Green Building News

Green Building News November 1999

November 23, 1999

Will the World Trade Organization Destroy Environmental Initiatives?

With the World Trade Organization's (WTO) meeting in Seattle, the air has been full of accusations and rhetoric about how the international organization can use its clout to override environmental rules and market initiatives. As a glimpse of what may come, they declared "WTO illegal" provisions of the U.S. Endangered Species Act that ban the sale of shrimp caught via trawling methods that kill endangered sea turtles. The U.S. has also revised its clean air rules as a result of WTO decisions. The U.S. government and the American livestock industry received a favorable judgment from the WTO against a European ban on hormone-raised livestock. Having established this pattern, it's seems clear that the WTO will use it's unprecedented power to force a global era of laissez-faire.

The proposed Forest Products Agreement would eliminate all tariffs on wood products and increase logging worldwide. The U.S. ban on raw log exports from Federal lands would violate this agreement. WTO is considering whether product labeling constitutes a barrier to trade. If they do, food could not be labeled "certified organic" and it's likely that certified wood would receive similar treatment.

The last round of WTO negotiations banned governments from considering social, environmental and justice issues when deciding what or from whom to buy. The WTO is already clamping down on local governments' procurement discretion. The European Union and Japan recently challenged a Massachusetts law, which penalizes companies who conduct business in Burma, for violating WTO government procurement rules. Burma is infamous for its slave labor, suppression of democracy, and human rights atrocities. It appears that the consumer movement that brought down the apartheid government of the old South Africa would be impossible under WTO.

Protests and education underway in Seattle hope to bring wider recognition of WTO issues and build a strong counterbalance of "people power."

Hanover House Wins ASHRAE Award

Hanover House has been awarded First Place in the annual ASHRAE Technology Awards in the New Residential Construction category. ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers) makes the award each year to recognize successful applications of innovative design for energy management and indoor air quality. The project is a superinsulated, single family home which gets most of its heating and hot water from the sun. Five years of occupancy data have shown an average usage of 1720 kWh per year for heat and hot water, or the equivalent of about 50 gallons of fuel oil annually. The Hanover House was described in the February 1998 issue of Environmental Building News.

"I'm very pleased that ASHRAE chose to recognize a project which emphasizes the use of clean, renewable energy in a part of the country where many assume that the sun can make little contribution," said Marc Rosenbaum of Energysmiths who designed the project.

Union of Concerned Scientists Seeks Energy Analyst

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) seeks an experienced energy analyst to oversee renewable energy research activities; supervise analysts and consultants; manage research projects; write and edit reports and other materials; and represent UCS in various forums.

UCS's research, technical analyses and advocacy focuses on creating new policies and markets to support renewable energy, nationwide and in specific regions in the US. We are actively involved in the electric utility restructuring debate federally and in key states. Our energy work is carried out in concert with other UCS programs on climate change and transportation designed to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality.

To apply, send a letter and resume by December 3 to Energy Program, Union of Concerned Scientists, 2 Brattle Square, Cambridge, MA 02238 or email to <>.

Grants Available for Advanced Housing Technologies Research

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH) have announced a $1.5-million initiative to develop technologies that will help create a new generation of housing.

The research initiative will support goals of PATH, a federal government and industry partnership established last year by President Clinton to develop, demonstrate and deploy advanced housing technologies to radically improve the quality, durability, energy efficiency, environmental performance and affordability of the nation's housing. Both NSF and PATH each are contributing one-half of the funding for the research effort.

NSF, administrator of the award program, anticipates funding approximately 12 proposals, with awards up to $150,000 for two years, for fundamental engineering research in areas that address PATH concerns. Although collaboration among researchers and partnerships with industry or government laboratories is encouraged, awards are limited to U.S. academic institutions.

Proposed research projects must contribute to advancing two or more of PATH's goals. By 2010, PATH is to

  1. reduce the monthly cost of new housing by 20 percent or more;
  2. improve durability and reduce maintenance cost by 50 percent;
  3. cut the environmental impact and energy use of new housing by 50 percent and reduce energy use in at least 15 million existing homes by 30 percent or more;
  4. reduce the risk of life, injury, and property destruction from natural hazards by at least 10 percent and reduce residential construction work illness and injuries by at least 20 percent.

