Green Building News

Green Building News December 1998

December 29, 1998

New Residence Hall Combines Sustainable Living and Learning

Students at Northland College spent their first semester in a new residence hall built for sustainability. The The new Wendy & Malcolm McLean Environmental Living and Learning Center (ELLC) features energy efficiency, renewable energy and resource efficient materials. A profile of this project appears in the new Showcase section.

Ray Anderson Preaches the Gospel of Green Business

It seems that Ray Anderson is everywhere, pounding the pulpits of sustainability at conferences, seminars and in the media. Despite the genuine risk of over exposure, its useful to mention once more that Ray is making a splash with statements like "I'm a plunderer of the Earth. Someday people like me may be put in jail." As the CEO of Interface, Inc. Anderson has accepted responsibility for his company's past and is committed to making it fully sustainable in the future. This is no small task, since Interface is the world largest producer of carpet tile with 1997 revenues exceeding $1 billion. He credits his epiphany to reading the landmark book by Paul Hawken The Ecology of Commerce.

Making carpet is essentially a chemical manufacturing process. One often stated goal for Interface is to turn off the effluent pipes so that facilities release zero waste. Already Interface has reduced scrap by 60 percent and reduced the amount of nylon (and therefore energy) used in its product. One major innovation has been to move the company away from selling carpet. Instead, they lease floor covering services. Worn tiles are replaced as needed, so the customer is always happy. Once removed Interface recycles the worn tiles into new carpet. Now several of Interface's competitors are offering a similar service. Interface plans to make a factory in California run entirely on solar electricity.

Anderson predicts that sustainability will be the next industrial revolution. Anderson serves on the President's Council on Sustainable Development and the Board of The Natural Step. Ray's story is inspiring. So if you haven't heard it, don't miss him the next time he's in your area. Don't worry, you won't have to wait long.

Global Temperature Sets Record for 1998

If hurricanes, floods and other extreme weather isn't enough to convince nay-sayers that global climate change is real, NASA recently released figures showing that 1998 was the warmest year on record. It surpassed the next warmest year -- 1995 -- by a wide margin even correcting for the influence of the El Nino weather pattern. A recently released NASA report details the temperature measurements. The Christian Science Monitor reports that many experts now believe that any remaining scientific uncertainty is no reason to delay taking action.

Click for a larger version.


December 22, 1998

Energy Information Agency Predicts Energy Future

The Annual Energy Outlook for 1999 has been released by the USDOE's Energy Information Agency. The massive report includes an interesting look at energy demand trends for buildings, transportation and other economic sectors. Among the conclusions:

  • Primary energy use will increase by 27 percent between 1997 and 2020.
  • Electricity is expected to garner a larger share of the energy "pie."
  • Average home size will continue to increase (they aren't big enough now?).
  • Transportation fuel use will continue to be fastest rising component due to lack of new legislative efforts to improve fuel economy standards.
  • Building codes will continue to reduce space heating demand by about 25 percent.
  • The use of natural gas as a heating fuel will grow at a slower rate than energy use overall.
  • End-use demand for biomass energy from sources such as wood, wood wastes, and ethanol will increase by 1.2 percent a year.

The full report includes many more eye-popping conclusions.

--Submitted by Bion Howard, BEST

Experts Predict the End of Cheap Oil

Thinking of energy predictions stirs up memories of a series of articles published in Scientific American back in March 1998. The authors indicate that world oil production will peak sometime in the next decade, shifting the market from abundance to shortage. Other experts suggest that new technologies will unlock new sources.

Green Building Alliance Seeks Director

The Wisconsin Green Building Alliance (WGBA) is looking for a program director to promote the mission of the organization, coordinate with other groups in the state, develop and deliver programs, synthesize technical information, raise funds, manage the membership and more. Based in Madison, Wisconsin, WGBA exists to facilitate and promote the development of ecologically sustainable materials and practices in Wisconsin's built environment. Applications will be accepted until January 15, 1999. Send resumes or request more information from John Imes, Wisconsin Environmental Initiative, 16 N. Carroll Suite 840, Madison, WI 53703, 608-280-0360.


