Category Archives: Greenwashing

Chemical trade group lobbies to block LEED

The following post is by Robin Guenther:

The war over toxic chemicals and human health is spilling over into places we live and work: our buildings. The American Chemical Council (ACC) has launched an expensive and focused attack on the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to protect the status quo of a small set of bad-actor manufacturers of toxic and obsolete chemicals. But innovative companies across the building industries and human health advocates are fighting back.


The American Chemical Council is lobbying to end the federal government’s use of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building certification system unless USGBC removes all references to human health. If successful, they will keep taxpayers from receiving the cost savings and productivity benefits that LEED certification has generated. Why does a chemical industry trade association think better buildings are such a threat, you ask?

The USGBC has transformed the global building industry with its emphasis on high performance, low energy and healthier building practices through its LEED certification program. In only a decade, LEED plaques have become synonymous with the best buildings in the world.

A high-performance building?

USGBC’s mission is to make buildings not only more energy-efficient, but healthier spaces for those who inhabit them. The new draft version of LEED seeks to assuage human health concerns of buildings by offering voluntary credits for buildings using healthy materials. Many in the health community see this as a long overdue step for the rating system.

The ACC, however, sees this as a dangerous threat to their member companies because a few of them make a pretty penny producing controversial chemicals.

So if you can’t beat ‘em, lobby against ‘em, right? ACC is doing what it does best — spreading misinformation and shoving truckloads of cash into lobbying efforts to keep the market from abandoning toxic materials and embracing green chemistry.

They’ve even gone so far as to form the laughable “American High-Performance Buildings Coalition,” a group whose membership reads like a who’s who of industries that make unhealthy products, all uniting to lobby against LEED. From big chemicals to vinyl to adhesives to petrochemicals — they’re all here.

These toxic trade associations are trying to convince us that they are the ones who truly support “green” building. Perhaps next they’ll suggest that their products only increase your odds of developing “green” cancer.

While they claim LEED is not consensus-based, this is demonstrably false. Any revision to the LEED standard must be approved through a democratic balloting process open to all 14,000 members of USGBC. These members are architects, engineers, builders, contractors and product manufacturers.

In fact, the ACC and many of its member companies are participating in the LEED development process. But when the professionals who purchase building materials began to suggest that a LEED credit be available for purchasing healthier building materials, suddenly the process is flawed, and not consensus-based.

In the real world, when your customers ask for something, you don’t lobby against their right to buy what they want, do you? Let’s hope these companies wake up and start to reign in their out-of-control trade association before people really start to notice who’s behind the curtain.

Green buildings are about more than energy and water conservation; they must also include consideration of human health. Hospitals have started to lead the way. The Health Product Declaration, an independent, open-source methodology for declaring content of building products, is ushering in a new age of transparency in corporate reporting. The Healthier Hospitals Initiative recently released targets for safer products that include credit for avoiding chemicals of concern in interior furniture. Major manufacturers of health-care building products have begun substituting PVC and phthalate plasticizers with safer alternatives. These firms are innovating and capturing market share.

While the ACC protests these LEED credits, we would venture to say their innovative members are investing in R&D to move to safer alternatives precisely because of these initiatives. The construction industry needs the USGBC and LEED; citizens do, too. Someone has to make the push to get these chemicals out of our faces.

Robin Guenther, FAIA, is a principal focused on health care architecture at Perkins+Will, a global design firm. This piece was distributed by American Forum.

Read the DJC’s free Building Green Special Section

If you don’t have a subscription to the DJC or don’t click on our articles as they are locked, you might not know about our free special sections.

Special sections, written by people in a targeted industry for people in the industry, are free to read, meaning even you non-subscribers can access valuable information. Special sections come out about once a month and each section focuses on a different topic. This month’s excellent topic is Building Green and I am thoroughly impressed with the breadth of this year’s coverage.

The free special section is here.

In it, you’ll find this excellent article by Michelle Rosenberger and Nancy Henderson of ArchEcology called “Watch out for ‘greenwashing’ by service providers.” Among its interesting points, the article examines whether consultants can truly bring a LEED approach to a project without rigorous third party LEED certification.  Interesting item to bring up.

There’s this article by Constance Wilde of CB Richard Ellis reflecting on her personal experience of  becoming a Certified Green Broker, and its values and benefits.

There’s this great article by Joel Sisolak of the Cascadia Green Building Council called “Two Seattle projects set ‘net-zero’ water goals,” which looks at the region’s water infrastructure and two living buildings (The Bertschi School’s Science Wing and the Cascadia Center for Sustainable Design and Construction, both covered previously in this blog)  that plan to go off the water grid and their challenges in doing so.

Then there’s this article by Elizabeth Powers at O’Brien & Co. on whether green parking lots can be (gasp!) green. I’ll let you read the article to learn more.

The section also has articles from representatives of Skanska USA Building, Mithun, MulvannyG2, GGLO, Scott Surdyke, Sandra Mallory of the city of Seattle and CollinsWoerman on topics ranging from the city’s role in evolving practices to big box stores, student housing and public housing.

So go ahead, check it out and enjoy!

Kevin Daniels blogs from New Orleans, DJC blog gets praise, musings and more!

As I mentioned in my past post, I’ve been on a series of vacations over the past couple of weeks. And during my series of nine flights, I had a lot of time to read magazines, catalogues and view countless adds on nameless airport walls. And do you know what I discovered? Green is really, really hip! Before you scoff and say in your head ‘hello Katie, where have you been?’ let me explain:

Over the past two years, even with a recession, sustainability and green promotion has become more than just a tactic. It has become necessary. Flipping through the Crate and Barrel catalogue, furniture is advertised as being “sustainably harvested and sustainably engineered.” In that same magazine, Calphalon advertises a new recycling program where they promise to responsibly recycle your old cookware, while simultaneously advertising a new green nonstick finish for pots and pans. The message is pretty clear: Crate and Barrel cares about sustainability (hence you should buy their stuff, which I am in no way supportive of or not supportive of, by the way).

