Materials andreyutzu

Published on July 17th, 2008 | by Joel Bittle

14

How Not to Greenwash Your Building Product

Whether you are developing a new green building product or have recently discovered that the product you have been selling for years satisfies green building program requirements, there comes a point where you must state on your literature which green building (probably LEED) credits your product satisfies or contributes to. It is at this point that usually honest businesses declare their products greener than they really are, crossing the line from green to greenwashing in order to reach the widest green market. Maybe you didn’t understand the requirements for the individual credits. Maybe someone told you to declare as many credits as you possibly could and let the LEED auditors sort them out. Maybe you’re just throwing everything that could conceivably be green against the wall to see what sticks. What you have done is greenwashed your product, which may have been green enough to begin with. But once you greenwashed it, you’ve sent a message that your company a) may not be experienced with green building or b) may not be trustworthy.

Last month I spoke to a representative from a company that claimed to have recycled material in its product, but I couldn’t figure out where this recycled material was supposed to be. The representative couldn’t explain it, and simply said, “It’s up to the LEED auditor working each particular job to determine which credits are satisfied. We just wanted to give ourselves an opportunity to satisfy every point we could.” I tried to tell him I didn’t think that was a good idea at all. It’s unfortunate, because the product in question was not only made from a renewable resource and formaldehyde free, but was one of the few green options in its category, so the greenwashing was completely unnecessary.

When writing out what green building credits your product may satisfy, keep the following in mind:

1. Make sure your product satisfies at least one green building requirement. If your product isn’t green, you’re not going to fool anyone. Do one of two things: 1) Research how to convert your product into one that satisfies green building program requirements, or 2) go back and continue to sell to traditional, non-green builders who still build over 90% of buildings out there. But hurry, that percentage drops every year and soon they’ll be obsolete.

 2. Do not claim credits that do not apply to your product or to the current building project. I see companies break this rule every week. I can’t tell you how many green brochures I’ve read that claimed the product is sturdy enough to qualify for credits for reusing existing materials. That’s great for whoever is rehabbing the building twenty five years from now, but does nothing for the current project. The example I gave above of the company that wanted to list every conceivable credit, even if they were ludicrous, would apply here. If you can’t support with scientific proof that your product qualifies for a certain requirement, don’t include it in your literature.

3. If you are not unique, don’t try to sell yourself as unique. All stainless steel contains recycled material, so don’t try to sell yourself as the only purveyor of recycled stainless steel. In fact, most steel used in building contains recycled material. A few months ago I had Jeff McIntire-Strasburg, the Sustainablogger, over at our kitchen and bath shop when a new countertop product came in that claimed to be green. As the two of us looked over the specs and the brochures illustrated with trees and ponds, neither of us could determine the product’s green-ness. Of course, they claimed they were sturdy enough to be a reused product.  But there was nothing recycled, reclaimed, or renewable about it. It claimed to emit no formaldehyde, which is great, except that no countertop we sell with the exception of laminate emits formaldehyde. And knowing a thing or two about the ore that made up this countertop, I was fairly sure it did more to hurt the environment than help it.

4. Don’t claim that yours is a local product if it’s not harvested/extracted or processed locally. If you are selling in the New York market, having a shipping facility nearby does not make your product local. If your manufacturing facility is nearby but the extraction for the base materials is across the world, simply state that your product may contribute to regional credits within 500 miles of your manufacturing facility, located in such and such town. If both your manufacturing and your extraction are done within 500 miles of your market, shout that one from the rooftops and let every green builder know.

5. No product is a LEED certified product. Or LEED qualified. Or official LEED product. Products are not LEED certified, projects are. So even though you are 100% sure that your product satisfies a LEED requirement, it is still up to the project auditor to determine if it actually does. Use language like “Bob’s Widgets may contribute to LEED credit 2.7…” I’m not sure of the USGBC’s official stance on this, but you might want to replace “may contribute” in that sentence with “have contributed” after your product has actually been used in a LEED project.

6. Your manufacturing practices do not affect LEED credits. While it is perfectly appropriate in your literature to highlight that you use a zero-waste, VOC free, daylit manufacturing facility, only the final product matters when it comes to LEED credits. So don’t cite the credit on reducing waste on the job site and then explain your zero-waste manufacturing process. The energy efficiency of your plant plays no part in the energy efficiency of the new building. This is not to say that your manufacturing practices aren’t extremely important to the environment, and consumers will want to know about them, but the USGBC doesn’t have a way to recognize them in particular green building projects.  For more on this, read Green Cabinets:  When Wood is Good.

7. Don’t sell yourself short. After all these warnings, don’t be hesitant to proclaim your green-ness.  Green builders are interested in every kind of green product out there.  If your company offers many different styles, colors, models, or whatever of the same product, but only one of them contains recycled materials, you have every right to include recycled materials on your LEED sheet, just make sure to explain which one qualifies. An early brochure from Silestone failed to mention that a few of their many colors contained recycled material, so for a long time I didn’t even consider Silestone as a green option. One of their colors even boasts 70% recycled material – their literature should, and now does, boast that as well.  (See the comments below, however, for examples of how Silestone greenwashes on their website LEED sheet.)

