Ask the Green Architect: Eco-Manufacturers; 'C2C'; High Ceilings; Product Certification; Daylighting

Cradle to Cradle

Ask the Green Architect: Eco-Manufacturers; 'C2C'; High Ceilings; Product Certification; Daylighting

Green architect Eric Corey Freed answers your questions on sustainable building performance, materials, and design.

  • Directory of Green-Product Manufacturers?
  • Cradle to Cradle (C2C)
  • Efficiency Advice for High Ceilings
  • Standards for Certifying Green Products
  • The Benefits of Daylighting

    Is there a directory of manufacturers that produce/install "green" products such as imbedded PV, thermal heat for HVAC, recycled carpet, sustainable wood products and low VOC paints, etc.?

    The issue today is not where to find information, but which information to trust and use.

    As you have probably found for yourself, thousands of sources exist claiming green products and services. Typically products and installers will not be on the same site. Once you find a product you like, the manufacturer will be able to provide you names of installers.

    I have several great sources for you, and I hope these are new to most of you. I chose these particular sites for their scope of information, their editorial standards on selection of materials and the accuracy of their sources. (Please feel free to suggest others for review.)
  • Aside from hosting this column (how wise they are!) GreenerBuildings offers something few others can -- real and practical solutions people can use.
  • Building Green: The publishers of the Environmental Building News and GreenSpec have put all of their unbiased and perfectly presented information together in a wonderfully straightforward site. I mentioned this site before, but it is worthy of repeat. Here you will find product listings only.
  • GreenHomeGuide: This site for homeowners features an advisory board of some of the biggest leaders in the green building field offering their real-world experience.
  • Build It Green: Build It Green is fast becoming one of the most enabling organizations in the building industry. Although currently serving Northern California, BIG is expanding statewide and, soon, nationally. Their site offers an extensive directory of information and vendors.
  • Building Concerns: One of the oldest and more trusted directories of green building professionals.

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I wanted to point out something in your response to the question about whether recycled or natural materials were better. You said that "there is no perfect material. All materials have some negative impact..." While en masse that is certainly true, I have to assume that you are aware [of Cradle to Cradle systems] by architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart.

Eric: Thanks for reminding me! Cradle to Cradle (C2C) describes a new way of looking at our resources. Currently, we use materials and then throw them "away." This paradigm is a "cradle to grave" model of using resources. But what if we realize there is no "away" and no such thing as waste? What if materials were all natural and fed the planet rather than polluted it? This paradigm would be a "cradle to cradle" concept, and it is entirely within our grasp. Cradle to Cradle products have no negative impact on the environment, and/or can be returned safely to the earth in a perpetual nutrient cycle.

A C2C product would be this perfect (yet still elusive) product. I look forward to a near future of these products. In terms of green buildings, however, there is not yet a deployable C2C solution -- but soon will be.

C2C has evolved from a book into an entire new industry in materials. I use the book as a textbook in my sustainable design courses at Academy of Art University and University of California Berkeley. (side note: the book itself is made from corn based plastic, not paper.)

More Information:

McDonough/Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) is a product and process design firm focused on creating true Cradle to Cradle materials.

GreenBlue is the nonprofit arm of MDBC and exists to encourage mainstream adoption of C2C ideas.

C2C Home is a housing design competition to develop a home based on C2C principles.

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My house is a 1922 home and the interior has the original plaster on a 2X4 wooden stud wall. I love the high ceilings, but I'm finding the rooms to be small and shut off. Is there an energy efficient and effective way of "opening" up the rooms of my home without getting rid of the high ceilings?

As an architect in San Francisco I often work with older Victorian homes characterized by small rooms, such as you describe. Typically, these walls are not load-bearing, or only one wall running down the length is the load-bearing wall. Demolishing these walls and opening up the floor plan is a relatively easy thing you can do. If you only remove the partition walls, the ceilings can remain where they are now.

The studs in your home are old growth, true size 2 inch by 4 inch studs, and very easy to salvage and reuse. The walls you remove might be over the existing wood floor and a simple refinishing will revive those old floors. Recycling these older homes is a very green way of looking at your home.

Please consult with an architect or structural engineer before doing any work. Such work is minor, but will require a permit from your local building department.

Related Resources:

Yes, Virginia, You Can Save Money Through Recycling

Case Studies: Construction and Demolition Waste Reduction

Reducing Construction and Demolition Waste

Building Savings: Strategies for Waste Reduction of Construction and Demolition Debris from Buildings

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We manufacture a water and energy efficient commercial ice and water dispenser. Is there a recognized, well-accepted standard to certify "green" products? If so, where and what is their certification process?

Several green certification systems have developed over the years, but only a handful have taken off to be accepted and recognized. While only some of these apply to your product, I am providing a more comprehensive list of the various certifications available:

U.S. Green Building Council
LEED Green Building Rating System certifies entire buildings, not individual materials.