The research initiative will focus a broad array of engineering sciences and technologies and interdisciplinary activities on the effort. Deadline for submission of proposals is January 27, 2000. You can find all the details in this NSF Program Announcement.

Sprawl Called Number One Environmental Issue in Mid-Atlantic States

A group of Federal agencies brought together to collaborate on regional environmental problems has identified sprawl as their primary target. Uncontrolled growth through development of low-density dwellings and structures on the outskirts of urban and suburban areas can cause changes in land use and landscape characteristics that have significant impacts on environmental quality.

The U.S. Geological Survey hosted high-level agency managers at an October 19th meeting where they formally adopted a Memorandum of Understanding to form the Mid-Atlantic Federal Partners for the Environment. Their purpose is to collaborate on resolving complex environmental issues in the Mid-Atlantic Region.

In addition to urban sprawl, habitat restoration and remediation for the New York/New Jersey Harbor and Hudson River was introduced as a priority by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and received support from the group.

Federal agencies that participated in the MOU signing include the USGS, National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Office of Surface Mining (U.S. Department of the Interior); U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Regions II and III); Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service (U.S. Department of Agriculture), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Marine Fisheries Service (Department of Commerce).

NREL Distributes Renewable Energy Booklet

More and more Americans are getting the power to choose electricity suppliers as the utility industry is deregulated and reorganized. Those energy choices can affect health and well-being for many decades to come. Renewable energy sources -- solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and hydropower -- can provide reliable electricity while reducing environmental concerns. But many Americans don't understand how renewable resources can be harnessed to provide them with a clean, never-ending source of energy. A new 32-page booklet from the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory provides an overview of the opportunities and challenges surrounding the greater use of renewable energy in the United States. Choices for a Brighter Future: Perspectives on Renewable Energy looks at the use of renewable energy in eight regions of the nation, because each area has its own energy needs, electrical system constraints, policy issues, and environmental concerns. The booklet also discusses the implications of the emerging competitive market for electricity and the policy options that would support the use of renewable energy. Choices for a Brighter Future: Perspectives on Renewable Energy, funded by the Department of Energy's Office of Power Technologies, is available free to the public from NREL Document Distribution, 303-275-4363 or

November 10, 1999

Two More Home Improvement Retailers Shun Old Growth

Last month's move by retail giant Home Depot has started to ripple through the industry. Wickes Lumber, the nation's tenth largest home center, announced last week that they would no longer sell products from endangered forests. Environmental News Network reports that Home Base has followed suit. The string of announcements comes under the pressure of a nationwide campaign by the Rainforest Action Network.

David T. Krawczyk, Wickes Inc. president and chief operating officer, said in a company statement: "By the end of 2001, we will phase out purchasing wood products from endangered forests in North America and around the world as we build environmental partnerships that will enhance the effectiveness of our efforts and result in better outcomes for everyone."

Specifier Report for Ceiling-Mounted Light Fixtures Now Available

Typical compact fluorescent light fixtures contain a lamp, ballast, housing and accessories. The interaction of all these components affects the performance of the fixture (technically called a lumenaire). The Lighting Research Center has just issued a new publication in their series of Specifier Reports called Energy Efficient Ceiling Mounted Residential Luminaires. The report provides information about luminaire components and performance parameters, such as lamp life and efficacy, ballast factor, luminaire efficacy, luninaire efficiency and light distribution. LRC staff evaluated 42 hardwired ceiling-mounted residential luminaires that use compact fluorescent and linear fluorecent lamps. They used Lumen Micro lighting software to simulate these luminiares in typical applications, including kitchens and staircases. The report also includes manufacturer-supplied data for 162 luminaires. A PDF version of Specifier Reports: Energy Efficient Ceiling Mounted Residential Luminaires can be downloaded free from the LRC Web site.

Resource Efficient Building Coordinator Position Still Open

Officials at the San Francisco Department of the Environment have extended the deadline for a Resource Efficient Building Coordinator. A source in the department administration said they would "wait for the right person" before filling the position. A short position description appeared in the September issue of Oikos Green Building News. Complete details are available from the Department of Environment at 415-554-6390 or fax 415-554-6393.

