Green Building News

Green Building News December 2003

December 2, 2003

Report Slams Forest Industry Eco-Label

A recent report by the American Lands Alliance (ALA) challenges the truthfulness of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), a program of the American Forest & Paper Association’s (AF&PA).

ALA's 72-page report documents what it calls "glaring differences between what the timber industry says in its advertising and does on the ground." A separate 15-page case study of Sierra Pacific Industries, an SFI-certified company, documents destruction of California’s natural forests by one of the largest privately held timberland owners in North America.

“Consumers have a right to expect truth in labeling, and the SFI label is certified deception. The SFI program is the biggest greenwashing scheme in recent history. SFI-labeled wood and paper are the products of forest destruction. Clearcuts and toxic tree farms are not sustainable healthy forests.” says Randi Spivak, executive director of American Lands Alliance.

The reports claim that SFI certifies practices including the logging of old growth, wilderness areas, endangered species’ habitat and taxpayer-owned public forests. They accuse SFI-certified companies of massive clearcutting and the intensive and repeated spraying of toxic chemicals while at the same time marketing their products as sustainable.

The SFI program was originally launched in response to certification and labeling programs including the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). The SFI program introduced its own label in 2002. Despite recent improvements, the SFI standards are too weak for most environmental groups, progressive businesses and the U.S. Green Building Council. They do not recognize the program or its label as an environmentally credible certification program

Consumers and other decision makers are being targeted by marketing claims in SFI advertising appearing in media outlets ranging from the Wall Street Journal to National Public Radio. Almost fifty wood and paper products companies in North America are now certified as sustainable by the SFI program, and pallets of wood bearing the SFI label are starting to arrive at leading home improvement retailers across the North America.


Domtar Plans FSC Certification

Domtar and World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF-Canada) have signed an agreement on forest management that commits both organizations to work together to ensure the long-term conservation of forests in Canada. Specifically, Domtar has agreed to certify all of its forests and mills to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards, subject to the successful completion of two pilot projects.

“Environmentally conscious consumers demand a choice. They want paper that includes virgin fiber content, but they also want reassurance that this content comes from well-managed, sustainable forests. These same concerns for forest management also apply to forest products,” said Raymond Royer, President and CEO of Domtar. “By adhering to a standard that respects the values of all forest users, including the First Nations, we believe that the public, governments, customers and investors will also see it as a serious commitment to ensure the sustainability of our operations,” added Mr. Royer.

“This is an important day for forest conservation in Canada. Domtar’s commitment to this agreement is significant. It has the potential to more than double the amount of hectares certified under the FSC system in North America, and provides a tremendous boost to WWF’s efforts to ensure the long-term future of the Canadian boreal forest,” said Monte Hummel, President of World Wildlife Fund Canada.

Both Domtar and WWF-Canada say that the FSC brand provides consumers with a much-needed choice for eco-sensitive labeled products. By certifying all its forest operations and mills to FSC standards, Domtar will be in a position to significantly expand its existing line of FSC certified products. Domtar will also be the only paper and forest products company in North America to respond to this growing need by applying FSC certification not only to its forests but to its manufacturing and distribution activities as well.

Founded in 1993, the Forest Stewardship Council is an international non-profit organization. Its members include economic, environmental and social stakeholders. FSC has developed the only forest certification system that is widely recognized by environmental and social organizations. This certification system ensures an independent evaluation of a forest company's practices, according to rigorous, publicly available forest management standards. The Forest Stewardship Council is the only system that verifies claims from the forest all the way to the final product, a process known as "chain-of-custody" certification.


Heat Your Home with Beans

A team of researchers at Purdue University recently refined a method for producing home heating oil from a mixture of soybean oil and conventional fuel oil.

This oil blend, called soybean heating oil, can be used in conventional furnaces without altering existing equipment, said Harry Gibson, professor of agricultural and biological engineering and one of the developers of the process. Two Indiana homeowners started using soybean heating oil in their furnaces last winter, he said.

Soybean heating oil originated as a winning entry submitted by a team of Purdue undergraduates in the 2001 New Uses For Soybeans Student Contest and was further developed by Gibson and colleagues. The Purdue researchers have recently partnered with the Indiana Soybean Board to market this technology.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 8.1 million homes in the United States used fuel oil for heating in 2001, the last year for which figures are available. Of those homes, 6.3 million were located in the Northeast, with the majority of the remaining homes in the Midwest. Replacing just 20 percent of the fuel oil used in 2001 with soybean oil could have potentially saved 1.3 billion gallons of fuel oil, Gibson said.

