25 November 2009

What's coming out of Copenhagen for the home improvement industry

Dec. 7 sees the start of the U.N. Climate Change Conference, the biggest gathering of world leaders addressing eco-issues since the meeting at Kyoto, Japan, 12 years ago.

Despite a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade bill that passed the House this summer, Senate heel-draggers have denied the president the signed legislation he had hoped to bring to Copenhagen. Resolved not to repeat Bill Clinton's mistakes in Kyoto (Clinton signed the Kyoto Protocol but could not get it ratified by Congress), Obama has signalled that he does not expect a formal treaty to emerge out of Copenhagen -- he won't seek a treaty until he has a signed law in hand.

So what does that have to do with home improvement? Well, Obama won't want to leave Copenhagen empty-handed, so he'll focus on other areas of agreement. For example, check out this Nov. 17 Energy Department press release boasting of areas of agreement with China:
The two Presidents announced the launch of a new U.S.-China Energy Efficiency Action Plan.  Under the new plan, the two countries will work together to improve the energy efficiency of buildings, industrial facilities, and consumer appliances.
There's more here

So the government may soon be pushing tighter building standards and electricity-stingy appliances. The point is that as we see more emphasis on energy efficiency initiatives coming out of Copenhagen, like this one with China, there will be more opportunities for green retailers and builders.

Update: President Obama today confirmed that he will attend the Copenhagen meeting. I don't think he'd be going if he didn't think there was a reason to do so.

17 November 2009

Explosion of expos

The local home show has long been a staple of home improvement professionals at convention centers around the country. I bought my first ladder at a home show, myself. But there is a new, eco-friendly twist to the phenomenon: the green expo. More and more of these are popping up. Consider these events, to pick a few:
If you are thinking about exhibiting at one of these events, whether a trade show or a home show, your cred goes up if you keep your own booth as environmentally friendly as your product. To that end, here's some advice for attending green shows:
  • Make sure give-aways are actually likely to be useful, and make them from recycled materials. Use canvas bags, not plastic.
  • Give out information on CDs or flash drives. If you have to use paper, use recycled paper and avoid coatings that are hard to recycle.
  • Design your booth components to be reusable and recyclable.
And in the Do-As-I-Say-Not-As-I-Do Department, here's a Web page with the promising title, "Green tips for exhibitors" -- but the page offers only this:
For this years show National Funeral Exhibitions will be encouraging exhibitors and suppliers to improve environmental performance. An information sheet giving simple and practical green advice will be distributed to all exhibitors.
Translation: Nope, no info online, but we have eco-tips for you printed on dead trees. Epic Fail, as the kiddies say.

Photo hat tip: Alternative Consumer.

13 November 2009

Boulder, Colo., eco-home center changes hands

Ellie's Eco Home Store, formerly a subsidiary of Eco Products, has been acquired by Steve Savage, a former president of Eco-Products, according to a report in the Boulder County Business Report. Both companies are based in Boulder, Colo.

12 November 2009

Contractors emphasize construction waste management

A new survey of contractors reveals that managing construction waste is the second-most important green practice to these building pros. The report from McGraw Hill Construction, highlighted in a McGraw Hill press release, included these results:
  • By 2013, McGraw-Hill Construction projects that the green building market will be up to 25 percent of all new construction starts by value, equating to a $140 billion market.
  • 61 percent of contractors rate waste management plans as the second-most important aspect of green building, just behind energy efficiency.
  • The United States generated 143.5 million tons of building-related construction and demolition debris in 2008, but only 28 percent (40.2 million tons) was reused, recycled or sent to waste-to-energy facilities.
  • The biggest drivers behind sustainable construction waste management practices include client demand (82 percent) and government regulations (81 percent). Competitive advantage (77 percent) and increases in education and awareness (75 percent) are also cited as major influencing factors.   
McGraw Hill is in the business of producing research-driven papers that it then offers for sale. But the company releases choice factoids from the research to whet the appetite of potential customers.

10 November 2009

Denim: the last straw in insulation

I've blogged before about using straw as insulation, and straw construction is still in the news. But Habitat for Humanity is putting an even more unusual organic fiber to use in new houses: denim. The charitable organization has been recruiting college kids in drives to collect used jeans -- for example, in West Virginia, South Dakota, and Kentucky (see photo) -- which are then recycled into insulation. Check out this article on the program in Agweek, and the campaign's official site. And, surprise surprise, the denim drive is co-sponsored by the Cotton Inc. people: good press for cotton companies, and warm houses for the poor. The denim is made into insulation by Bonded Logic.