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Photo Credit: Andrew C. at Stock.xchng under a Creative Commons License.

ARC Signs E-Recording Deal with Affiliated Computer Services.

Mortgage Line August 11, 2005 Pasadena, CA — Rekon Technologies, a software provider of lien release and reconveyance processing software, said that its sister company, American Release Corp., has signed an agreement with Affiliated Computer Services to electronically record lien releases using the Rekon system. site affiliated computer services

Affiliated Computer Services, a Fortune 500 company with more than 50,000 employees, provides business process and information technology outsourcing solutions to commercial and government clients.

“Electronic recording is the future of our industry,” said Larry Roberts, president of American Release Corp., Branson, Mo.

“Eliminating paper means more than just reducing paperwork. It means reducing or eliminating fat files that ere expensive to store and ship. It means reducing or eliminating the slow response time in recording paper documents, waiting for them to come back in the mail, or being blind-sided by a rejection, weeks after the lien release or reconveyance was mailed to the recorder. With electronic recording, we will know within hours whether or not the lien release was accepted, therefore reducing turnaround time from weeks to days, even hours.” American Release Corp. is an established outsource provider for the mortgage industry. Utilizing the Rekon system, American Release Corp. provides a low-cost alternative for the preparation of lien releases and assignments. affiliatedcomputerservicesnow.net affiliated computer services

“The beauty of the ACS-Rekon e-recording interface is that it provides many reconveyance departments, like ARC’s, the ability to electronically submit documents efficiently and securely, while maintaining their existing lien release paper process,” said Aurora Marsh, executive vice president of Rekon Technologies.

She said users of the Rekon technology can license the software and use it in-house relying upon their own staff, or they can outsource the entire process to ARC, which also uses the Rekon technology.




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  • Craig

    I have to tell you I was absolutely loving this article until you finished it by using one of the worst violators of at least 2 of the rules you gave, as an example of a company doing the right thing.

    Silestone is known as one of the worst greenwashers out there in the countertop market. Review their website and you will notice that they word for word break rule number 4. Regional manufacturing within 500 miles will get you LEED credits. Having Silestone fabricated near your home though the product is manufactured way outside the 500 mile boundary will not get your LEED credits.

    I will now quote Silestone directly from the trade area of their website, according to them the #3 reason you can get LEED credits for using Silestone, (they provide the criteria and then give their explanation)

    “3) Regional Materials 20% Extracted, Processed & Manufactured Regionally = 1 point

    Silestone® countertops are fabricated regionally within 500 miles of a project. Cosentino N.A. has a network of regional fabricators to support your needs.”

    This is an outright vague and misleading explanation claiming that FABRICATION within 500 miles will give you LEED credits.

    Try and find out where Silestone is actually manufactured, good luck, the only address I could find on their website was their Corporate HQ in TX, not a manufacturing facility.

    Directly below that claim they claim using Silestone can get you a LEED credit for using low VOC emitting adhesives. The following text is a recommendation to use a low VOC emmiting adhesive. Grant it Silestone is a low VOC product, but newsflash, the adhesive gets you the LEED credit in this situation, not Silestone. This breaks your rule number 2. Any surfacing material can recommend low VOC adhesives.

    The end all be all of this is that yeah they are doing some good things, but you should have used them as an example at the beginning of your article; “…there comes a point where you must state on your literature which green building (probably LEED) credits your product satisfies or contributes to. It is at this point that usually honest businesses declare their products greener than they really are, crossing the line from green to greenwashing…”

    I hope that my comment does not take away from the importance of your article. The suggestions you give are on the mark and should be headed by any company entering into what should hopefully be a transparent green market. Transparency is the key when it comes to greenwashing and the San Francisco Bay Area has a plethora of innovative green companies responsibly leading the way.

  • Craig

    I have to tell you I was absolutely loving this article until you finished it by using one of the worst violators of at least 2 of the rules you gave, as an example of a company doing the right thing.

    Silestone is known as one of the worst greenwashers out there in the countertop market. Review their website and you will notice that they word for word break rule number 4. Regional manufacturing within 500 miles will get you LEED credits. Having Silestone fabricated near your home though the product is manufactured way outside the 500 mile boundary will not get your LEED credits.

    I will now quote Silestone directly from the trade area of their website, according to them the #3 reason you can get LEED credits for using Silestone, (they provide the criteria and then give their explanation)

    “3) Regional Materials 20% Extracted, Processed & Manufactured Regionally = 1 point

    Silestone® countertops are fabricated regionally within 500 miles of a project. Cosentino N.A. has a network of regional fabricators to support your needs.”

    This is an outright vague and misleading explanation claiming that FABRICATION within 500 miles will give you LEED credits.

    Try and find out where Silestone is actually manufactured, good luck, the only address I could find on their website was their Corporate HQ in TX, not a manufacturing facility.

    Directly below that claim they claim using Silestone can get you a LEED credit for using low VOC emitting adhesives. The following text is a recommendation to use a low VOC emmiting adhesive. Grant it Silestone is a low VOC product, but newsflash, the adhesive gets you the LEED credit in this situation, not Silestone. This breaks your rule number 2. Any surfacing material can recommend low VOC adhesives.

