30 December 2008

A tree grows in Brooklyn ... and in Harlem, and in Times Square

Even though the news is mostly bleak in the retail environment -- heck, through the entire monetary ecosystem -- it is heartening to see some sparks of encouraging life at home here in New York City

Here's a little neighborhood shop just opened to cater to a green customer base in Brooklyn.

Here's a big multi-family housing and retail project going up in Harlem -- to be LEED Silver certified.

There's a push to power the giant billboards in Times Square with wind and solar energy.

And Inhabitat says the city has a plan to roll out super-efficient LED street lamps.

You go, Big Apple!

Home center certified in Calif. green biz program

Friedman’s Home Improvement has been certified by the Sonoma Green Business Program for completing requirements to become a Sonoma County Green Business. The retailer's green efforts include passing audits that showed conservation of water, energy, and waste.

The photo above, courtesy of Friedman's, is from the certification ceremony. Pictured: Barry Friedman (Friedman’s Home Improvement), Ben Stone (Sonoma County Economic Development Board), and Jim Lynch (Sonoma Index-Tribune) .

Blogger blunders; BioBag bothered

In a recent post I made on Perf GoGreen's new products, I used the word "bio-bag" in the headline. I meant that as a generic term, not knowing that a competitor exists called "BioBag." I got a comment to the original post asking me to please not confuse the products. That seems fair enough to me.

So let me apologize to BioBag. I didn't mean to muddy the waters or mix up products. Sorry for the confusion.

22 December 2008

USGBC lauds green homebuilders

The U.S. Green Building Council sent me an e-mail message featuring the winners of its first-ever Green Homebuilder’s Day, which was an event at the 2008 Greenbuild International Conference & Expo in Boston. There's a video link on this page, too. It included an awards ceremony, and while I would have linked to a list of winners, the only list I have came in the e-mail. Here they are:

Outstanding Multi-Family Project: Avesta Housing’s Pearl Place Development in Portland, Maine. Pearl Place provides 60 LEED-certified affordable housing rental units.

Innovative Project: Bazzani Associates for the innovative water efficiency efforts at its project at 4057 Ronalds Road in Dorr, Michigan.

Outstanding Custom Project (Single Family): Live Green, Live Smart's Sustainable House, built in Minnetonka, Minn. The project transformed an existing 1940s era single family home into a model of sustainability.

Outstanding Production Builder: Artistic Homes in New Mexico. The builder is committed to certifying 100 percent of its projects through LEED for Homes, and has already certified 89 projects to date.

Outstanding Affordable Project: Gish Apartments, built by First Community Housing in San Jose, Calif., a 35-unit, transit-oriented family apartment complex, with 13 of the units set aside for residents with developmental disabilities. Residents have access to a computer learning center and are provided with services tailored to support low income families, such as financial literacy training, computer literacy and after-school programs. 

Pilot Builder Award: Taggart Construction of Freeport, Maine, contributed greatly to the development of the LEED for Homes Pilot program. The firm's work included the first LEED for Homes project certified in the country. Additionally, Taggart Construction president Peter Taggart has been instrumental in promoting the LEED for Homes program, not only as a builder but also as a local advocate.

Outstanding Program Contribution: Habitat for Humanity International was recognized this year for its commitment to the LEED for Homes program. Along with its affiliates, Habitat has brought more than 40 affordable LEED certified homes to families nationwide. As of today, over 80 Habitat homes are registered for LEED certification.

18 December 2008

New professional association launched

The new Institute of Green Professionals launched a Web site on Dec. 2. According to the site,
The Institute of Green Professionals (IGP) is an independent, professional, education, credentialing, research and philanthropic “social enterprise” organization for sustainable development professionals and academics.

The association is offering several categories of designations for members and associates, as well as courses in Sustainable Development Literacy; Sustainable Architecture; Best Practices in Managing and Measuring Corporate Social, Environmental, and Economic Impacts; and more. The president is Grant Austin, an adjunct professor at Florida Atlantic University.

Green products link

Green Building News just e-mailed me their new products page. Some halfway interesting items there.

Shopping cart handle guards: Recyclable health aid or greenwashed paper waster?

