Green Building News

Green Building News November 2002

November 26, 2002

FSC Comes Under Fire

As the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) prepared for its 3-year General Assembly which started November 24th in Oaxaca, Mexico, the organization came under fire. A report published November 20th by the Rainforest Foundation claims that FSC -- one of the world’s best known environmental and social audit organizations -- has for years been knowingly misleading the public.

The Forest Stewardship Council certifies that wood and paper is produced in an environmentally and socially acceptable way. Wood and paper products on sale worldwide carry the FSC’s seal of approval. The FSC is supported and endorsed by a wide spectrum of environmental and social organizations, as well as the timber industry. The Rainforest Foundation report notes serious flaws in Forest Stewardship Council’s system, and has shown that products labeled with the FSC seal cannot be guaranteed to come from forestry companies that comply with the FSC’s own standards of assessment.

The report includes the results of detailed investigations of the FSC’s activities in Brazil, Canada, Indonesia, Ireland, Malaysia and Thailand and finds that timber companies certified under the FSC system include those that:

  • Have been implicated in gross abuses of human rights, including the torturing and shooting of local people;
  • Are logging in pristine tropical rainforest containing some of the world’s most endangered wildlife species, such as the Sumatran tiger;
  • Have falsely claimed to comply with the FSC’s audit requirements, such as by allowing uncertified wood to be labeled with the FSC seal.

Simon Counsell, Director of the Rainforest Foundation UK and an author of the report said:

    “Some of the companies appointed by the FSC to audit forestry operations are flagrantly disregarding the FSC’s own standards of assessment, and the FSC appears to have been incapable of controlling them. Members of the Forest Stewardship Council, including the World Wide Fund for Nature and Greenpeace, should demand that the abuse of the FSC system, and the resulting deception of the public, is stopped immediately. The FSC General Assembly must take decisive action to control the FSC’s approved audit companies if the public is to have any confidence in the FSC ‘seal of approval’.

The full text of the report is available from the Rainforest Foundation Web site.


Mitsubishi Seeks FSC Certification

Mitsubishi Corporation recently announced a policy endorsing third party certification for all of its forest product operations. Supporting the Forest Stewardship Council's principles (FSC), Chairman Minoru Makihara stated that the company would seek FSC certification of its operations "wherever practical."

"This is more than a simple statement of principle," Makihara said, "We are proceeding to seek FSC certification of the operations of Alberta Pacific Forest Industries, Inc. (ALPAC)." ALPAC is 70 percent owned by Mitsubishi Corporation and operates a pulp mill in Alberta, Canada. With 6 million hectares under its management, ALPAC is currently undergoing a scoping review for FSC certification.

Underscoring Mitsubishi's commitment to the FSC and its certification, Makihara continued, "...We have obtained FSC chain of custody and forest management certifications of our woodchip operation and plantation in Chile, and chain of custody certification for our Paper Business Unit and our Wood Chips and Afforestation Unit in Tokyo."

In a recent speech, Makihara supported the need to promote sustainable development, the rule of law; and called for the rigorous enforcement of environmental laws and standards, and the end of illegal logging.


Comprehensive Sprawl Study Ranks Metro Areas

Metropolitan areas that sprawl more have higher traffic fatality rates, more traffic and poorer air quality than less sprawling areas, according to a study called, Measuring Sprawl and Its Impact, conducted by professors at Rutgers and Cornell universities.

Unlike previous studies, which attempted to evaluate sprawl based on one or two statistics such as density, Measuring Sprawl uses 22 variables to rate metro areas on four different aspects of their development. The “scores” for each factor indicate how badly those regions have sprawled in terms of spreading out housing and population; segregating homes from the activities of daily life; lacking the focus of strong economic and social centers; and building poorly connected street networks.

“For the first time we are able to define sprawl objectively so we can see how it measures up,” said Don Chen, Executive Director of Smart Growth America. "What this study tells us is that sprawl has a direct and negative impact on our everyday lives.”

