Green and Greenwashing at PCBC 2009

June 19, 2009

It wasn’t exactly a quite hush that settled over the San Francisco’s Moscone Center for the 50th PCBC convention but the crowds and exhibitors for this annual builders convention came in about one-half of last year. Nonetheless, in this era of minimalism and slimming down the show offered an array of notable speakers and some innovative products. Now of course, with the slogan “The New Age of Innovation” we hoped for more progressive Green products and not just in a marketing sense.

On the creatively intriguing side, we walked into the Icynene Inc. display booth only knowing that they create their Icynene LD-R-50 spray foam insulation partially from Castor oil. Honestly, we didn’t exactly know the origin of Castor oil. Castor oil comes from Castor beans (not true beans from Castor plant) and don’t serve a normal food source, so not food for insulation here. Castor crops don’t require pesticides or fungicides or even water to grow and are rapidly renewable. For this insulation, they use 15 percent castor oil (and unfortunately 85 percent polyglycol, which in our eyes is like using B15 biodiesel. Fifteen percent is better than zero percent but still a long way to go. This product helps eliminate dust, pollen and contains no VOCs as it is water blown. Most traditional cellulose insulation comes from 80% newspaper (up to100% post-consumer recycled) and 20% binders and fire-retardants, commonly borax, boric acid, sulfuric acid, ammonium sulfates and/or other chemical compounds. Smell the goodness.

One of the most disappointing aspects of PCBC would be the continual greenwashing that some organizations and companies wish to convey to the public and trade. The SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) had booth and lots of literature about how they which on the surface seems on the track to be doing the right thing with their Green certification but if you check below the tree cover it might not seem so verdant.

Most Green people would be disillusioned with the fact that SFI finds its roots firmly planted with the lumber companies which of course offers no value. Then they somewhat cleaned up their legitimacy a few years ago by creating third party certification, publicly available standards and a more transparent process.

We met the Director of Green Building for SFI at the PCBC booth where he did the hard sell offering such info that they continue to push the USGBC to include SFI certified wood in the LEED standard. To us, it seems like a lot of lobbying and less to do with the legitimacy of the certification.

When it comes down to it, the SFI wants people to think that they reign superior or even equal to FSC certification but take a look at some of the comparisons where SFI allows:

-use of genetically modified trees

– logging close to rivers and streams that harms water supplies

-use of toxic chemicals while FSC does not allow these in the forests.

And we can go on and on but as they say a picture is worth a thousand words so check out the SFI versus FSC forest land photo courtesy of heartofgreen.

‘nuff said.