & Fong isn't releasing the news until next week, they've given us the scoop and the go-ahead to tell all. Read the story FSC-Certified Bamboo Plywood Now Available.
2008-04-11 n/a 11508 Free Content in BuildingGreen Suite Did you know that we have an index of free content from BuildingGreen Suite? And that only lists the highlights. Try drilling down from the GreenSpec Product Directory page — the introductions to the product sections contain mini-bursts of information that touch on the environmental considerations of each particular category... considerations you may not have been aware of. (You can also get to those introductions through the CSI MasterFormat 2004 hierarchy page — as well as a set of informative sample Guideline Specifications.) Now start clicking around in the High Performance Buildings Case Studies — you'll find that the Overview page for every project is free. And then there's the Bibliography, and the Calendar... 2008-03-27 n/a 11496 YES! Jerelyn Wilson — who has the inadequate title of "Outreach Director" for BuildingGreen — came down the hall and into my office a few minutes ago, bright-eyed and holding the current issue of YES! magazine in front of her, folded open. "Have you seen this?!" she asked, holding it out for me:
Powerful image — even more powerful in the magazine, where it's bigger and crisper. If you haven't read YES! before, please pick one up at a newsstand... or request a free trial issue. About that photo:
"Tsewang Norbu lives in the village of Digger across the 4,500 meters high Khardungla pass in the Leh District. He is twenty-eight years old, has five children and keeps goats. He was selected by his community to be trained in the installation, repair and maintenance of solar photovoltaic units. All the solar units he installed were brought to the village by Yak and on the backs of people from the village. He was trained on the job: he installed fifty-nine units himself, taking three months to complete the work. The units were installed in 1992. They are still working." Photo by Barefoot Photographers of Tilonia
Copyright 2008 Barefoot College, Tilonia, India
(More pictures and words.)