December 15, 1998

Calculate Solar Energy's Pollution Benefits

The USEPA just unveiled a new Web page called the Pollution Prevention Calculator that estimates the amount of pollution you will avoid by using solar energy. Calculations are available for photovoltaics and solar water heating. The calculator is part of the agency's recent solar energy initiative. If you ever wondered why EPA is so involved in energy issues, read Solar Energy and Our Environmental Future by EPA Secretary Carol Browner, in which she articulates the pollution benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy resources.

Perils of PVC

Greenpeace continues their assault on polyvinyl chloride with a recent news release. Their Web site offers more detailed information in two online fact sheets called The Poison Plastic and The Failed Promise of PVC.

California Unveils Power Content Label

Click here to see one you can actually read.

Electric utility deregulation offers the promise that consumers can choose to purchase power from more environmentally-responsible sources. (Of course, they don't actually get to use the electrons they paid for, but that's another story.) But consumers can use their buying power to steer the electric industry toward less harmful generating resources.How can consumers really know that their purchases are supporting green power development? In California, the new Power Content Label developed by the California Energy Commission will identify the power mix much as nutritional labels communicate the number of grams of fat in cookies. The label helps consumers compare the electricity they're buying with the resource mix typical in California. Power marketers are required to send the label in all ads distributed via direct mail ads and the Internet. The marketer must provide quarterly updates. The label is one way that consumers can be sure their message is being heard.


December 8, 1998

Fuel Cells Incentive Available

Small-scale fuel cells are making a move toward the mainstream market. Several companies offer fuel cells with capacities as low as 1.75 KW and prices between $3,000 and $5,000. Although fuel cell technology is well developed, the initial cost of equipment remains a major obstacle. The U.S. Department of Energy is now expanding it's "buydown" to units as small as 5 KW through the Climate Change Fuel Cell Program. About $4 million is available. To qualify, the units must be at least 5 KW and manufactured in the U.S. (Until recently, the program accepted only units that were 100 KW and larger.) The program pays up to one-third the cost of the project, including the fuel cell, delivery, installation and one year of operation. Solicitations are being accepted in two rounds. Round 1 proposals are due on January 15, 1999 and Round 2 proposals are due on April 1, 1999. An application and information package can be downloaded from the USDOE Web site.

City of Ft. Collins Issues RFP for Sustainable Building

The City of Fort Collins, Colorado, has issued a request for proposals for the design and construction of a new 70,000 square feet office building for City staff. A multidisciplinary team approach is being encouraged to achieve a high-performance, environmentally-responsible building. Qualifications of teams submitting proposals must include experience and commitment to whole building performance and sustainable design. Proposals are due January 28, 1999. Copies of the request for proposals are available at the office of the City of Fort Collins Director of Purchasing and Risk Management, 256 West Mountain Avenue, Fort Collins, Colorado, 80521 or by calling 970-221-6775. For more information contact Wendy Irving-Mills.


December 2, 1998

Duct Tape Doesn't Stick to Ducts

Building scientists have a name for the long strips of sticky gray stuff that you wrap around forced air heating and cooling ducts. They call it "temporary tape." Despite almost universal agreement that tape is a poor long-term solution for sealing ducts, there has been little hard data. Tests at the Lawrence Berkeley National Labs are now providing that data. Researchers Max Sherman and Iain Walker tested duct tape with cloth backing and rubber adhesive, along with duct mastic and an aerosol duct sealing system. The conclusions were clear: cloth duct tape failed quickly, while mastic and aerosol lasted much longer. One interesting finding is that tape with plastic backing -- called "packing tape" by the researchers -- performed considerably better than so-called duct tape. The culprit appears to be the rubber adhesive, which loses its grip when exposed to the temperatures typical in forced air heating systems. The researchers point out that they believe it should be possible to improve the adhesive performance. Duct tape with foil backing is currently in testing and, so far, is holding up. You can find more information at the LBL Duct Sealant Longevity site and read a good synopsis of the research that appeared in the July/August 1998 issue of Home Energy Magazine.

Green Building Demonstration in Ann Arbor

If you're in the Ann Arbor Michigan area, you can drop into a unique green building demonstration called the En-House Green Building Demonstration Area. It's located inside the ReUse Center, a 10,000 square foot warehouse that collects and sells used building materials. A full-scale model home and an environmental education center, the En-House teaches people about recycled-content, resource efficient and low toxic building materials. En-House stands for "environmental house."

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