L-P Plant Receives EPA Energy-Efficiency Award

Louisiana-Pacific's specialty building products facility in Tomahawk, Wisconsin, has been recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a 1999 Climate Wise Partner Achievement award winner for its progressive efforts in reducing pollution and improving energy efficiency.

Louisiana-Pacific's Tomahawk facility is one of twelve award recipients throughout the United States presented with a Climate Wise Partner Achievement award this year. Companies receiving the award were required to demonstrate excellence in four key areas: leadership, innovation, action planning and the measurement of credible results.

According to Jon Smith, plant manager at L-P's Tomahawk facility, the plant launched multiple process optimization projects drawing from expertise offered through the EPA's Climate Wise program. Modifications to the facility's wood drying equipment cut energy use by 40 percent, an annual cost savings of $94,000, which translates into almost 2,100 metric tons of CO2 each year. Similarly, improvements in the compressed air system saved the company about $5,400 annually. Other projects have included the insulation of the hot pond used for wood defrosting, reductions of waste heat and the redirection of heat generated from biomass to supplement the wood dryer system.

"Climate Wise is pleased to recognize Louisiana-Pacific's Tomahawk facility," said Pam Herman-Milmoe, director of the Climate Wise program. "Their willingness to partner with organizations and look at innovative approaches creates a win-win situation for the environment, economy and the company as a whole."

Climate Wise is a program sponsored by the EPA that helps businesses turn energy efficiency and environmental performance into a corporate asset. Since the programs launch in 1994, more than 530 companies have joined, representing 13 percent of industrial energy use in the U.S. It is estimated that by the end of 2000, Climate Wise companies will reduce carbon dioxide emissions, a major greenhouse gas, by approximately 18 million metric tons whereby saving more than $600 million.

An awards ceremony was held Tuesday, November 2, 1999 at the Grand Hyatt hotel in San Francisco. In addition to Louisiana-Pacific, Essential Foods, Branson Ultrasonics Corp., TXI operations LPD, Engelhard B. Hexcore, Fetzer Vineyards, Ajinomoto USA Inc., Miller Brewing Company, Pratt & Whitney, Bristol Meyers Squibb, Coors Brewing Company, IBM, Bethlehem Steel Corp., and Johnson & Johnson also received Climate Wise Partnership Achievement awards.


November 3, 1999

Sprawl Described in Three-Part Series

Last week, Environmental News Network presented a three-part series on urban sprawl. Part I - To Sprawl or Not to Sprawl introduced and defined the problem. For example, each year sprawl gobbles up 400,000 acres of farmland. That doesn't count the forest, wetlands and other areas lost to highways, strip malls and subdivisions. According to the article, the physical growth of urban areas is out of sync with population growth. For every one percent increase in population, there is a six to 12 percent increase in land consumption. And it's getting worse. This year in Maryland, a one percent rise in population could destroy 25 percent more open space, if the current trend continues.

Part II - Creating Sprawl lays out the causes of sprawl. The Federal government promotes sprawl with housing subsidies and public highway projects. State and local governments often don't stop at promoting sprawl... they mandate it. Zoning rules generally demand minimum lot sizes and require strict separation of residential and commercial uses. Shops, movie theaters, services and even convenience markets are miles away, forcing people to drive their cars for even the smallest errand. Local tax structures that favor sales taxes indirectly encourage retail development as the main method of increasing revenue for local governments. At the same time governments subsidize sprawl. In Oregon, the cost of infrastructure (roads, utilities, schools, etc.) has been pegged at $25,000 per home. The majority of this cost is covered by taxpayers, not developers or new residents.

Part III - Sprawling Solutions describes methods to address the problems. Known as "smart growth" these methods don't intend to stop urban expansion, but rather to channel it. Comprehensive planning at the regional level is the first step. Some communities are considering urban growth boundaries, a successful strategy in Oregon where it was adopted in 1979. Drawing this line on the ground promotes higher-density redevelopment in established old neighborhoods, on vacant lots, and on abandoned (often industrial) sites. Outlying farms, forests, and other habitats are preserved. Infilling of available land with urban areas can take some of the pressure off of undeveloped land. However, there are many obstacles to the development of these so called "brownfields," including financial and regulatory hurdles. When new sites must be developed, town planning can create a mix of uses that's pleasant and reduces auto traffic. Government subsidies must be redirected away from activities that support sprawl to those that protect against it. More government support for multi-family housing, regional mass transit and mixed uses would help. This final installment ends by describing some engaging strategies used in Europe and Asia. While smart growth has gained many important allies, no one knows if these ideas will have the support to shift the powerful forces behind sprawl.