09 November 2009

The green wave breaks

When you look up from the individual grains of sand -- LEED certification, carbon offsets, Energy Star, recycling -- and you really see the wide beach, you can't help but notice the tide of changing attitudes coming in at last.

I remember when the only environmental issues in retail were those forced on business by activist groups such as PETA and the Rainforest Action Network. Ten years ago, the most controversial environmental issue in home improvement was sustainable forestry, and when Home Depot decided to source products made from certified wood, it was big news -- but retailers had to be harangued into it.

What a difference a recession makes. Businesses are looking for ways to cut costs, and suddenly everyone wants to save the planet, one utility bill at a time. Consumers are looking for ways to save, too, and when a green product offers that, it sells.

But deep in our hindbrains, a couple generations brought up in this post-Silent-Spring culture are not unwilling to look for other reasons to embrace eco-friendly products, now that they cost as much as traditional equivalents. The Lorax has made us more receptive to the idea of being more planet-friendly, and we feel good about our newfound acceptance of green practices and products. A number of research reports say consumers prefer green window cleaners, recycled carpet, and green bug spray -- products that don't save money on electric bills -- so long as they don't cost more at check-out.

And that evolving acceptance has wider ramifications. Take a look at a random sample of news out last week:
  • Information Management Online analyzed the agreement between the U.S. government and Wal-mart to both "start tracking the sustainability profile of their suppliers as well as their products and services." That's $800 billion in products that will now be scrutinized for environmental impact.
  • The Financial Times takes a look at ethical investing in retail and concludes, "What started out in 1984 as a quixotic experiment has now turned into a big business, as investors not only intensify their scrutiny of corporate practice, but step forward to exercise their voice and shape corporate behaviour."
  • Crain's Detroit Business reports on research revealing "80 percent of businesses have taken steps toward sustainability" in southeast Michigan. And if I may be so bold, as goes southeast Michigan, so goes the nation.
  • A commercial real estate company is bragging that its sustainability efforts are equivalent to planting 9 million trees or taking 4,500 cars off the road. For 108 properties, "the estimated total investment to optimize sustainability performance in these properties is about $59 million. Resulting annual savings from the investment will be about $19 million."
The sea change here is that alternative has become mainstream, that yesterday's Greenpeace activists are today's corporate sustainability officers and LEED accredited professionals. Tomorrow, the world.

Photo: green tide by Adamwithoutanyhands, used under a Creative Commons license.

07 November 2009

PPG paper pushes products for LEED points

Paint-maker PPG Industries just released a white paper to help architects, developers, and contractors specify PPG products when seeking LEED (and other green) certifications. Yes, it is basically a big eight-page ad, for example:
As a manufacturer of several national paint brands, PPG has products for all types of interior surfaces that comply with the VOC criteria of Green Seal GS-11, GC-03, and the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), Rule 1113.
When comparing proposed versus baseline energy consumption, fenestration types, u-factor, solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) and visual light transmittance (VLT) are key energy model inputs. PPG manufactures various architectural glasses that meet design objectives and contribute to the environmental performance of an integrated, energy-efficient building envelope.
Duranar and Superl II ULTRA-Cool coatings for roof and side wall metal assemblies are most applicable for this green building practice. ULTRA-Cool coatings contain IR-reflective pigments that reject solar energy and reduce surface temperatures in a palette of climate-appropriate colors.
But I can't sneer at "advertising" too much. There is actually good info here if you are looking for the right product for your green projects. Just make sure you look at the info from PPG's competitors, too.

06 November 2009

Gov't review of pesticides may hit L&G products

The EPA has ordered a new review of a slew of weed killers, some of which (including a widespread one, Atrazine) are used in lawn and garden products. For the science of the issue, check out Chemistry World's report. For two different opinions, there's EPA revisits atrazine - finally and Alarmists unfairly target crucial agricultural tool.

05 November 2009

EPA updates Top 20 Green Retailers list

The EPA has announced its updated Top 20 Retailer Partner Ranking for its Green Power Partnership program. First on the list is Kohl's, with Lowe's coming up in sixth place. According to the EPA:
Top Partner Rankings highlight the annual green power purchases of leading organizations within the United States and across individual industry sectors.
Here's the Reuters article, looking mainly at Kohls.

03 November 2009

Dollars from dachniks?

With housing starts still in the tank, maybe builders should set their sights a little lower ... at the market in dachas, small country homes, and cabins. If anyone has some disposable income in this economy, it may be the dachniks. You can take your inspiration from this survey of five modern cabins from Dwell.