How Green is my Building?

The April 20th, 2008 Sunday New York Time Magazine is called “The Low Carbon Catalog” and contains more challenging thoughts to “green issues” than just lowering the thermostat 2 degrees (although that is buried in there as well).

The short article that caught our eye focused on the role of the LEED program developed by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) in certifying whether a building is green or not. LEED is a system of assigning points based on the guidelines established by USGBC to certify green buildings. If you get 29 points out of 69 – you are LEED accredited (i.e. Green). As you score more points, you can be certified LEED Silver, Gold or Platinum (we assume Bronze was not considered green enough to be awarded).

The article points out that “the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee, known as one of the greenest building in the Midwest, declined certification because of $75,000 in anticipated excess costs.”

It seems to us that LEED is very similar to the old Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award which was a points based system developed to measure quality for a national award. Turns out, it was a very expensive process to implement and administer and most of the winning companies went bankrupt within years of winning the award. Maybe that was not such a good measure of market success. If fact, a comment from an unidentified source in one company that won the award tells it all:

“We did a fantastic job of measuring our customer satisfaction and preparing charts and presentations for the examiners and the application. But I really knew we were going to win when none of the examiners wanted to talk to any of our customers!”

So how does this relate to insulation? Well, we have often argued that there needs to be a scale for products to be rated on in terms of their “Green-ness.” We believe that Cellulose is infinitely more green than fiberglass but according to USGBC you can get basically the same points for insulating the building with whatever material “works.” Although we have not checked, a 2×4 has insulating properties so it might qualify for LEED points when used as insulation. And no, we don’t recommend 2×4’s as an primary insulating material.

The article highlights critics comments that “a $395 bike rack and a multimillion-dollar low-energy A.C. system both get one point. We couldn’t agree more.

Bottom line, there is no easy way to assess the environmental impact of products because there is so much money at stake and market share. Companies will always stress the benefits of their products and minimize the negatives but that is not a bad thing if we hold them up to the light and challenge them to provide the FULL story. That is one of the prime reasons we have set up this blog to allow people to start the process of intelligent discussion on products that are submitted to this blog. So everyone get submitting!

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