Being around and working with people to whom not just an enthusiastic and positive world future, but an enthusiastic and positive here and now, matters, is inspiring and humbling. People who celebrate goodness, and strive for it.
2008-02-22 n/a 11499 — Now Even Better The tech folks here at BuildingGreen just rolled out some great website improvements. A few are invisible ones of the sort that quietly improve the experience... but very visibly and most significantly (in my opinion), the News page — which is available by clicking the "News" button near the upper right of each page on the site — has been redesigned and ramped up. It rocks. The editorial team will be making expanded use of the News page in the near future — stay tuned for that... perhaps by using the RSS feed. The feature on the News page that I'm most excited about is having new comments made by Members on content from all over the site finally aggregated in one place. It's like the "Recent Comments" over on the right-hand side of the LIVE pages... but covering the entire BuildingGreen Suite. Tremendous. 2008-02-19 n/a 11500 Interview with a Nanotubes Distributor I tagged along with Tristan Korthals Altes, top-notch managing editor of Environmental Building News, on an interview with a global distributor of carbon nanotubes who just happens to be located in our little Vermont town. Tristan's working on a feature story on nano technology for the newsletter, and it's shaping up to be quite something to anticipate. I put together a quick seven-minute edit of the recorded interview with Mike Foley of, in which he gives his take on what nanotubes are good for; what they look like; potential health effects; how nanotubes are made; the business he's in; what they cost; the past, current, and future marketplace of nanotubes; and how nanotubes can play the guitar solo from "Layla." This post isn't an endorsement or a representation of BuildingGreen's position on anything or anyone; it's just a brief presentation of some perspectives of a colorful guy in an interesting field. Download or stream: 2008-02-19 n/a 11505 The Relative Environmental Merits of Steel Cabinets The GreenSpec review team has been debating the relative environmental merits of steel cabinets as compared to other alternatives. (GreenSpec is reserved for the very top green products — and within that top few percent, those products that rise above the rest.) Generally speaking, the up-side is that steel cabinets don't support mold; are low- or zero-VOC (depending on finish, principally); are long-lasting; almost always have some amount of recycled content; and have good end-of-life recyclability. All of these things can also be true of cabinets made from wood and other materials. In special purpose applications such as sterile and particle-free environments, metal may be the most appropriate solution. Thin steel — including things like metal studs and roofing — is typically produced in basic oxygen furnaces, which are more polluting than the electric arc furnaces used for heavy steel. And while heavy steel typically has a very high percentage of recycled content, light steel only contains up to 30% recycled content (i.e., 70% or more virgin steel). How does this stack up against sustainably harvested wood or ag-fiber? Steel cabinets are sometimes fitted with non-steel faces, such as wood or thermofoil-laminated MDF, which alters the equation. Is the wood from certified sources? How is it finished? Is the MDF high VOC? And what is thermofoil? (It's PVC.) Certainly there are stinky, poorly-made, environmentally catastrophic wood cabinets available just about everywhere. But how does steel stack up against the best wood cabinets? And among steel cabinets, are there any that are substantively "better" than others? So far, we haven't pinned it all down. Any thoughts? 2008-02-07 n/a 11479 Hydronic Radiant Floor Heating Retrofits In his book Your Green Home, Alex Wilson refers to radiant floors as "a great heating option for a poorly designed house." He goes on to explain that the heating requirements of an extremely well-insulated home with a properly airtight envelope, even in most cold climates, will most likely result in an overheated house if the radiant floor is warm enough to actually feel warm underfoot — which is the main selling point of these systems. If passive solar is a design feature, the slow response of high-mass radiant floor systems can also contribute to overheating. The expense of a wall-to-wall radiant floor system would generally be better spent, he says, on improving the envelope's insulation and airtightness, and downsizing the space conditioning system, particularly in new construction. For more information, see the article "Radiant-Floor Heating: When It Does — and Doesn't — Make Sense." But radiant floor heating can be a good choice under the right circumstances. Mostly, those situations exist in expansive commercial buildings with tall ceilings, particularly where inordinate air changes occur: fire stations, garages, hangars, where the large area of warmed mass provides quicker recovery with less energy. In residences and small commercial structures, radiant floor heating makes the most sense for buildings with standard levels of insulation and typical double-glazed windows — particularly when they're located in climates with small cooling needs. Retrofits of older houses in cold climates fall into this description. Underfloor radiant hydronic heating retrofit systems that install between the joists below existing wood floors are available from a number of sources. Metal plates or "fins," usually aluminum, that fit tightly around the tubing and make continuous contact with the floor significantly improve heat transfer; but in general, the more layers there are between the radiant heat source and the occupants, and the less thermally transmissive those layers are (think wall-to-wall carpeting), the more diminished the warm-floor effect will be. And for radiant floors to work well — particularly the "staple-up" variety — there also needs to be insulation underneath, which is too frequently overlooked. Often, simply insulating a floor can provide rich rewards without installing the heat delivery system. The other retrofit option for radiant hydronic floors is installing the heat-delivery system above the existing floor (which raises issues about doors that will have to be adjusted, cabinets that end up too short, and trim that needs to be dealt with). This is often accomplished by embedding hydronic tubing in about 1.5" of self-leveling, cementitious material — a process that can add up to a gallon of moisture loading to the building per installed square foot, and could potentially require temporary or permanent structural augmentation. Some of these flowables also have admixtures that may present VOC concerns. While "wet" installations provide extra mass for thermal storage, that extra mass means that they react more slowly to changes in thermostat settings as compared to a lower-mass system — which may or may not translate to reduced energy use, depending a good deal on how the occupants operate the system. There are a growing number of above-the-floor, dry-install, lower-mass (e.g., faster-response) options for radiant hydronic floor retrofits. One of them is the first, and so far only, radiant-hydronic-floor heat-delivery product to be listed in GreenSpec. It took several months of pondering and deliberation before we made the decision. GSC Modular Radiant Flooring Panels, which are installed on top of an existing floor structure using screws (which avoids VOCs from adhesives, and means that the panels are reusable), incorporate preformed channels on the underside to accommodate radiant tubing. The 1.25-inch-thick panels are made using a recycled-plastic tray into which a lightweight concrete incorporating flyash and recycled-glass aggregate is precast, avoiding moisture-loading the structure. The panels weigh seven to eight pounds per square foot.
Even though hydronic radiant-floor heating systems using high-efficiency components can use less energy than conventional forced-air furnaces, the sentiment that improving the envelope in order to use a significantly downsized heating system of any type that costs less to install — and more significantly, to operate — is unchanged. But low-temperature hydronic floor (or wall) heat, particularly when used in conjunction with solar and renewable energy, is an option that can warrant a review when considering the structure as a system, especially in the increasingly critical challenge of retrofitting our existing housing stock.
2008-01-21 n/a 11481 No-added-formaldehyde bamboo flooring and panel products

This interior features Plyboo bamboo flooring and cabinets made with Plyboo panels.