Among the report’s findings:

  • More Driving. The daily distance driven per person is more than ten miles more in the most sprawling places than in the least sprawling, adding up to 40 more miles of automobile travel each day for a family of four.
  • More Traffic Deaths. The ten most sprawling places average 15 traffic deaths for every 100,000 people, while the least sprawling average 10.7 deaths per 100,000.
  • More Air Pollution. Ozone pollution levels are as much as 41 parts per billion higher in the most sprawling areas, which can mean the difference between safe, “code green” air quality and “code red” air quality.

In addition, the research found sprawl to lack even the one benefit defenders most often attribute to it: lower congestion. People in sprawling areas endure no less traffic-related delay than those in more compact places, but have fewer alternatives in travel routes and modes, the study found.

The report ranks 83 metropolitan areas, accounting for nearly half the country’s population, and finds that Riverside-San Bernardino California is the most sprawling overall. It is followed by Greensboro and Raleigh, both in North Carolina; Atlanta; Greenville, South Carolina; and West Palm Beach. The most sprawling metropolitan area in terms of low-density housing is Knoxville, Tennessee; the place with the poorest mix of homes, jobs, and shops is Raleigh; The place with the weakest centers of activities such as town centers is Vallejo-Fairfield-Napa, California, and the place with the most poorly connected street network is Rochester, New York.

The full report, dozens of metropolitan area fact sheets and a peer-reviewed research paper are all available on Smart Growth America’s Web site.


Stapleton Development Wins International Honor

The Stapleton Redevelopment Project was awarded the prestigious Stockholm Partnerships for Sustainable Cities Award.

Stapleton International Airport served as Denver's municipal airport from 1929 to 1995. In 1989, with the decision to move the airport to the present Denver International Airport site, the citizens of Denver began to plan the next use for the old airport site. Over the next six-years a community vision evolved calling for a new approach to development, a real world example of sustainable development of significant scale.

The guiding principles for Stapleton are embodied in the Stapleton Development Plan, also known as the Green Book. The result of hundreds of community meetings and thousands of volunteer hours, The Green Book describes the three legs, or goals, of sustainability that guide development at Stapleton:

    Economic Opportunity: Develop as a regional center for job creation in diverse fields with an emphasis on new technologies and emerging industries.

    Environmental Responsibility: Demonstrate the economic and community benefits of a long-term commitment to reducing consumption of natural resources and impacts on the natural environment.

    Social Equity: Provide broad access to social, cultural and economic opportunities for all segments of the community.

These goals are being implemented in the first phase of development through the following actions: diversity of housing, an emphasis on the pedestrian and public transportation, energy efficiency, recycling, sustainable building materials, xeriscaping, water conservation, improved indoor air quality, and environmental clean up.

Emerging over three decades on the Stapleton site will be a network of urban villages, employment centers and significant open spaces, all linked by a commitment to the protection of natural resources and the development of human resources.


Bonneville Power Approves Financial Incentives for GFX

The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) has approved the GFX technology for its Conservation and Renewables Discount Program (C&RD). The C&RD gives the GFX a “Deemed Savings” designation and associated wholesale rebates for multi-family housing, single-family home new construction and retrofitted single-family homes. This program offers incentives for approved energy conserving activities to electric utilities that buy electricity from BPA. Retails customers of these electric utilities should contact their local electric utility to take advantage this program.

The GFX (Gravity Film heat eXchanger) fits in standard plumbing systems, replacing a section of vertical drainpipe.  The design consists of standard two-inch to six-inch copper drainpipe with copper supply tubing wrapped around the central pipe. As hot water falls down the vertical section of drainpipe, it clings to the inner wall of the drain as a thin film. The heat from this film is efficiently transferred through the double wall of copper into the cold water that simultaneously flows up through the GFX supply line coils. Between 50 and 85 percent of this heat can be transferred to the cold supply water through the copper without contamination. The heat transfer significantly preheats the incoming water, reduces the workload of any water heater and lowers the amount of energy and money spent to heat water.  

More information on GFX wastewater heat recovery is available from TR Strong Building Systems, or GFX Technology.