Adoption of soybean oil as an additive to petroleum-derived heating oil, which currently dominates the home heating oil market, presents strategic, economic and environmental benefits, Gibson said.

"Soybean oil is a renewable, domestic resource," he said. Gibson also said the use of soybeans as an additive in heating oil would be a boon to farmers, likely increasing the demand for their crops.

The addition of domestically produced soybean oil to fuel oil also may help buffer some petroleum price fluctuations, Gibson said.

"This effect could be especially helpful during the winter months when demand for heating oil is usually high," he said.

Unlike standard fuel oil, soybean oil contains no sulfur, and blending soybean oil into standard heating oil decreases sulfur emissions, said Bernie Tao, professor of agricultural and biological engineering.

"The decreased sulfur emission we see with soybean heating oil is a major environmental benefit," he said.

Soybean heating oil is also surprisingly easy to produce.

"Soybean oil comes straight out of the bean," Tao said. "Producing the heating oil blend is a very straightforward process. We were surprised to find that nobody else is making this."

Once the oil is removed from the bean, it goes through a process called degumming, which makes the oil more stable by removing certain compounds. Simply mixing degummed soybean oil with conventional fuel oil makes soybean heating oil, Tao said.

Soybean oil is comparably priced to standard fuel oil, said Nick Vanlaningham, a graduate student in agricultural and biological engineering who helped develop the soybean oil blend.

Over the last four heating seasons, the price of heating oil has ranged from $1 to $1.86 per gallon; over the same time period, the price of soybean oil has ranged from 93 cents to $1.72 per gallon, he said.

While it is possible to burn 100 percent soybean oil, pure soybean oil would not run efficiently in today's furnaces, Vanlaningham said.

"One of our goals is to make a product that runs well with the equipment people already have in their homes," he said. "Homeowners would need to change much of the equipment in their furnaces in order for a 100 percent soybean oil to run well, but a 20 percent blend will run with the equipment they already have."

To run a 20 percent blend, homeowners would need to have a technician adjust the furnace's settings as part of a yearly service, Vanlaningham said. Furnace manufacturers recommend homeowners have their furnaces inspected and adjusted annually, so incorporating the adjustments for soybean heating oil could become part of the standard inspection, he said.

A 20 percent blend is about 2 percent to 3 percent lower in heat content per unit volume than pure fuel oil, but that difference could be balanced by the price stability of soybean oil relative to standard fuel oil, Gibson said.

Despite the advantages soybean heating oil offers, a significant obstacle to its widespread adoption remains.

"The infrastructure for mixing soybean heating oil is not in place yet," Tao said. "But it could be easily put in place. The manufacturers of conventional fuel oil could mix soybean oil in at their facilities, or fuel oil distributors could mix it in on-site."

The researchers remain optimistic that soybean heating oil has the potential to become an important fuel.

"The price of standard fuel oil will continue to rise because it comes from a non-renewable resource that will eventually run out," Tao said. "We need to switch to using renewable sources of energy like biofuels, and soybean heating oil is a good place to start."

The Indiana Soybean Board and the USDA Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems funded this research. FFF/Insta-Pro of Des Moines, Iowa, supplied the soybean oil used in the studies, and Thermo Pride of North Judson, Ind., donated a new research furnace and other equipment to support the program.


Online Videos Introduce High-Performance School Buildings

The Sustainable Buildings Industry Council (SBIC) has produced a series of online videos that introduce the concept of high-performance school buildings. The videos coincide with an unprecedented opportunity to build a new generation of schools: the General Accounting Office projects that 6,000 new K-12 schools will need to be built in America by 2007 in order to accommodate rapidly rising enrollments.

SBIC's online videos are designed to help school districts nationwide ensure that these new schools are healthful, cost effective, and sustainable.

Produced with support from the U.S. Department of Energy's Rebuild America/ EnergySmart Schools program, the videos explain in layman's terms what a high-performance school is (3 characteristics and 16 building blocks), why these schools are valuable to students, teachers, parents, and the community (7 benefits), and how to campaign for them locally.