On the heels of the announcement of the market introduction of Smith & Fong's no-added-formaldehyde PlybooPure bamboo flooring and panel products in the current issue of Environmental Building News, Dan Smith of Smith & Fong — the makers of Plyboo, and more recently, Durapalm — along with PR guy John McIsaac (who used to be with Columbia Forest Products), were in our office yesterday morning to discuss the state of their art with some of the Environmental Building News and GreenSpec staff. The company's backstory is interesting: According to Smith (who incidentally has a degree in Mandarin Chinese), they started in 1989 out of a simple fascination with bamboo — it didn't really have anything to do with being green. They used Paul Hawken's book, Growing a Business (predecessor of The Ecology of Commerce), to guide their venture. Initially, they imported bamboo plywood to make decorative boxes "that nobody bought" (at first). The end of the lean years really started when the flooring thing came along in 1993. Consistently introducing new product lines and innovations since then, the company has grown by 25 to 40 percent per year since... with a rousing 70 percent increase in 2007. Unlike most bamboo flooring companies, Smith & Fong owns the facilities that produces their products, giving them quality control and R&D opportunities most of the rest of the industry doesn't have, and providing the ability to ensure safe and healthy conditions for the workers. They do not, however, own the land where the bamboo is harvested; the five-year-old poles are purchased from local stewards. (Land "ownership" in China is a tricky thing. Technically, the government owns it all — but individual people are assigned use-rights to individual tracts, which are inherited by successive generations.) The poles are harvested from natural groves by "farmers" — for want of a better word, since the bamboo isn't planted, irrigated, fertilized, or treated with pesticides — who selectively cull 20% of the age-commingled grove annually. So, every five years the natural supply has been 100% harvested without any clearcutting. The groves are admittedly a monoculture, albeit a natural monoculture. Which brings us full circle, back to PlybooPure. Smith & Fong have been using a 0.05ppm formaldehyde adhesive for their bamboo products — low, but not low enough to achieve the "no added urea-formaldehyde" LEED threshold. Finding a different binder that is cost-effective isn't simple. Formaldehyde resins are cheap and fast; other binders tend to cost more, and are typically slower-setting, which not only retards workflows, but can require changes in machinery and processes. Worker safety is wrapped up in this as well. They've worked out the bugs on an isocyanate binder, and now have no-added-formaldehyde flooring and panel product out the door and on the ground — which is just the beginning. Plans are to convert the entire production. (Their coconut palm products have used this non-formaldehyde adhesive all along.) For more about bamboo materials in general, see the March 2006 Environmental Building News feature, "Bamboo in Construction: Is the Grass Always Greener?"
2008-01-16 n/a 11482 Hot Topics for Green Gurus Notes from BuildingGreen's breakfast gathering at Greenbuild for partners and Sustainable Design Directors from forward-thinking firms around the U.S.
    Overarching Issues
    Several topics seemed to permeate the conversations among all of the breakfast attendees.
    • Expanding the Reach of Green Design: Many attendees discussed how to get green design skills into the hands of more people in their firm, or how to bring these ideas to their interior designers, or even how to how to make relevant green product information available to their Asian-based design teams.
    • Understanding Building Performance: This topic came up in several forms throughout breakfast. The contexts ranged from defining what metrics to track to how to share project performance information within each firm and among firms. Everyone was interested in learning how to tell when they'd gotten it right.
    • Meeting the Architecture 2030 Challenge: This was the topic that we at BuildingGreen had brought to the breakfast, following pre-breakfast conversations with Charles Brown of sfL+a Architects and Kathy Wardle of Perkins + Will. The topic seemed to resonate on many levels with all of the breakfast attendees.
2008-01-15 n/a 11465 Happy Holidays from BuildingGreen! We wish all of you a happy, life-changing year ahead, and thank you for all the good, important work you do and choices you make. We had our annual holiday party for staff and their guests on Wednesday evening; it's something we look forward to every year. If there was enough room, we'd have you all over. That's part of the reason we've developed this LIVE section of our website — so we can catch up with each other, have lively discussions, and bask in such good company. Here are some photos from our party. (Click the pictures for a larger version.)

