At Matarozzi Pelsinger Builders, sustainable building practices are simply one of the standard vehicles we use to arrive at a quality product. Whether we are minimizing construction waste or implementing the most efficient technologies, the goal has always been to construct high-performance, comfortable, and healthy structures for our clients. As people become increasingly aware of the materials and technologies that are going into their homes, so have the corporations that look to profit from them.
“Greenwashing” is a marketing spin used to promote the perception that a company’s policies or products are environmentally friendly. In today’s marketplace, it is difficult to discern between products that are eco-friendly and those that are greenwashing themselves in tub full of your greenbacks. TerraChoice, a consultancy that publishes a periodic report on greenwashing notes that the practice is skyrocketing with the comical aid of false labels and meaningless certifications.
Here's an example of fake eco-logo. TerraChoice was able to purchase this “certification” mark online for $15. It has all of the buzz words and images, but means absolutely nothing.
Nonprofit Management LLC sold phony "Tested Green" labels to product manufacturers for hundreds of dollars a pop claiming the certification was backed by two "independent" firms, both of course owned by Nonprofit Management LLC.
The following list identifies some of the eco-labels and certification programs that are relevant in green building today:
Whole Building Green Certification:
The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is a non-profit organization dedicated to sustainable building design and construction. The USGBC develops and implements the LEED building rating system (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). LEED certifications for a building can range from “Certified” to “Platinum.” No word yet on whether James Cameron’s lobby for an “Unobtainium” rating has been successful. Matarozzi Pelsinger Builders is a proud member of the USGBC and our headquarters in San Francisco achieved LEED-NC Gold certification in 2009.
If LEED certification is the Rolls Royce of whole building rating systems, Green Point Rated is the Prius. Green Point Rated homes tend to have more efficiency, comfort, and market value. Many municipalities in the Bay Area such as Hillsborough, Palo Alto, and Los Altos Hills have mandated that all newly constructed single family homes achieve a Green Point Rated status. The builder is responsible for hiring the certified rater and facilitating the process that will allow him / her to evaluate the home.
Third Party Certifiers:
The Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN) is a non-profit association of third-party certification and labeling organizations founded in 1994 to improve, promote, and develop the eco-labeling of products and services. Two North American members of GEN are:
EcoLogo was founded in 1988 by the Government of Canada and is North America’s largest, most respected environmental standard and certification mark. It provides customers – public, corporate and consumer – with assurance that the products and services bearing the logo meet stringent standards of environmental leadership. Sealants, sealers, caulking compounds, construction films, floor finishes, flooring, water boilers, piping materials, adhesives, paint, insulation, septic tanks, varnishes, and showerheads are amongst the construction products certified by EcoLogo.
Green Seal is the largest non-profit certifier and standards development body for green products in the United States. Since 1989 it has provided independent, objective, and science-based guidance to the marketplace and consumers (not to mention the most cheesy, under-designed eco-label of all the nations). Construction products certified by Green Seal include windows, casements, doors, roof coating, and paint.
Although not a member of GEN, Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) has developed internationally recognized standards and certification programs that verify environmental, sustainability, and quality claims. SCS certifies thousands of home improvement products including but not limited to flooring, paints, laminates, sealants, doors, windows, tile, building décor and furniture.
Resource Efficiency Logos:
WaterSense is a partnership program by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that seeks to help consumers make smart water fixture choices that save money and maintain high environmental standards. Products and services that have earned the WaterSense label have been certified to be at least 20 percent more efficient without sacrificing performance.
According to WaterSense, if one in every 10 homes in the United States were to install certified faucets or faucet accessories in their bathrooms, it could save 6 billion gallons of water per year, and more than $50 million in the energy costs to supply, heat, and treat that water. WaterSense also certifies irrigation controllers, toilets, urinals, homes, and showerheads.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is a non-profit organization that has developed standards and systems for third-party certification of responsible forest management practices. FSC certified forests are audited annually to ensure the absence of biocides, pesticides, and herbicides as well as the replanting of such forests with a diverse set of wood species. FSC certified lumber comes with an approximately 10% premium and an unbroken chain of custody to ensure authenticity. Sadly, close to 50% of FSC certified wood ends up in mainstream lumber supplies due to lack of demand.
Energy Star is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy that evaluates and certifies energy efficient products. Common consumer goods such as appliances, computers, HVAC units, lighting, fans and water heaters bearing the Energy Star logo meet strict efficiency guidelines. In dramatic contrast to run-of-the-mill federal programs, Energy Star certified products have saved Americans nearly $18 billion on their utility bills in 2010 alone (according to Energy Star, of course).
Indoor Air Quality Logos:
EPA studies of human exposure to air pollutants indicate that indoor levels of many pollutants may be 2-5 times, and occasionally, more than 100 times higher than outdoor levels. Toxic off gassing of formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds can occur in a range of construction materials including paint and various flooring options. The State of California’s Environmental Protection Agency developed “California Section 01350,” a standard specification to cover key environmental performance issues related to the selection and handling of building materials. It aims to evaluate and reduce the impact of building materials on indoor air quality and health in buildings. Here are some of the leading institutions that give these materials a seal of approval:
The GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI) has established performance-based standards to define products and processes with low chemical and particle emissions for use indoors. The standards are primarily for building materials, finishes, interior furnishings, furniture, cleaning products and electronic equipment. The standards establish certification procedures including test methods, allowable emission levels, product sample collection and handling, testing type and frequency, as well as program application processes, toxicity limits, and acceptance.
FloorScore® Indoor Air Quality Certification means that a flooring product is independently certified by Scientific Certification Systems to comply with the volatile organic compound emissions criteria of the California Section 01350 Program. Hundreds of resilient flooring materials and their adhesives bear the FloorScore® seal.
In 1992, the Carpet and Rug Institute launched its Green Label program to test carpet, cushions and adhesives to help consumers identify products with very low emissions of VOCs. CRI has recently launched its next series of improvements called Green Label Plus for carpet and adhesives.
Paint and VOCs. The type of paint used in your home plays a large role in the composition of your indoor air quality. To ensure that you are using the proper paint, examine the VOC levels in the product label which are usually defined in g/l (grams per liter). California, and Southern California in particular, have the most stringent standards when it comes to measuring VOC levels in paint. Paint that conforms to the following geographic standards can be labeled as “Low VOC” paint:
Flat: Federal = 250 g/l; California = 100 g/l; Southern California = 50 g/l
Non-flat: Federal = 380 g/l; California = 150 g/l; Southern California = 50 g/l