Green Building News

Green Building News December 1999

December 22, 1999

Planners Say States Ill-prepared for Growth

The American Planning Association reports that only six states have re-vamped land use regulations to address modern growth pressures.

“Roughly half the states are using planning legislation based on 1920s models,” said Stuart Meck, principal investigator for the APA’s Growing Smart project. These laws group residential, commercial and industrial uses into seperate areas. According to an article on MSNBC, the APA report cites Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Washington state for aggressively addressing land use issues. These states are setting aside open space, planning by watersheds, installing light rail systems and rebuilding blighted nieghborhoods.

DOE, FEMA to Promote Renewables, Efficiency for Disasters

Homes that are energy efficient and capture renewable energy are better able to weather natural disasters. Energy-saving features, such as insulation and air sealing, allow buildings to stay warm longer when gas or electric service is interrupted. Passive solar homes can capture substantial amounts of heat when conditions are right. Homes with renewable energy systems, such as wind generators or photovoltaics, could run essential lights and appliances. Recognizing this advantage, the US Department of Energy and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have agreed to pool their resources to promote these technologies in disaster-prone areas of the United States. The pilot project announced last week will initially focus on two high-risk communities: Wilmington, North Carolina, which is still recovering from devastating floods following Hurricane Floyd, and Oakland, California, which has a high risk of damage from earthquakes

1999 is Second-Warmest Year on Record

The US government realeased more strong evidence that global climate change is taking hold. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) projected last week that 1999 will be the second- warmest year on record, surpassed only by 1998. El Niño last year contributed to the record high temperatures, the cooler ocean conditions in 1999 associated with La Niña helped to reduce what might otherwise have been an even warmer year. Although ocean temperatures were among the lowest of the past decade, they still averaged 15.5 degrees C (59.8 F) or 0.26 degrees C (0.47 F) above the long-term average. Since about 1976, global temperatures have increased at a rate of 0.2 degrees Centigrade per decade. This is consistent with projections by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In 1995, the IPCC concluded that human activities, including the release of greenhouse gases from energy use, were having a noticeable effect on the global climate.

December 15, 1999

TVA Chooses Collins & Aikman Carpeting

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a federally owned and operated electric utility, awarded a seven-year indefinite quantity contract to Collins & Aikman (C&A) to install Powerbond ER3™, environmentally sustainable carpeting in areas such as conference rooms, offices and lobbies.

TVA's selection process focused on the lowest total ownership cost and included consideration for initial price, maintenance/life cycle cost and environmental considerations. The Powerbond ER3 carpet installation program will include both tiled and roll carpet. ER3 features a high-performance backing made from 100-percent recycled content. The carpet is manufactured using a patented closed-loop recycling process.

Since the beginning of the contract, C&A has recycled approximately a million square feet of carpet into new carpet. According to C&A, the environmental benefits include keeping 800,000 lbs. of the used carpet out of the landfill, as well as saving an equivalent amount in the raw materials that would have been used to make virgin carpet, for a total positive net impact of 1.6 million lbs.

C&A's policy is to accept back any product they have manufactured. The company guarantees in writing that it will not landfill or incinerate any carpeting it has reclaimed, and backs ER3 with a 15-year, non-prorated warranty. C&A is also capable of recycling competitors' carpeting products as long as they are similar in composition.

The carpet tiles include C&A's glue-free, RS "peel-and-stick" carpet installation system. This installation system reduces the wet volatile organic compounds (VOC's) to less than 1/20 of the level acceptable under the Carpet Rug & Institute's Green Labeling Program.

Do Urban Growth Boundaries Increase Housing Costs

Urban sprawl has been a hot topic in the media and on the campagn trail. The urban growth boundary -- a key component of the successful Oregon land use planning system -- is often mentioned as one method to combat sprawl. Home Builders Association representatives claim that any limit to the supply of land available for development makes housing less affordable, and they point to Portland, Oregon as a prime example. The group 1000 Friends of Oregon claims to be the citizens' voice for land use planning that protects Oregon's quality of life from the effects of growth. They have a fact sheet, called "Myths & Facts About Oregon’s Urban Growth Boundaries," that addresses the issue.