In the hallway — good people, good food, twinkly lights.

Each of us on staff brings in a dish or two: hearty foods and delectable desserts.

Lots of talk and laughter.

In our new conference room, a slideshow of Alex's recent photos from Sweden running in the background was the source of much interest and discussion.

It's a kid-friendly party, too, with an activity room that generally winds up spilling over into the whole place. This high-stakes poker game happened in a corner of the library.

2007-12-20 n/a 11418 On the Editorial Radar I'd like to call your attention to the "Editorial Radar" box on the right-hand navigation column—that brown stripe next to these posts. You may have to scroll down (or up) a little. The editors of Environmental Building News use social bookmarking to share links to interesting articles and other information on the internet with each other. Sometimes it's research for stories in the works, sometimes it's just about keeping up with emerging trends. Now you can follow along. Some of the interesting links lately: 2007-11-30 n/a 11425 BuildingGreen Bulletin, November 2007: Top-10 Green Products Twice each month, BuildingGreen publishes an email news bulletin with current news and product information briefs. Sign up here—it's free. We will never share or sell your email address, and you may unsubscribe at any time.
Twice each month, BuildingGreen publishes an email news bulletin with current news and product information briefs. Sign up here—it's free. We will never share or sell your email address, and you may unsubscribe at any time.
2007-11-15 n/a 11431 Running with the Big Dogs — at Greenbuild and Beyond In a brilliantly cruel stroke of scheduling irony, the morning after our party with the GreenSource folks at the Funky Buddha, we held a breakfast for our BuildingGreen Suite firm-wide subscribers: organizations that have an account for every person in their operation. It was some heady company to be in, with movers and shakers from the likes of Gensler, HOK, Perkins + Will, William McDonough + Partners, Sasaki, Rocky Mountain Institute, Mithun, and SmithGroup, among several others.

We don't buy these folks breakfast once a year at Greenbuild just to honor them. These are the best and brightest: Knowing what's on their minds, and what their professional information needs are, helps us help them. Plus, it's so much fun to talk with people who are at the top of their game. For more information about firm-wide subscriptions, email our Network Accounts Manager, .

Oh—did I mention the view?

