Green Building: Fad or Fact of Life for the Tile Business?
November 2nd, 2008

November – December 2008

W hen you hear “Green” what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? If you’re like most Americans, you think of the environment and you have definitely been influenced one way or the other. You may have been green-washed into the hype, or you might actually be a seeker of a greener world, but one way or another you have been touched by “Green.”

So, how does this affect us in the tile and stone industry? Do we really have to get prepared for a change in the way we DO things?

Let’s look at an example. There is a respected specification writer at one of America’s Top 5 Green Design Architectural Firms, who has ultimate responsibility for all of the firm’s specifications. Every time he hears green-anything, let alone the “L word” (LEED), he groans, and rolls his eyes! It has been said “he hasn’t acquired a taste for the green Kool-Aid yet.”

In actuality, he is very knowledgeable about green building practice; he is just tired of trying to sort through all the green hype for the facts. Where do you go for the facts, and who verifies something’s greenness? You can’t even trust a good Wiki, let alone a piece of literature from a manufacturer. The fact is there aren’t many good green barometers in this fast paced, “get it now” world, and as a result the consumer choices to be green are limitless and very difficult to verify.

So do you understand all the issues surrounding the green movement? Are you a supporter or a foe? It is becoming increasingly difficult to stay neutral.

The greening of America has introduced itself into every aspect of life. It’s in the products we buy, the education of our children, our buildings, our news, our politics, the cars we drive, and even our homes. How do you wade through all of the issues to know if you are even on the proverbial bandwagon or not?

Long gone are the extremes of left-wing, tree-hugger environmentalist and right-wing, air-polluting, land- gobbling, big-money business. Today we have a media-certified version of a conservationist that allows us to label ourselves as “green” without sacrificing any creature comforts. To top it all off, we are even willing to spend MORE money to be able to label ourselves “concerned about the environment.”

Extremes of Green

So what are the modern day two extremes of green? They come down to our choices and whether they are based on moral or economic factors.

If you are on the moral side of the green fence, you probably recycle, turn off unnecessary lights in your home, and maybe even take shorter showers. We do these things because we have been influenced that wasting natural resources is bad. This moral seed of green was planted in our psyche with the oil embargo crisis of the early 1970’s. The concept of modern recycling efforts was launched at the very first Earth Day April 22, 1970, Greenpeace followed in 1971, and the very first environmental legislation was enacted for clean water, pure air and energy conservation. While there are definitely economics to this personal choice approach to green, for the most part we have always made these green decisions because we want to practice conservation of our natural resources—energy, fuel, air, water and land.

If you’re in ANY sector of the construction industry, you’ll also associate “Green” with the built environment and the economics of building. Consume Less energy = Lower Operating Costs, Less Emissions = Better Air Quality, Water Efficient Faucets and Toilets = Less water wasted, and Less Construction / Remodel Waste = Fewer acres converted to landfills.

Documented efforts to “Green” our buildings started in the late 1980’s with organizations such as the AIA Committee on the Environment 1989 and were furthered by the EPA Energy Star Program 1992 and the USGBC founded in 1993. While these efforts have their roots in the moral decisions of conservation, their growth has definitely been fueled by the continually rising costs of all the natural resources required to construct and operate our buildings. Many a foe of “Green” has “drunk the Kool-Aid” in the belief that their choice will gift them with future economic reprieve.

Throughout history, we have learned that today’s great invention could become the environmental catastrophe of tomorrow. Think of lead paint, asbestos, burning coal, nuclear energy and waste, plastic, clear-cutting forests and so on. There has always been a division between the most cost effective way to manufacture the products we need, and the balance of the earth’s chemistry.

Environmental Choices

Recently, environmental choices have become a daily part of our social structure. This main stream approach has nurtured a new focus on the need to be able to systematically measure different products and process for their greenness. A whole new industry has emerged that is focused on removing the green hype and offering apples to apples third party certification of products.

In the construction industry, the most well known tool for measuring green is the USGBC measurement system called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). As a not for profit group, the USGBC is made up of people from all different views of the green issues. Collectively, as a voice they want to influence the greenness of our built environment.