Carpet and Rug Institute's Green Label Plus
Green Label Plus is an independent testing program that identifies carpets with very low emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Energy Star
Energy Star energy efficiency guidelines are set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. There are Energy Star guidelines for many residential building products, including appliances, heating and cooling systems, lighting, roof products, and windows and doors.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)
FSC is an independent, not-for-profit, non-government organization. FSC sets standards that reflect agreed principles for responsible forest management, and accredits organizations which certify the achievement of those standards by specific forests or woodlands.

Greenguard Institute
The Greenguard Certification Program is an independent, third-party testing program for low-emitting products and materials. Greenguard has developed standards for adhesives, appliances, ceiling, flooring, insulation, paint, and wall-covering products.

Green Seal
Green Seal is an independent, nonprofit organization which sets standards for environmentally preferable products, conducts product evaluations, and certifies products meetings those standards. Green Seal meets the criteria of ISO 14020 and 14024, the environmental standards for eco-labeling set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Green Seal's environmental standards for paints, household cleaners, and window products date to the mid-1990s, but are still useful baselines.

SCS Environmentally Preferable Product
Scientific Certification Systems has developed a certification program for Environmentally Preferable Products and Services (EPP) such as adhesives and sealants, cabinetry and casework, carpet, doors, flooring, paints, and wall coverings. This program complies with internationally recognized ISO-14000 standards, the U.S. EPA guidelines for environmentally preferable products, and U.S. FTC guidelines for responsible environmental labeling.

Unified Sustainable Textile Standard
Unified Sustainable Textile Standard is an emerging standard. The purpose of the standard is to provide a market-based definition for a Sustainable Textile, establish performance requirements for public health and environment, and address the triple bottom line, economic-environmental-social, throughout the supply chain. The Standard is inclusive, is based on life cycle assessment (LCA) principles, and provides benchmarks for continuous improvement and innovation.

U.S.DA Organic
Rules implementing the U.S. Organic Foods Production Act were finalized in December 2000. The word "organic" on U.S. products means that the ingredients and production methods have been verified by an accredited certification agency as meeting or exceeding U.S.DA standards for organic production. In addition to food, the final rule allows for certification of organically produced fibers such as wool, cotton, and flax. However, the processing of these fibers is not covered by the final rule. Therefore, goods that utilize organic fibers in their manufacture may only be labeled as a "made with..." product; e.g., a cotton shirt labeled "made with organic cotton."

Organic Trade Association
The Organic Trade Association has developed standards for the processing of organic fibers. OTA's organic fiber processing standards, approved January 2004, address all stages of textile processing, from post-harvest handling to wet processing (including bleaching, dyeing, printing), fabrication, product assembly, storage and transportation, pest management, and labeling of finished products. They also include an extensive list of materials permitted for, or prohibited from, use in organic fiber processing under the standards.

The certification process varies based on the organization, but essentially all of them require:

Step 1. Authorization
The applicant provides information to help the organization determine whether certification is even possible. Fees are involved to pay for this process.

Step 2. Data Review
The applicant submits a detailed and confidential disclosure form of the materials and processed involved.

Step 3. Claim Verification
An independent verifying engineer conducts an audit, including an inspection of facilities and suppliers as necessary.

Step 4. Certification
If all of the product claims are substantiated, the organization issues the certification.

Step 5. Monitoring
The certified company submits updated data on a regular basis to the organization to ensure that the certification remains valid.

Related Resource:

Forest Certification Resource Center

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What are the benefits of daylighting for employees?

People love natural light. Subconsciously, unknowingly, we seek out sunlit places and enjoy spending time in natural light. Beyond this desire, however, are some tangible benefits to adding natural daylighting into buildings.

Studies have proven daylighting makes employees more comfortable and productive. Reduced absenteeism, employee satisfaction and higher productivity are all bottom line benefits from the use of natural daylighting. An increase of just 1% in productivity provides enough financial savings to a company to pay their entire energy bill.

In a jointly published study,
Target=new>Greening the Building and the Bottom Line: Increasing Productivity Through Energy-Efficient Design
, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Rocky Mountain Institute describes these benefits in greater detail. This study provides numerous case studies of documented proof of the effects of natural light.

Wal-Mart (to your surprise) has discovered great value in natural daylight. Beyond the energy savings, Wal-Mart discovered an additional benefit. In their Lawrence, Kansas store, they found (possibly by accident) sales in the daylit portion were twice that of the artificially lit portion. They also found the cash registers that extended under the daylit portion rang in twice as many sales as the artificially lit ones. More information is available on the Wal-Mart Web site.

Of course, simply adding windows to a building is not enough, light brings with it potential heat and glare. A good architect knows how to control, diffuse and use light to create a healthy and comfortable indoor environment.

Related Resource:

Energy Use Backgrounder

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Eric Corey Freed teaches the Sustainable Design curriculum at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, Calif. He is currently on the board of directors of Architects, Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility and a committee member of the AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE). Parts of this article have been excerpted from his upcoming book, The Inevitable Architect: A Phase by Phase Guide to Green Building.