I got a press release about a new recyclable biodegradable protector for shopping cart handles. The "Kart-Smart" is a barrier that claims to protect from bacteria and viruses. It goes on and off at the store, and it can be printed with advertising messages.

The idea is that shopping carts are way too dirty and unhealthy, and you need to protect your customers. But is it really true? Are shopping carts so dirty that you should take special measures to not touch them? I was not convinced by Kart-Smart's link to this 2002 TV news story about shopping carts used by homeless people being mixed back into general usage without cleaning. I mean, come on, what's the chance that the cart I use at my local store was used last by a homeless person? And never cleaned?

But this link, to Snopes.com, is more convincing. I actually trust Snopes to give me the real truth. And Snopes says:
Claim: Handles of shopping carts are laden with germs. Status: True. ... The very folks that fuss with disposable toilet seat covers often won't think twice about manhandling a grocery cart around a store for half an hour, even though the surface they're hanging onto so fiercely for that interval has likely been coughed on, sneezed on, and grasped by shoppers who'd just finished handling packages of raw chicken and meat, or who just weren't the sort to wash their hands all that often. As for the fold-out child's seat found in most carts, even though it is routinely graced by the diapered bottoms of infants, it remains the cart's transport region of choice for fruits and vegetables, items that are often eaten uncooked or unwashed.

So what's a retailer to do? Maybe this disposable handle cover is a good solution. But that does nothing to protect the seat, which, like Snopes says, is home to both poopy baby butts and delicate produce. Consumers have recourse to products like this, this, and this. But what are retailers to do?

Some states require retailers to offer sanitizing wipes. Some stores use cart-washing systems -- some are even somewhat green.

Then again, I could not help but feel myself side with the doctor in this USA Today article who said, "We're too overzealous about avoiding all forms of bacteria as a society today."

17 December 2008

Remodeling association launches green Web site

NARI has launched a new green remodeling site called, appropriately enough, NARI Green. Check it out at greenremodeling.org. Featured articles include Hiring a Green Building Professional, Let the Sun Shine In, and Green Remodeling 101.

Perf offers new bio-bag products

I've blogged about Perf Go Green and its biodegradable shopping bags before. Now the company is offering a wider range of plastic bag products, including kitchen garbage bags, "doggie duty" bags, and more.

According to the company, the new bags are available at Walgreens, CVS, Amazon.com and Drugstore.com. Its bags are now FDA food-contact compliant, and the company will launch food storage and checkout bags beginning in 2009.

New online tool cuts catalog waste

I got an interesting e-mail message from Betsy Scherzer, a public relations person, commenting on catalog waste. She writes, "Michael, in the past two weeks I’ve received five duplicate catalogs from Crate Barrel – not to mention dozens of other duplicate catalogs from other major retailers. While I actually enjoy receiving some catalogs, I HATE seeing the WASTE by sending two in the same day or dozens of duplicates all in a given month."

She suggests an online tool to help ensure that you don't get duplicate copies of catalogs. Retailers can use a new IT solution to prevent duplicate mailings, mis-addressed mailings, and bogus online requests. This tool is Melissa Data's NCOALink SmartMover. This Web service tool lets businesses and mail houses keep customer lists current by matching them to the weekly updated USPS NCOALink change-of-address file.

Betsy also offers some factoids to help keep you awake at night worrying about catalog waste:
  • Over eight million tons of trees are consumed each year in the production of paper catalogs.
  • Nearly half of the planet’s original forest cover is gone today. Forests have effectively disappeared in 25 countries, and another 29 have lost more than 90 percent of their forest cover.
  • Deforestation contributes 20 percent to 25 percent of all carbon pollution, causing global climate change.
  • More than one billion people living in extreme poverty around the world depend on forests for their livelihoods.
  • There are other significant environmental effects from the catalog cycle. The production and disposal of direct mail alone consumes more energy than three million cars.
  • The manufacturing, distribution, collection and disposal of catalogs generates global warming gases as well as air and water pollution. Reducing the number of unwanted catalogs that are mailed will help the environment.
Food for thought as we lug pounds and pounds of paper mail from our mailboxes to our homes.