E-Commerce Reduces Environmental Impact

The emerging Internet economy is producing more than just a business revolution. It is also generating enormous environmental benefits. By reducing the amount of energy and materials consumed by business -- often dramatically -- and increasing overall productivity, the Internet stands to revolutionize the relation between economic growth and the environment, according to a new report by the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions, a non-profit organization outside Washington, D.C., that helps companies and public institutions reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Authors of the report, The Internet Economy and Global Warming: A Scenario of the Impact of E-Commerce on Energy and the Environment, believe the revolution is already manifesting itself as a sudden shift in the country's energy diet. While the economy grew more than 9 percent in 1997 and 1998, energy demand stayed almost flat in spite of very low energy prices. Such gains mark a major departure from recent historical patterns.

"The Internet economy could allow a very different type of growth than we have seen in the past," says Dr. Joseph Romm, lead author and executive director of the Center. "It means there is also a new energy economy that will have profound impacts on not only on the environment, but also economic forecasting." Dr. Romm previously headed the $1 billion energy efficiency and renewables program at the U.S. Department of Energy.

For example, the ratio of building energy per book sold in traditional bookstores versus an on-line retailer is 16 to 1. Internet shopping also uses less energy to get a package to your house. Shipping 10 pounds of packages by overnight air -- the most energy-intensive delivery method -- uses 40 percent less fuel than driving roundtrip to the mall. Small package delivery by route trucks, especially the U.S. Postal Service, that already drives by most homes uses far less energy than individual shoppers driving to malls.

Internet technologies also create greater efficiencies in traditional businesses:

Virtual stores replace retail buildings.

Chain of supply replaces (or at least reduces) warehouse space.

Information products, such as books, newspapers and music, can be sold and distributed in electronic form. The report refers to these products as "dematerialized."

Waste can be slashed by eliminating products that are manufactured but never put into service. For example, computer makers allow consumers to choose components and "build" their preferred model. Auto makers will soon offer similar services.

Home offices reduce the need for commercial building space and slash commuting.

Improvements in general business efficiency make more product with less waste.

The report cites IBM as an example of one company that has already integrated traditional energy efficiency with Internet efficiency to achieve remarkable improvements in energy intensity. As a leader in corporate energy management, IBM is applying technologies such as efficient lights and motors in its office buildings and factories. At the same time, it has had one of the most ambitious programs in corporate America to use laptop computers and other information technologies to allow a significant fraction of its sales and service organizations to work outside IBM's buildings. In addition, the company has been using its electronic network to improve inventory management and production planning, which has allowed it to better utilize existing manufacturing capacity which lowers investment and operating costs. Together, all of these efforts have allowed IBM to reduce corporate energy consumption by 4 percent per year throughout most of the 1990s. Moreover, IBM projects that it will be able to continue reducing energy consumption for the foreseeable future, even as it continues to experience significant growth.

December 8, 1999

Urban Development Sprawling Faster Than Ever

Urban sprawl is gobbling up open space in the 1990s at twice the rate of the previous decade, according to an Agriculture Department report. Between 1992 and 1997, 16 million acres of private farm and forest land were developed -- a rate of 3.2 million acres per year. That figure was only 1.4 million acres per year in the period from 1987 to 1992. These figures appeared in USDA's Natural Resources Inventory, a report on the health of America's private land.

"Conservation challenges are mounting and intensifying more quickly than we are solving them," said Secretary of Agriculture, Dan Glickman. "This report demonstrates that we must redouble our efforts to preserve farm and forest land, reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, and protect wetlands."

Other findings include:

Nearly 2 billion tons of soil is eroding into waterways each year. Despite significant gains in erosion control during the past 15 years, there has been no additional improvement since 1995.

Gross wetland losses have increased to 54,000 acres annually on agricultural land. But wetland preservation efforts, like the Wetland Reserve Program, are helping. Wetland gains are nearly 30,000 acres.

Tree and forest cover in urban areas is declining at an alarming rate. In the Chesapeake Bay region, for example, tree canopy has declined from 51 percent cover to 37 percent in the last 25 years.

Texas, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee and Michigan had the highest sprawl rates. On the other hand, Oregon's ranking dropped to 34th from 27th on the previous report. This despite having one of the top rates of population growth during the 1990s. The 150,400 acres developed in Oregon occurred mostly within zones called "urban growth boundaries" -- areas already designated for expansion. More information about land use planning in the state can be found at the Oregon Land Use Information Center.