Toilets Put to the Test

Results from the extensive testing of 49 of the most popular toilets in the United States were recently released. The objective of the study was to develop information on product performance, water savings reliability and physical characteristics that will assist consumers in evaluating products and making purchase choices.

During the testing, laboratory technicians determined the flushing performance, flush volume, trap diameter, water spot area and other characteristics of each toilet. Flushing performance was tested using a series of floating and sinking sponges and paper to simulate waste loading in the toilet. A Flush Performance Index (FPI), which may be used as a general indication of expected performance, was calculated based on how much material remained in the bowl after flushing. Researchers also measured the flush volumes after the original flappers were replaced with generic replacement flappers.

While most of the tested fixtures were designed to flush at the standard 1.6 gallons per flush, a few had design volumes significantly less than the standard. Testing included gravity, pressure-assist and vacuum-assisted models, as well as a few special models, such as dual-flush, flapperless and air-assist units. The toilets used in the testing are generally available nationwide at large home improvement centers and plumbing supply stores but were selected for their availability on the West Coast.

Flushing toilets is the largest use of water inside most U.S. homes - on average, eighteen gallons of water are used per person, per day. Many water utilities encourage their customers to replace their inefficient toilets with more water-efficient models. However, not all water-efficient toilets have the same flushing performance.

The study also included testing three early-model, low-flow toilets that were known to have performed unsatisfactorily in individual residences. Though the large majority of the new models tested performed better than these three toilets, the study did not establish a minimum acceptable FPI. The Index is useful as an estimate of relative flushing performance of different models, but the results still need to be interpreted with recognition of the differences between actual use and testing protocol, and the associated testing variability. Two units of most major models were tested, and some variation was seen between units of the same model.

Besides flushing performance, when purchasing a toilet consumers may want to consider the persistence of water savings over time, as well as other features. Normal maintenance for most toilets includes flapper replacement every three to five years. Testing results showed increases in water use for some toilet models when the original flapper was replaced by a "universal" replacement flapper such as are widely available in hardware and home improvement stores. Consumers should either use a replacement flapper recommended by their toilet manufacturer, or use the test results to select toilet models where flushing volume is not compromised by the use of a "universal" replacement flapper.

The study included toilets ranging in price from $45 to $450, but price was not a factor in flushing performance. There were both high-and low-priced toilets that displayed satisfactory flushing performance.

The study, called Summary Test Report: Water Closet Performance Testing, was conducting by the NAHB Research Center, in cooperation with Seattle Public Utilities, Seattle, Washington., and the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) of Oakland, California. The report can be downloaded free from the NAHB Research Center Web site.


Nominations Open for National Green Building Awards

Do you know of a good candidate for a National Green Building Award? The awards honor advocates, builders, programs and products in the advancement of the green-home building industry. Six awards in four categories recognize different facets of the residential building community.

    Green Advocate: For any individual who is a champion for the green building industry.

    Green Project of the Year: Affordable, production, and custom/luxury builders that showcase green design and construction techniques in new home construction.

    Green Building Program of the Year: A home builders' association, non-profit, or any other agency with an exemplary green building program.

    Outstanding Green Product Award: Open to exhibitors at the National Green Building Conference, the winner is determined by ballot by conference attendees.


Cool Citizens Fight Global Climate Change

A problem on the scale of global climate change may seem beyond the power of a normal person to tackle. A new publication from Rocky Mountain Institute shows how even one person can make a real contribution to the battle. Written by Richard Heede, Cool Citizens: Everyday Solutions to Climate Change describes how homeowners can lighten their impact on the earth's changing climate by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. Most of the recommendations pay for themselves in reduced energy bills in six years or less, and many in less than two years. Some of the measures save money fast enough to make sense for renters, too. The publication can be downloaded free from the RMI Web site.


Study Shows Straw Bale Construction Cuts Lumber Use in Half

A study by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) shows that a load-bearing straw bale design would require 47 percent less wood that a comparable stick-framed house. Of the several types of straw bale, this type of construction -- where bales support the roof load -- offers the greatest potential for lumber reduction. Other types that use post and beam structures with bales filling in between the posts would use substantially more lumber. The report, Wood Usage in Straw Bale House Construction, is available on the CMHC Web site.