The videos include case studies of existing high-performance school buildings and highlight some of their benefits, such as:

  • Boosting students' attentiveness, productivity, and test scores by maximizing natural daylight in classrooms. A 1999 study of three public schools concluded that students with the most amount of daylighting in their classrooms progressed 20 percent faster on math tests and 26 percent faster on reading tests in one year than those with the least amount of daylighting.
  • Reducing illnesses and absences by ensuring healthful indoor air quality
  • Protecting the environment through responsible site planning and the use of resource-efficient building methods and materials
  • Paying for themselves over time with lower operating costs than conventional schools. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, school districts can save 30 to 40 percent on utility costs each year with new schools and 20 to 30 percent with renovated schools that are designed and constructed with high-performance strategies. The potential for savings is greater in new schools because inefficiencies can be eliminated right from the start.

The online videos are based on a series of workshops SBIC has presented across the country over the last two years. These workshops covered two areas:

  • How school decision makers and other stakeholders can effectively manage the design process in order to build the highest quality facilities.
  • How architects and engineers can incorporate high-performance strategies into their designs.

"SBIC's online videos are a great introduction to high-performance schools," says Wyndol Fry, president of Wyndol Fry Consulting. "When I was assistant superintendent of plant management for McKinney District in McKinney, Texas, I oversaw the construction of $400 million in school facilities for the past nine years, and I can tell you that Roy Lee Walker Elementary, along with three sister schools, were proud achievements for everyone on our team and for the community. The school design provides over 4,000 square feet of additional instructional space that operates at a lower cost than traditional schools within our district. The teachers are thrilled to be there, and the kids are still excited about the solar energy systems and other 'sustainable' features."


North Carolina Launches Green Builder Program

The new North Carolina Green Builder Program (NCGBP) will be administered by the NC Solar Center with support from the State Energy Office. It will provide participating builders with technical and marketing assistance to create healthy, energy-efficient homes and to convey their value to the home buyer. The NC Green Builder Program Task Force, comprised of builders, architects, energy raters and realtors from across the state, investigated existing programs, created statewide guidelines, and crafted the basis of the NC program.

Homes built under the program must achieve at least a certain number of points from a checklist prepared by the Task Force, but homebuilders will have flexibility as to which of the practices they implement.

The NC Green Builder Program structure consists of a statewide support from the NC Solar Center and several partner organizations throughout the state. This structure will help to maintain green building standards in NC while allowing local communities to meet their local needs. Local partners will include home builder associations, non-profit organizations, cooperative extensions, utilities and municipalities.

The program has set a goal of 3,000 NC Green Builder Program homes by 2009. The NC Solar Center is seeking community partners, improving and maintaining the state guidelines checklist, conducting and reporting research, providing technical assistance, performing consultations and referrals for green builder professionals, offering design reviews, exhibiting the sustainable demonstration house, and creating and delivering marketing.

The first project of the NC Green Builder Program is underway in an urban area of downtown Asheville. It will be an 18-unit green neighborhood named Prospect Terrace .


New Book Shows New Bamboo Architecture and Design

Bambusa guadua, the tropical giant bamboo, is a most versatile and reliable architectural material. Bamboo’s delightful exterior and exotic reputation obscures its oak-like strength. A new book, New Bamboo Architecture and Design, is a color portfolio of contemporary structures and decorative designs demonstrating the appeal of building with this natural material.

This anthology of bamboo construction by different experts showcases projects around the world. Bamboo is beautiful but not so delicate that it cannot be used in commercial structures such as the auditorium-size pavilion built for the Hannover Expo 2000. Here are delightful details and rugged outbuildings that show bamboo as a most natural design element. If you admire bamboo as an architecutral medium, you'll be pleased with this book.


Research Grants Available to Small Businesses

USDOE recently issued its fiscal year 2004 solicitation for its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBTT) programs. Although the solicitations cover a wide range of energy technologies, several grants are being offered through DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). Specifically, EERE is seeking grant applications for research in lighting technologies, energy-efficient membranes, materials for industrial energy systems, sensors and controls, and innovative waste heat recovery methods. EERE is also seeking grant applications for projects to develop new renewable energy sources, including materials and components for solar energy systems, low-head hydropower systems and hydrogen production via electrolysis, using wind or solar photovoltaic systems.

Grant applications are due by January 6, 2004. The USDOE Web site makes available the full SBIR/SBTT solicitation, including all necessary forms and submission requirements. You may also go directly to the EERE solicitation.

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