05 December 2008

Is it green? - revisited

I've blogged about the argument over whether eco-friendy McMansions built a long car-commute from work can be called green at all. Here's a great article from Sustainable Industries that takes a look at the different sides in the debate. In regard to the new LEED and NAHB standards, the article says:
LEED-ND awards as many as 10 points for building in “preferred locations” such as on infill sites; another eight points for encouraging less use of cars; and points for bike networks, proximity to jobs, schools and other services. ... The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) is also developing a green building standard. According to Kevin Morrow, program manager for green building standards there, saying that a home constructed on a cul-de-sac is not green is a specious argument. ... Much like LEED-ND, NAHB’s standard offers points for building on infill, for repurposing abandoned or decaying suburban developments such as failing malls or so-called “greyfields,” or building on brownfield sites. There are also points for adding walkways, bike paths and other urban-focused development patterns.

Check out the entire article.

03 December 2008

How will the recession hit the home channel?

Well, seems that we are officially in a recession -- and have been for about a year -- something that's not news to us in the home channel, from retail mom-and-pop hardware stores to large tract builders. But where do we go from here?

Leanne Tobias of GreenBiz.com thinks that the government can spend us out of the recession, and if the Feds are going shopping, might as well get them to buy green. I think that may be a help, sure, but compared to the billions and trillions of greenbacks being juggled and dropped all over Wall Street, I have to wonder if requiring the government to put Energy Star fridges and air conditioners in office buildings is really going to solve our problems.

Besides, what about housing?

If money is short and you always wanted to live in a hobbit-hole, there's a $5,000 option for you (photo, above right). This earth-sheltered house, designed by an artist in Wales, England, "was built with maximum regard for the environment and by reciprocation gives us a unique opportunity to live close to nature." All for about "1000-1500 man hours and £3000."

If you do not want to build-it-yourself, the optimism of the folks behind the $100K house is refreshing. This is an effort to create affordable green housing in urban Philadephia, and the brains behind the work, Nic Darling, sees reason to keep hope alive:
I may be crazy, overly optimistic or both, but I don’t think we are screwed. In fact, I think we are in one of the best positions possible at this time and place. The real estate market in Philly, while down, has remained fairly strong compared to the smoking craters that have replaced housing markets in many other parts of the country. It has been particularly good for houses selling under $300,000 and that is right in our wheelhouse. ... In addition, we have seen an increase in consumer knowledge regarding the real costs of home ownership. Maintenance, taxes and utilities have finally (we hope) become a part of a home buyer’s consideration. Rather than simply looking at the monthly payment, people are starting to consider the total expense of home ownership, and this bodes well for homes like ours. Our houses will require less maintenance, use half of the utilities (compared to a code built home) and offer a ten year tax abatement (can you say $75 a year in taxes?). They are simply less expensive homes to own. ... People also seem more and more willing to pay for green.

The 100K house may not be as elfin and fey as the 5K earth-sheltered house, but the former is LEED Platinum rated, and it features indoor plumbing and a bathroom, so it has that going for it. Which is nice.

But what about that recession? The conventional wisdom holds that luxury properties will still do well -- and my cousin, who sells and installs very high-end millwork in upstate New York, says he's doing okay. That seems to give anecdotal weight to what the conventionally wise think. To the extent that the wealthy also are looking for green products, there may well be a sweet spot there.

And if Nic Darling is on to something, there's another opportunity for affordable green housing, in addition to the high-end projects. I hope he's right.

02 December 2008

New chemical ingredient will make paint greener

Chemical and coatings company Rohm and Haas has a new binder on the market. This product, Rhoplex™ VSR-2015 Versatile Sheen Resin, offers several eco-friendly acvantages:
Rhoplex™ VSR-2015 resin is low-solvent capable, contains no APEO (alkyl phenol ethoxylate) surfactants, and is low in ammonia odor. It provides excellent flow, leveling, and applications properties as well as excellent scrub, alkali, and efflorescence resistance.

01 December 2008

Dreamin' of a Green Christmas

The Money Pit has a good article on energy efficient outdoor lights. LED decorations and fiber-optic trees feature prominently in the article's advice.


Update 4 Dec 08: A reader -- okay, my wife! -- sends in a link to the Better Business Bureau's tips for a greener Christmas. Thanks, sweetie!