At my stay at the Omni Parker Hotel in Boston, it advertised green alternatives like most other hotels nowadays. But unlike many other hotels, it connected those green services to its premium Select Guest program, thereby making sustainability (and not washing your sheets) special.

Starbuck’s has upped the content of recycled fiber in its cups (now 10 percent, not sure when they did that) and touts its eco-consciousness on the side of current cups.

Heck, even Clorox has its Greenworks natural green cleaners label. It just never ceases to amaze me.

Do you agree? Are you constantly amazed?

Anyway, back to the news.Kevin Daniels of Daniels Development is currently in New Orleans where he is repairing homes that are still damaged from Hurricane Katrina. He’s there with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is blogging about the effort. To read the blog, click here. To learn more about the effort in general, click here. We also wrote about the trip here.

While I was gone, the DJC Green Building Blog was named to two “best of” lists. We were named number 71 on a list of  “100 Innovative Blogs for Architecture Students.” We’re under the category “Eco-friendly architecture.” The list is compiled by a site called that is “dedicated to bringing you the absolute best resources and online educational tools.”

We were also named number 21 (but first under the “Green Construction” category) on a list called “Top 50 Construction Blogs.” This list is compiled by The Construction Paper.

The format of both sites look suspiciously similar though I’m not positive they are related. Hmmm. Either way, they both present a comprehensive list of great blogs, many of which I read on a daily basis to keep informed. It’s a good resource to see viewpoints from around the country and world on construction and architecture.

Incidentally, on one of my many flights, a gentleman I met who owned a construction company in rural Georgia said green building techniques are not used in every project, but are becoming much more common, especially in the major cities and in office projects. He said he’s taking classes on it and suspects they are moving slower than we are on the West Coast, though the south is still moving in that direction.

Greed or good natured? Making money off of eco-friendly stuff

Being a reporter, I get hundreds of e-mails a week. A good chunk of them are about eco-friendly products that are new, nifty and will “save the worrrllllldddd!” A couple of them are kind of nifty. But the majority of them aren’t… and are obviously motivated by business interests and the desire to make more green.

So when I received an e-mail this week about two entrepreneurs who founded an educational campaign promoting tap water, and then just happened to sell over 400,000 BPA-free, reusable water bottles from their Web site, it piqued my interest, precisely because it was addressing the money issue.

These two people – Eric Yaverbaum and Mark DiMassimo – are asking the public in a poll whether they are “greedy entrepreneurs,” “selfless environmentalists,” or both.

Now, both of these guys work in advertising or marketing, so this survey could very well be – and likely is – a marketing ploy. But even so, it’s interesting because it touches on the nebulous and often contentious connection between money and the environment.

The environmental movement isn’t completely comfortable with the notion that people make money off of things that are eco-friendly, especially because not everything that says it’s green really is (this is called “greenwashing”). But really, the only way to get practices accepted on a large scale will be if someone, somewhere turns a profit in some way.

These two guys are making money but in the process they’re also getting their message – that buying bottled water is bad – out there to a broader audience. So is greed ok if it has a point?

What do you think – are they greedy or selfless? To answer the poll or to see results, click here.

LEED vs. Green Globes – watch our state duke it out

In today’s marketplace, so many things claim to be “green” that it can be really, really tough to decipher what’s green and what’s greenwashing. Sometimes, green measures even conflict with each other.

Apparently, that’s the case with LEED and Green Globes, at least in Washington State. Green Globes, administered in the U.S. by the Green Building Initiative, is a green building certification that I have only come across a few times in my travels. LEED is by far and without question the more prominent certification of the two.

However, LEED’s prominence is due in large part to its inclusion in state and city government incentives and requirements. For example, Washington State requires major buildings meet LEED silver or higher to receive public funding. Seattle requires developers meet at least LEED silver to receive a density bonus. Those requirements have gone a long way towards making Washington a leader in its number of LEED certified buildings, and LEED projects on the board.

Senate Bill 5384 would change the state mandated requirements by adding the Green Globes standard as an alternative to LEED silver.

Now, it might surprise some to learn that Cascadia, the region’s go-to organization for green building, is lobbying hard against this. But then again Cascadia is part of the U.S. Green Building Council and the U.S. Green Building Council created LEED, so it stands to reason that it would support LEED certification. The bill is also opposed by the Washington Environmental Council and the Washington Conservation Voters, which represents many different environmental organization statewide.

An advocacy e-mail appeared in my in-box today asking readers to call state legislators to make sure Green Globes is not included in state law as an alternative to LEED. The e-mail says “Green Globes was created by the timber and chemical lobbies as a much weaker alternative to LEED,” and that it is untested, funded by industry and requires no third party verification. 

I don’t know enough about Green Globes to report on whether any of the above allegations are true. I know board members of GBI represent a number of different interests from universities to business. I know a number of industry organizations heavily support their initiatives (though to be fair, industry also supports USGBC).

I also know the actual bill, available here, has a piece in it stating all major projects receiving state funds that are four stories or under must use wood and wood products as building materials in them. Not sure how that fits into the point of the bill and it seems a little odd to me but make of it what you will.

If you’re interested in this topic, Architect Online has an excellent rundown of the two systems by Christopher Swope here that I highly suggest reading. Swope points out that LEED could benefit from a bit of competition.

For still more information, visit GreenbuildingsNYC here.

What do you think? Is LEED too restrictive and is Green Globes the way to go? Is Green Globes a less strict certification? Weigh in by commenting below!