A caution about green washing

gogreen-montvernonIt seems the word green is being attached to just about everything – from cleaning solutions, to homes, to your favorite TV station. With the popular "greening" of so many facets of our society has come the dubious practice of green washing: people and organizations selectively adopting convenient green elements, labeling the entire effort "green" in their marketing campaigns, and charging high prices for the trendy green label. Green Building is no exception to this trend.

Integrating the environmental and social concerns of the green movement into home building, repairs and retrofits is an extremely complex process requiring a great degree of education, planning, foresight and honesty on the part of the professionals involved. The homeowner should select green building professionals carefully to avoid paying top dollar for a dubious product. Very often, it is the larger contractors who focus on high-end residential building projects, or on low-income housing developments who have the time and capital to stay abreast the changes in this niche market. It is a challenge to find smaller builders and contractors who work on middle-class homes that have had the same resources to educate themselves in green building technologies.

Education Resources

Green building is a well-developed but extremely complex field that rests on a huge body of knowledge and expertise that has been developed through trial and error over the past several decades. It is a constantly evolving field that requires a serious ongoing commitment by its practitioners to stay updated and continually educated. The following are a few helpful resources for homeowners to know about.

LEED for Homes and USGBC Re-Green

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is the most widely recognized authority on green building nation-wide.They are currently developing tools valuable for residential building professionals and homeowners alike.

  • LEED for Homes is a certification system for new home building that was rolled out at the beginning of 2008.It’s a very good thing to know about because this rating system will certainly set the bar for any kind of residential green standards in the future.This program requires the hiring of a LEED Accredited Professional in order certify work done.Certification as a LEED home is a complex undertaking and carries something of a price tag.However, LEED certified homes are recognized nation-wide as showcase green homes.Information can be viewed at www.usgbc.org/LEED/homes/.
  • Re-Green is a great guidebook for general use by homeowners or building professionals.It distills residential green building information for use in home renovation and retrofitting.Re-Green is not a certification, but rather provides best-practice suggestions for a wide range of common projects.This can be downloaded for free at www.regreenprogram.org and is highly recommended reading for a homeowner considering a green renovation.
    • Prioritization is the first step.There are myriad possibilities in selecting what to focus on in your green building project.You must choose whether to focus first on energy savings as opposed to trendy green finishes such as bamboo flooring, or to prioritize energy conservation measures like new windows and upgraded insulation before buying an expensive new furnace.While there are some basic rules of thumb for establishing these priorities, each individual homeowner has different priorities that must be addressed on a case-by-case basis.
    • Integration is the backbone of any green building project.Integration refers both to how a home’s various systems work together, and also to how different sub-contractors dovetail their efforts during the project.To successfully implement green building practices of any kind, the contractor or project manager must be committed to plan and execute the building project very differently than they would a standard non-green building project.In green building, separate systems such as HVAC, windows, foundations, and insulation are no longer treated as individual considerations each handled separately, without reference to one another.As the project progresses, it is necessary that every aspect of the project be managed and coordinated, and that all sub-contractors be educated and their work reviewed while it is being done, to ensure it integrates with and meets the green building standards set forth in the design plan.
    • Durability and Value is another important consideration.You can design a green house with great features, but if it’s not put together well, or isn’t made to last, your time, money and our natural resources have been wasted.Often, cost is the final consideration when makingbuilding choices.However, in green building the bottom line must expand to include value, not just cost.Higher quality products, manufactured and installed with greater care and consciousness, will not only perform better, save more money and energy, but will also stand the test of time.Shopping for value pays itself back in the long run.

Energy Star

This is a program sponsored by the U.S.Department of Energy.The Energy Star program goes beyond identifying efficient appliances.It includes the energy auditing and energy performance certification of homes.While an Energy Star certification does not address several key areas of green building, it’s primary focus is on energy conservation, which is by far the most important area of green building, and is also usually of primary concern to homeowners.Contractors are able to become certified as Energy Star providers.Look for more information at www.energystar.gov .

Green Advantage

There are many small-scale and regional green building certification programs recognized throughout the United States.The Green Advantage program, however, is recognized nation-wide.This certification is fairly easy for building professionals to obtain.While it does not present an in-depth education in green building, it does acquaint participants with the language and broad strokes of green building, enabling builders and sub-contractors to participate intelligently as members of a larger green building team.www.greenadvantage.org

American Lung Association

This organization has a concept called “Health House” that guides builders and homeowners to make building decisions that encourage energy efficiency and also make the indoor air quality in homes healthier.They have assembled a list of “top ten questions to ask your builder” which provides some clear guidance in considering issues of indoor air pollution caused by building materials, molds, radon, improper ventilation, etc.

Project Management

There are countless ways to approach green building projects.Some homeowners simply want to update their homes with recognizable green materials, others wish to retrofit a house’s heating system or perhaps to clean up their indoor air quality.Some want to go all the way and build themselves a certified green showcase home from the ground up.It is important that the homeowner be clear on their own objectives, and select a design team that is fully equipped to meet their goals.

There are a few key attributes to green building projects that are helpful to understand when moving forward.Without attention to these areas, your project will likely be a piecemeal attempt at a green approach, and may run you more money, for less of a result, than you would wish.

It can be a daunting task to embark on a green building project.The decisions about where to start, what is important, and how to implement goals require that we slow down, educate ourselves, and think carefully about our options.This care and deliberation is a hallmark of smart green building.Start the process with this in mind, and do not settle for quick solutions or slick sales pitches that may green wash you out of some other precious green – your money.

Kate’s Professional Certification in Green Building has equipped her with a very broad-based background in all facets of green building from site, water and energy to finishes and indoor air quality.She resides in Boston with her husband.They specialize in energy efficient design and retrofits for New England homes.If you are interested in consulting with Kate for a green project or renovation, she can be reached at rupertbrooke@yahoo.com


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