Collins Pine Exemplifies Natural Step

Although ecoforestry may seem like a new concept to some people, Collins Pine has been using sustainable principles since 1930. In the Fall 1999 issue of the Natural Step Newsletter, Collins was featured as an example of system condition three which addresses the direct manipulation of ecosystems. For Collins that means considering the forest works as an ecosystem not just a place to remove timber.

Jim Quinn, CEO of Collins Pine, remarks, "A sustainable forest manager allows the trees to renew themselves. But that is only one part of it. The other side is that while you're managing the forest, you still have a conscious awareness of, and focus on, biological systems and diversity such that you don't take all the trees out at once and deprive everything that lives there of their habitat. So you do a little bit at a time."

The company focuses on the quality of what remains after logging rather than only the quantity of timber logged. The amount of timber harvested never exceeds the rate of tree growth. River corridors are protected. Road building is done carefully to minimize erosion. This philosophy and methodology has left the company with more standing trees now than when they bought the land.

Good stewardship doesn't stop in the forest. Collins has reduced water usage by 2 million gallons/year in their mills. They now reuse condensate generated in particleboard production to supply boilers. Preventative maintenance on 80 steam traps saves more than 90 percent of the water used from ending up as wastewater and has ultimately led to a cost savings of $25,000 a year. They learned how to recycle 100 percent of the sander dust from particleboard production, which reduces their annual timber purchases by 14,000 board feet and saves the company roughly $525,000 a year.

BP Amoco Unveils PV-powered Gas Station

Bobby Fletcher's Amoco station in Olney, Maryland is a working demonstration of how the sun can power today's businesses. At a Grand Opening ceremony today, an array of solar modules atop the pump island canopy was officially connected to the station's regular power supply. The solar array will contribute directly to the station's bottom line by reducing Fletcher's monthly electric bill. The "thin film" solar modules at the station generate up to six kilowatts of electricity, enough to light the inside of the store and run some of the store equipment. The solar modules, manufactured by BP Solarex, are part of a BP Amoco project aimed at demonstrating real-world applications of solar electricity and how businesses and residences alike can benefit from solar power.

At the grand opening, BP Amoco announced it will sponsor an education program in Maryland intended to improve students' understanding of solar energy. Working with the Maryland Energy Administration and BP Solarex, the company will help fund a permanent solar energy demonstration program at six elementary and middle schools. Each school will receive and have installed a solar array and a solar electric meter. And, in an effort to further promote solar energy education, a special solar energy classroom curriculum designed by BP Solarex will be made available to schools statewide.

Open Plan Maximizes Natural Light

The writers and editors at Brann Bau moved from a stuffy suburban office to a stunning downtown location with lots of natural light. The project is described in The Write Stuff in the September issues of ISmagazine.

Photovoltaic Cell Achieves 32 Percent Efficiency

A solar cell that can convert sunlight to electricity at a record-setting 32 percent efficiency has been developed by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Spectrolab. The high efficiency makes the cells attractive for use in solar concentrator systems on Earth.

Spectrolab of Sylmar, Calif., "grew" the record-setting solar cell. After processing by NREL, the photovoltaic cell was measured this month at an efficiency of 32.3 percent at the laboratory's Solar Energy Research Facility. The efficiency of a solar cell is the percentage of sunlight it converts to electricity.

This high rate of converting sunlight to electricity has made the gallium indium phosphide on gallium arsenide multi-junction design valuable for powering space satellites, the primary market for this type of solar cell. The record-setting efficiency gained by adding an active germanium junction could help bring these high-powered solar cells down to Earth. "Multi-junction solar cells have made a major impact on the cost effectiveness and revenue-generating capabilities of high-power space satellites over the past five years and we expect them to have a similar impact on the terrestrial photovoltaics industry," said Dr. David Lillington of Spectrolab.

The high-efficiency cells are well suited for concentrator systems that use relatively inexpensive lenses or mirrors to focus sunlight on the photovoltaics, reducing cost by reducing the number of cells and the area needed to produce a required amount of electricity.

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