    The end all be all of this is that yeah they are doing some good things, but you should have used them as an example at the beginning of your article; “…there comes a point where you must state on your literature which green building (probably LEED) credits your product satisfies or contributes to. It is at this point that usually honest businesses declare their products greener than they really are, crossing the line from green to greenwashing…”

    I hope that my comment does not take away from the importance of your article. The suggestions you give are on the mark and should be headed by any company entering into what should hopefully be a transparent green market. Transparency is the key when it comes to greenwashing and the San Francisco Bay Area has a plethora of innovative green companies responsibly leading the way.

  • http://www.ccaco.com Clark Griffith

    Joel Bittle writes a very organized and informative article that was a good read and a heads up on greenwashing. Craig, your point is well taken, but kinda bogs down over one detail, and I agree I hope it doesn’t take away from Joel’s overall message. I guess that’s why it’s a point system that occurs at the building level as an additive process.

  • http://www.ccaco.com Clark Griffith

    Joel Bittle writes a very organized and informative article that was a good read and a heads up on greenwashing. Craig, your point is well taken, but kinda bogs down over one detail, and I agree I hope it doesn’t take away from Joel’s overall message. I guess that’s why it’s a point system that occurs at the building level as an additive process.

  • http://stlhomeboy.blogspot.com Joel Bittle

    I’d have to agree with you, Craig. Good find. The examples you gave on Silestone did indeed break the greenwashing rules, though the print list I have on my desk is a bit different. Silestone is manufactured in Spain, not Texas, so I’d like to know if they’ve ever earned the regional credit. I can’t tell you why the website lists adhesives and sealants as a credit they contribute to – perhaps it’s due to the lack of non-wood materials in the EQ Indoor Environmental Quality Section of LEED for New Construction. I’ve even called my local USGBC representative to find out what particular EQ credit surfaces like IceStone, PaperStone, and Silestone contribute to. She didn’t know and told me she’d get back to me. That was months ago.

    For LEED for Homes, such countertops fall under the Environmentally Preferable Products matrix under MR credit 2.2.

    I’m going to reference your comments in the article above. Feel free to send me any more examples you find.

  • http://stlhomeboy.blogspot.com Joel Bittle

    I’d have to agree with you, Craig. Good find. The examples you gave on Silestone did indeed break the greenwashing rules, though the print list I have on my desk is a bit different. Silestone is manufactured in Spain, not Texas, so I’d like to know if they’ve ever earned the regional credit. I can’t tell you why the website lists adhesives and sealants as a credit they contribute to – perhaps it’s due to the lack of non-wood materials in the EQ Indoor Environmental Quality Section of LEED for New Construction. I’ve even called my local USGBC representative to find out what particular EQ credit surfaces like IceStone, PaperStone, and Silestone contribute to. She didn’t know and told me she’d get back to me. That was months ago.

    For LEED for Homes, such countertops fall under the Environmentally Preferable Products matrix under MR credit 2.2.

    I’m going to reference your comments in the article above. Feel free to send me any more examples you find.

  • Pingback: Sky Farms, Green Fire Stations, Carbon Neutral Goals, + Zero Waste Lifestyle | My Blue Planet's News Directory

  • http://www.solarphile.com Bashar

    Great article Craig!

    I have one additional comment to make. When looking at something points-based such as LEED, it’s important to note that beyond simply a “numbers game”, there should be points given to the project based on what is actually applicable. For instance (and this is simply an example), if installing a bike rack gets you a point, and having a green roof gets you 2, then most developers will simply stick the bike rack in, and avoid what would be a MUCH better addition–because it’s cheaper and easier to install.

    This is the biggest setback when it comes to points-based systems – that it sometimes comes down to simple math, when rather there should be consideration for the integrated, logical design of each unique building, and factors such as geographic location and other life cycle assessments should play a crucial part.

    Bashar
    http://www.solarphile.com

  • http://www.solarphile.com Bashar

    Great article Craig!

    I have one additional comment to make. When looking at something points-based such as LEED, it’s important to note that beyond simply a “numbers game”, there should be points given to the project based on what is actually applicable. For instance (and this is simply an example), if installing a bike rack gets you a point, and having a green roof gets you 2, then most developers will simply stick the bike rack in, and avoid what would be a MUCH better addition–because it’s cheaper and easier to install.

    This is the biggest setback when it comes to points-based systems – that it sometimes comes down to simple math, when rather there should be consideration for the integrated, logical design of each unique building, and factors such as geographic location and other life cycle assessments should play a crucial part.

    Bashar
    http://www.solarphile.com

  • Pingback: Seven Ways To Avoid Greenwashing Your Building Products « Norsteel

  • http://www.easywarmfloor.com Easy Warm floor

    Very good article , thank you

  • http://www.easywarmfloor.com Easy Warm floor

    Very good article , thank you

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    • http://www.glennrileymeyers.comorhttp://www.ourgreenstreetsblog.com Glenn Meyers

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