Being Green – Standards

Hi Folks:  Mark Twain is purported to have said there are three kinds of lies (in increasing order of severity): white lies, damnable lies, and statistics.  As anyone who’s worked with statistics can tell you, it’s important to set your parameters before beginning your analysis or statistics can tell you anything you want.  If, by now, you’re wondering what this has to do with being ‘green’, it’s because I’m alternately amazed and confused on how many ‘green standards’ and ‘green certifications’ there are out there today, with more coming down the pipe all the time.  We have standards for whole buildings, such as R2000/ C2000, LEED, BuiltGreen, BOMA BESt, The Living Building Challenge and others, then there are certifications for specific products, like FSC or ITTO certified wood. There are standards like the California Indoor Air Quality Program or ASHRAE Standard 62 – “Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality”.  The list also includes programs like William McDonough’s Cradle to Cradle certification, but how about Rohner Textil AG’s Climatex Lifestyle compostable upholstery fabric?  Keep in mind these are all just samples of longer lists.  The other issue is that some of these standards are run by governments (LEED for example), others by private companies (Cradle to Cradle), some by industry associations (like BuiltGreen or CPA’s International Testing and Certification Center (ITCC)), and then there are third-party certification companies like Scientific Certification Systems. NGOs like the Rainforest Alliance have created a Certified Xate Initiative (.pdf) in Guatemala’s Mayan Biosphere Reserve to work with the local people regarding the sutainable harvesting of the xate palm.

Despite my allusions at the top of the previous paragraph I’m not suggesting that any of these organizations or companies is out to bilk the public.  What I am saying is that perhaps there are too many standards, and, like statistics, if one is both willing to and capable of navigating this seemingly endless quagmire of paperwork and digital information one can say almost anything about one’s new building.  It’s true that ten years ago one could swing a very wide arc without hitting anyone who’d ever heard of ‘green’ anything, but that has certainly changed.  I don’t want to pick on anybody in particular, but even Wal-Mart is creating their own Sustainable Product Index.  If it works out, great for them, but what does it all mean?  I’m not a ‘certified’ LEED professional, or a professional in the green building field, but I do have three college diplomas and my parents provided me with some level of intelligence.  After several years of researching green building information, I still find it easy to get lost in all of this.  I found three reports recently, one here: USGBC Forest Certification Benchmarks: An Opportunity for Development of Certification Standards for All Building Materials

From the page:

“In our view, the Forest Certification Benchmarks as outlined in the second draft report are still in need of substantial revision. We believe they bring further complication to a process that was already too much so, lack sufficient clarity to allow consistent auditing, and are not likely to provide an incentive for more responsible forest management.  These are problems that we believe must be addressed. But despite these problems we do see a significant opportunity for the USGBC – an opportunity to address an obvious and longstanding need for a certification standard for all materials used in building construction. The current draft, as we outline herein, provides an excellent starting point for this more substantial green building improvement.”

A pdf copy of their draft report is available here: CERTIFICATION OF BUILDING MATERIALS: IMPORTANT OR NOT?

From the report’s introduction:

A constant theme in green building programs of North America is certification of wood. There appears to be a near consensus that “green” credits should only be awarded when it can be demonstrated that any wood used in a structure has been responsibly produced.

The meaning of the term “responsibly produced” varies, but in the forest certification program most often specified in North American green building programs – the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification program – critical elements of responsible production are identified as basic principles and are reflected in program requirements. Among these principles are compliance with laws; operation under a management plan that ensures appropriate protection of flora, fauna, water quality, soil productivity, historic areas, old trees, and more; maintenance of high conservation value forests; attention to indigenous people’s rights and to tenure and use rights and responsibilities; attention to rights of workers and to the well-being of local communities; attention to who receives benefits from the forest, with the objective of ensuring that benefits are not siphoned off by large corporations or others to the detriment of local peoples and communities.

It is time for those involved in the green building movement to seriously consider whether the elements of responsible production are important or not. For example, is it really important that materials used in building construction in North America be sourced such that indigenous people’s rights are protected? Such that workers are fairly paid and that child or slave labor are not used in procuring or processing raw materials? Such that local peoples and communities are not unfairly treated as local resources are extracted for use elsewhere? Such that forests, wildlife, waters, and other aspects of the environment are managed and protected with longterm sustainability in mind? If so, then it is time to ask why such assurances of responsible production, and everything that responsible production has come to mean, are not expected for building materials in general.

If steel used to frame a house is sourced from a mining operation that has obliterated millions of acres of tropical forests, including old-growth forests, over the past decade in accessing the iron ore, is it OK to use that steel in a “green” building? What if that ore was reduced in a blast furnace fueled by charcoal that came from the clearcutting of vast areas of tropical trees and by an industry characterized by the pervasive use of slave labor? Suppose that the cement used in an ICF wall originated in a mining operation known for excessive consumption of energy and ground water, and air and water pollution well beyond international norms. Can that cement be viewed as a green material? What if the aggregate used in making the concrete in that wall came from a river in which extraction of gravel is devastating salmon populations and increasing the incidence of flooding of river communities? Can that be considered a “green” material?

The answer to all of the questions posed above is that today it is a virtual certainty that high environmental impact, high social cost products are routinely finding their way into buildings certified as “green.””

The second site I came across was this one: Do we have too many Sustainability standards? It seems I may not be the only one who thinks so.  And finally: Colonizing Sustainability A worth read.

Anyway, as I mentioned here, recently my wife and I have become more involved with the whole field of ‘social networking’.  I don’t have a Facebook account, but I do have a Twitter profile.  While that’s brought new opportunities and new connections, it’s also greatly expanded the amount of information coming into my life.  I know, I know, don’t click on that link!  But it’s just so easy, and the rewards can be so satisfying…  Anyway, here’s what I’ve come across so far this week:

Okay, a couple of things to add in before I close this out for the week.

First, the 3rd installment of the Greensburg, KS webinar series, presented by the USDOE is being broadcast on Tuesday, January 12, 201o at 12:00-1:30 PM EST.  The webinar is free, but advance registration is necessary.  Second, I came across a few interesting books.  Remember paper?  The first is called, “Confessions of a Radical Industrialist: Profits, People, Purpose – Doing Business by Respecting the Earth“, by Ray C. Anderson and Robin White.  The second is called, “Worldchanging: A Users Guide for the 21st Century“.  Third is a book called, ‘The Smart Growth Manual‘.  There’s also a ‘Smart Growth Online’. site.  They all look interesting.

And finally, something that probably doesn’t seem remotely connected to green building, but in a way, I think it is:  Does DNA Emit Light?

Take care,

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