Colorado Leads U.S. in Green Home Building

Colorado developers have built more than $1 billion worth of energy-efficient, environmentally-friendly homes in Colorado over the past two years, far more than any other state in the U.S. The Green Builder Program of Colorado designates homes as "Built Green" based on a long checklist that includes many energy efficiency and water conservation features. The Built Green checklist would be useful to anyone trying to gather ideas for their own projects.

To provide quality control, five percent of all homes built under the program are inspected for compliance. Home buyers are provided with a personalized Built Green certificate. Builders enroll for an annual cost of $150 and pay either $20 per home in single builder communities or $50 for single homes. The fee includes a Built Green yard sign. Sponsors pay $500 to join the program. Sponsors offer products which comply with the Built Green Checklist.

Improvements at the White House Save $300K per Year

Off-the-shelf products, such as energy-saving lighting and energy-saving office equipment, installed in the White House office complex are now saving $300,000 per year in energy costs. These installations were part of the "Greening of the White House" project that began shortly after President Clinton came to office.

According to the Department of Energy’s "Greening of the White House" report, energy and environmental efficiency upgrades at the White House complex have saved taxpayers $1.4 million since 1993, and have reduced emissions of harmful greenhouse gases by nearly 845 metric tons of carbon every year, the equivalent to removing 648 cars from our roads for one year.

Several years ago the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology produced a CD-ROM program describing the project. A web version of their Greening of the White House CD-ROM appears on their Web site.

Candy Maker Powers Plant with PVs

Van Melle, a global producer of confectionery products, has just installed a large solar array that will feed into the electrical system that serves its manufacturing facility in Erlanger, Ky. The solar system comprising 714 modules from Siemens Solar Industries is part of a global corporate commitment: a basic tenet of the company's mission is to be "dedicated to reduce the impact on the environment to a sustainable level."

Siemens Solar worked with Utility Power Group of Woodland Hills, Calif., to install the rooftop array. The project was completed November 20th and is generating 44 kW at peak hours, which is then going into the system serving the manufacturing facility and office.

The 120,000 square-foot facility is the third Van Melle manufacturing facility to be powered by solar; others are in Holland and China. The office expansion, built two years prior, already has skylights and light monitors to increase natural lighting as well as a solar thermal system that provides hot water to the office building. Future plans include a wind turbine to be completed in 2000 as an addition to the present renewable energy source.


December 1, 1999

Average Household Energy Consumption Declines, But...

The average U.S. household used 27 percent less energy in 1997 than the average household did in 1978, according to DOE's Energy Information Administration (EIA). But the number of U.S. households increased by 33 percent over that time period, so overall U.S. household energy use has held steady. The decrease in per-household energy consumption is all the more remarkable considering that the size of U.S. housing units has increased markedly in the past two decades. The percentage of homes with 6 or more rooms increased from 41 percent in 1978 to 49 percent in 1997.

Those are just some of the findings from the EIA's report "A Look at Residential Energy Consumption in 1997," released by the EIA last week. It presents the results of the tenth Residential Energy Consumption Survey, which, since 1978, has collected information on household energy consumption, energy expenditures and energy-related household characteristics. Other highlights from "A Look at Residential Energy Consumption in 1997" include:

    The average household spent $1,338 for energy in 1997. Total annual energy expenditures per household were highest in the Northeast ($1,644) and lowest in the West ($1,014).
    • Electricity accounted for 35 percent of all the energy consumed in U.S. households in 1997 compared to 23 percent in 1978. Over the same period, fuel oil and kerosene, as a percentage of total energy consumption, decreased from 21 percent in 1978 to 10 percent in 1997. The share of natural gas and propane remained unchanged.
    • Space heating, which accounted for two-thirds of the total energy consumed in U.S. households in 1978, accounted for only half in 1997. At the same time the proportion of energy consumed to operate appliances, including lights, increased from 17 percent to 27 percent.
    • Much of the increase in energy consumption for operating electrical appliances is due to their proliferation in the typical American household. Between 1978 and 1997, the percent of households using a microwave oven climbed from 8 to 83 percent; dishwashers went from 35 to 50 percent; and personal computers went from non-existent to 35 percent.
    • Movement of the U.S. population over the last several decades is clearly reflected in the age of housing units in 1997 by geographic area. In the South, 36 percent of the housing units were built after 1980 and in the West, 27 percent were built after 1980. In the Northeast and Midwest only about 18 to 20 percent of all housing units were built after 1980. About 30 to 32 percent of housing units in the Northeast and Midwest and only 9 percent of the housing units in the South and West were built before 1940.