2007-11-12 n/a 11444 BuildingGreen party at Greenbuild Last night we and the GreenSource folks had an intimate, half-crazed private party for 350 invited green builders at the Funky Buddha—a curious and amazing place of several connected rooms filled with murals, sculpture, candles, conversation niches, and atmosphere. Drinks and laughter were the order of the evening. It turns out that I'm not as young as I used to be. Here's a short slideshow of dark, grainy images One unexpected thing about this place is that one of the rooms has extensive sculpted cob seating and ornament. "Cob" is an old European term for what basically amounts to monolithic adobe. There are oodles of historic, occupied, centuries-old cob houses in Devon, England, and it's enjoying popularity in the U.S. thanks to the Cob Cottage Company in Oregon. My wife is a cobber. 2007-11-08 n/a 11457 What Greenbuild is Bringing to Chicago GreenerBuildings put together a nicely thorough intro to Greenbuild '07. Their article "What Greenbuild is Bringing to Chicago" includes us:
In what has become a much-anticipated annual feature of the Greenbuild conference, BuildingGreen, the publishers of the GreenSpec Manual and Environmental Building News will announce its top 10 green building products of 2007 on Thursday. Last year's list included lumber salvaged from beneath man-made lakes; electronic, tint-on-demand glass for windows and skylights; water-conserving showerheads and irrigation controls; high-tech evaporative air conditioners and more.
Watch for more info about this year's Top-10 here on Thursday.
2007-11-03 n/a 11410 LIVE Contributor: Tristan Roberts As managing editor for BuildingGreen, I run our efforts, through Environmental Building News, to monitor key news and product developments in the green building industry and bring them to you, our readers, in a thorough and engaging way. In the last year I've written feature articles for EBN like "Cradle to Cradle Certification: A Peek Inside MBDC's Black Box," "Historic Preservation and Green Building: A Lasting Relationship," and "Antimicrobial Chemicals in Buildings: Hygiene or Harm?"; investigative news articles like "Appraising Green in Vancouver" and "Enertia Double-Envelope Home Still Has Problems"; as well as perspectives like "When Is it Greener to Build?" My life in green building dates back to a high school reading of "Walden Two," by B.F. Skinner. Never mind the specifics of the book—at the time I found the positive vision for creating vibrant communities to be a revelation. I am fascinated not only by healthy and environmentally sound approaches to construction but also the fostering of healthy communities. 2007-10-30 n/a 11411 BuildingGreen Bulletin, November 2007: EBN Twice each month, BuildingGreen publishes an email news bulletin with current news and product information briefs. Sign up here—it's free. We will never share or sell your email address, and you may unsubscribe at any time.
Twice each month, BuildingGreen publishes an email news bulletin with current news and product information briefs. Sign up here—it's free. We will never share or sell your email address, and you may unsubscribe at any time.
2007-10-30 n/a 11412 LIVE Contributor: Nadav Malin Nadav Malin I am vice president of BuildingGreen, Inc., editor of Environmental Building News, and coeditor of the GreenSpec product directory. I also work with McGraw-Hill Construction on GreenSource magazine, which has earned me a spot on the masthead as executive editor. For the past 5 years I've chaired the Materials and Resources Technical Advisory Group (MR-TAG) for the LEED Rating System. I'm a LEED Faculty Member, which means that I get tapped to lead workshops on LEED (mostly LEED for New Construction and Major Renovations — LEED-NC — but occasionally others). Back in the 1990s I was a principal author of the Applications Reports for the AIA's Environmental Resource Guide that compares the environmental value of different building materials in various applications. I do some consulting and lecturing on sustainable design, with a particular focus on green materials. In addition to running LEED training workshops, I've taught seminars for various USGBC chapters, CSI chapters, state AIA chapters, and private architecture firms. I also serve on the U.S. team for Green Building Challenge, oversee BuildingGreen's management of the U.S. Department of Energy's High Performance Buildings Database project, and generally lead the content development team for Web and software resources at 2007-10-30 n/a 11413 LIVE Contributor: Alex Wilson Alex Wilson is the Executive Editor of Environmental Building News. For more than 25 years Alex has written about energy-efficient and environmentally responsible design and construction. Prior to starting his own company in 1985 (now BuildingGreen, Inc.), he was executive director of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association for five years; before that he taught workshops on the construction of solar greenhouses in New Mexico in the late '70s. Alex is author of Your Green Home (New Society Publishers, 2006) and coauthor of the Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings (ACEEE, 8th edition, 2003) and the Rocky Mountain Institute's comprehensive textbook Green Development: Integrating Ecology and Real Estate (John Wiley & Sons, 1998). He has also written hundreds of articles for other publications, including Fine Homebuilding, Architectural Record, Landscape Architecture, the Journal of Light Construction, and Popular Science. Along with writing about design and construction, Alex has written four guidebooks on quiet-water paddling published by the Appalachian Mountain Club—covering all of New England and New York State. (You can order Alex's books online.) Alex served on the board of directors of the U.S. Green Building Council for five years and he is currently a trustee of The Nature Conservancy - Vermont Chapter. 2007-10-30 n/a 11416 Welcome to Live BuildingGreen. Inc., is respected and honored for its unbiased, in-depth, thoughtful reporting and commentary on the green building industry. Here on Live, we're picking up the pace and unleashing our more dynamic and informal side—sharing some of the most timely and just plain interesting news as we hear it. The best part is that you can join in, adding your knowledge, thoughts, and ideas. In the right-hand column of this page, we'll be adding links to the latest additions, changes, and comments in the subscription-supported BuildingGreen Suite of integrated, online versions of Environmental Building News, GreenSpec, our database of high-performance buildings case studies, and more—searchable and cross-referenced by CSI MasterFormat divisions, LEED credits, green topics, and related content. Glad you're here. Enjoy. 2007-10-26 n/a