Johns Manville Fiber Glass Insulation Is Now Formaldehyde-Free

Johns Manville has removed formaldehyde from its entire line of fiber glass building insulation for residential and commercial use. All Johns Manville building insulation is now manufactured with a new acrylic thermoset technology that removes Johns Manville insulation as a potential source of formaldehyde in the indoor air environment and eliminates formaldehyde emissions during manufacturing.

The company began a transition away from the conventional formaldehyde binder earlier this year. The new formaldehyde-free product can easily be distinguished from the older material by its naturally white color. Johns Manville insulation is also made with 25 percent recycled fiber glass.


BEES 3.0 Now Available

now more useful than ever in helping to select cost-effective, environmentally-preferable building products. With the release of version 3.0, the program now includes 200 building products with 80 brand-specific listings.

The life cycle assessment is also improved. Twelve environmental impacts are now included in the environmental performance score: global warming, acidification, eutrophication, fossil fuel depletion, indoor air quality, habitat alteration, ozone depletion, water intake, criteria air pollutants, smog, ecological toxicity, and human health.

All regional and local impact scores are now based on new U.S.-specific methods developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And for the first time, the significance of a product's performance is compared to a U.S. "yardstick." This means that scores can now be compared across most building elements (e.g., roof coverings and floor coverings) to see which elements score worst and would benefit most from environmental improvement.

BEES was developed by the NIST Building and Fire Research Laboratory with support from the U.S. EPA Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program. BEES 3.0 can be downloaded free from the NIST Web site.


Xantrex Offers Financing for Renewable Energy Products

Consumers can now get a loan for their new renewable energy system from the same dealer that sells them the hardware. Xantrex Technology, Inc. and Thalman Financial Services recently announced a financing program for customers purchasing renewable energy systems from a Xantrex Certified Dealer.

The Xantrex Financing Program offers flexible payment terms of up to five years for renewable energy systems incorporating Xantrex equipment. Using a web-based tool, a Certified Dealer can quickly submit an application and calculate monthly installments for customers.

"We have introduced this program to make it easier for customers to purchase a renewable energy system," said Pagan MacKay, Manager, Dealer Relations. "It reduces high up-front capital costs and eliminates the hassle of educating conventional financial institutions when applying for a loan."

Xantrex is the first in the renewable energy industry to offer financing for consumer, municipal and commercial customers. According to MacKay, the initiative is part of Xantrex’ ongoing strategy to provide customers with the best resources to purchase a renewable energy with confidence through a Certified Dealer. MacKay adds: "We believe that providing customers with another payment option will encourage them to comfortably move forward with their purchase, while working within their budget restraints."

The application process is straightforward. When a residential, municipal or commercial customer contracts a Certified Dealer for renewable energy system design and installation, they can also apply for the financing program. The dealer will initiate the application, and a Thalman consultant will follow-up with a suitable payment schedule within 48 hours.


Portland to Host International Green Building Conference

The City of Portland, Oregon, will host the 2004 U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) International Conference and Exposition, November 17-19, 2004 at the newly expanded Oregon Convention Center. The exposition is one of the world's largest showcases of leading-edge technology, products and services for the green building industry. The third-annual gathering is expected to draw more than 3,000 attendees ranging from engineers, architects and developers to building owners, facility managers, government agencies, manufacturers, contractors and homebuilders.

"The City of Portland has a national, recognized reputation for green building innovation and outreach, making it a logical choice as the 2004 host city," said USGBC President & CEO, Christine Ervin.

Portland was chosen to host the conference due to its recognized leadership in green building and strong relationship between the USGBC and the City of Portland's Office of Sustainable Development (OSD). In two years, OSD's Green Building Division has helped hundreds of businesses and homeowners implement green building practices through a combination of online and in-person technical assistance, educational workshops and financial incentives.

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