A Look at Residential Energy Consumption in 1997 is available as a PDF document (3.7 MB) on the EIA Internet site. Printed copies of the report are available from the U.S Government Printing Office (202-512-1800) or through EIA's National Energy Information Center (202-586-8800).

Training Certifies Sustainable Building Advisors

The Sustainable Building Advisor Certificate Program is a six-month, specialized training program, designed to allow graduates to advise employers or clients on how to improve a building's economic and environmental performance. The course is intended for architects and engineers, tenants and developers, project managers and other building professionals.

The course consists of ten units covering:

  • Sustainable Building Framework
  • Energy Efficiency
  • Lighting
  • Material Use and Specification
  • Water Efficiency
  • Indoor Environmental Quality
  • Siting and Transportation
  • Sustainable Landscape Design
  • Sustainable Construction Site Practices
  • Building Operation and Maintenance

Classes will be held from January 11 - June 24, 2000 on Tuesday nights at Seattle Central Community College, the University of Washington and the Lighting Design Lab. There will also be field trips one Saturday each month. Registration is limited to 25 participants and closes December 10, 1999. A registration form is provided on the web site. Cost for the program is $900, which covers both academic quarters. For more information please contact Michael Boyle at 206-587-4076.

DOE Proposes New Air Conditioning Efficiency Standards

DOE is pressing ahead with new energy efficiency standards for home central air conditioners and heat pumps. The current air conditioner standard is a seasonal energy efficiency rating (SEER) of 10. The new efficiency standards could range from 11-13 SEER, an increase in efficiency of 10 to 30 percent over today's central air conditioners.

Higher minimum efficiency standards for central air conditioners and heat pumps can save significant amounts of energy. For example, increasing the existing minimum efficiency standard for air conditioners and heat pumps by 10 percent to 20 percent would save enough energy over 25 years to supply electricity for up to 26 million homes in the U.S. for one year. In addition to the energy savings, more efficient air conditioners will substantially decrease greenhouse gas emissions linked to global climate change.

In making today's announcement, Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson challenged industry representatives and energy efficiency advocates to reach an agreement similar to the one announced on October 15, which will improve the efficiency of fluorescent lighting in commercial and industrial applications. That agreement, worked out between lamp ballast manufacturers and energy efficiency advocates, marked a turning point in the process by which energy efficiency standards are set.

There is a 75-day public comment period on the advance notice of proposed rulemaking. The Energy Department will host a public workshop in Washington, D.C., on December 9, 1999, to present the results of the analyses and to receive comments in response to the issues listed in the supplementary ANOPR. Participants will include Energy Department staff and all interested parties, including representatives of manufacturers, trade associations, utilities, state energy offices, retailers, and consumer/environmental groups.

The full text of the proposed rulemaking can be found on-line by searching the Federal Register database.

Sustainable Housing Jobs Open in Portland

Sustainable Communities Northwest (SCNW) is now accepting applications for the positions of Project Coordinator and Office Manager. SCNW is a non-profit devoted to promoting socially, ecologically, and economically sustainable communities through affordable housing development in the Portland, Oregon area.

The part-time Project Coordinator will attend to tenant service programs and property development projects. About 20 hours per week will be available at first with the possibility of expansion to a full-time position. The starting salary is $14 per hour. Some of the duties inlcude: Develop and coordinate volunteer-based community gardening and permaculture programs at SCNW's sustainable housing sites. Facilitate partnership-based educational opportunities for tenants and other low-income community members. Manage property improvement projects at housing sites.

A part-time Office Manager position is also available for 20 hours per week with the possibility of expansion to full-time. The salary is $11-12 per hour, depending on experience.

To apply send cover letter, resume, and references by 5:00 p.m. on Friday. December 17, 1999 to Sustainable Communities Northwest, 620 SW Main, Room 236, Portland, OR 97205. For more information, contact SCNW at 503-417-7999 or

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