At first, the focus of the group was on new construction, and it has now grown into specialized programs for schools, hospitals and even homes. Through volunteer lobbying efforts, the group has been able to gain the support of government jurisdictions to adapt the LEED parameters into legislation as either guidelines or in some cases certification. There are many other regional and global types of these organizations all focused on one common goal—making the world greener.

History proves that as public awareness and concern for the environment grows, so does the pressure to create legislation. Our first major federal environmental legislation as a country came in the form of protecting our land with the Forest Reserve Act of 1891. This act allowed the president to set aside land in the public domain. Then with state legislative pressure, congress passed the Air Pollution Control Act in 1955. In the 1960’s, Americans went through a whole new outrage with oil spills and abuse of the earth and its inhabitants.

As a result, the 1970’s saw aggressive legislation from Congress on all sorts of environmental factors including, land, air, water, endangered species and energy. This is also when the Department of Energy was created in 1977. This creation consolidated energy related functions from several federal agencies into a single cabinet-level organization.

For the next two decades, environmental legislation was enhanced and amended. In the 1990’s there was renewed focus on better air quality, more fuel efficient, lower emission vehicles and development of alternative energy. Then came the Energy Policy Act of 1992, which required the Secretary of Energy to set efficiency standards for all new federal buildings and outlined plans to decrease America’s dependency on petroleum. This act was furthered with EPACT of 2005, which tied in significant tax credits for conservation and energy efficiency programs.

Economic Necessity

So what binds together the moral, economic and legislative choices, and keeps today’s “green” from just being the next fad? Many believe that a marriage has been born out of economic necessity, much like the panic of the 1970’s. As a result, we are at the precipice of the true “greening” of our legislation. The environmentalists may have started the race, but manufacturers and retailers have picked up the baton. Corporations and homeowners are concerned and are pushing our government at all levels to become “green”.

Also take a look at the organizations that are relied upon when setting our standards. The American Institute of Architects, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA), the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the U.S. Conference of Mayors have agreed to jointly promote the goal of net zero energy building by 2030. To put that into plain English, the groups that help set our federal standards, design our buildings and pen our guidelines for the amount of electricity we use are pushing for buildings that don’t use ANY energy off of the public grid. Think wind mills and solar panels on every hospital and two story office building.

You think that’s scary? Google the newest federal legislation—the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) signed by President Bush December 21, 2007. This bill was designed to build off of the EPACT of 2005 and further define our environmental goals for the 21st century.

Are you concerned that in your wired-in 24/7 world that you’ve never even heard of this act? Don’t be. Like most of our legislation, the impacts are not felt until long after their implementation. If you actually caught the blip on CNN, you probably remember something about improved vehicle fuel economy and the phase out of the incandescent light bulb. But read deeper—section 422 establishes a net zero-energy goal for all high-performance commercial buildings built after 2025. Currently our commercial buildings use 70% of all the energy consumed in America. We were going to take that to zero in 17 years? With what renewable energy source? Our technologies for harvesting and storing solar and wind energies are in their infancy.

Why Care?

So at this point, you are thinking, “Well that’s a great history lesson, but I’m in the tile business, so why do I care about all the energy stuff?” Let me bring it closer to home. That ASHRAE group and the IESNA and USGBC have joined together to create Standard 189 which, if adopted, will be the first green building standard in the United States. It outlines minimum guidelines for all commercial buildings and major renovations by addressing water efficiency, use of land, air quality, energy and materials and resources. Guess where tile and stone falls? You got it: Materials and Resources with a nod to air quality.

Are you reminiscing on a recent experience or story you’ve heard about a LEED project? Well get ready, this standard is not a rating system like LEED, or even an industry design guide. This is a Government Standard that will be a Certificate-of-Occupancy checklist item for local building code inspectors. That means if Standard 189 is adopted, the GC will have to meet certain minimum “green” standards in order to get a CO on the project. And the building inspectors are there to ensure compliance! How’s that for a light year leap into your projects?

So whether you’re the person that conserves everything, and uses alternative measures to get to work or the person that started out this article wondering why you’re reading about the history of the color green—beware. Green Fad is about to collide with Green Fact, and we’ve got Government Legislation to red tape it together. Has all this reading gotten you thirsty? How about some of that “green Kool-Aid”?

Kirby Davis, CSI, CCTS, CDT, LEED AP, is Senior Architectural Specialist, Dallas and South Central USA, for LATICRETE International, Inc.

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