Whether purchasing environmentally friendly or green products is a federal mandate, corporate policy or personal preference, buying them has gotten a little easier to do in the past few years. The range and availability of bona fide green products has increased, and there is more information available to help in the specification.
But problems continue to befuddle the best efforts to buy green. One big problem is the attempt by manufacturers to mislead consumers about a product’s greenness.
Eradicating this misinformation has been the charge of the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC began its effort in earnest in the early 1990s, and its tools were a set of newly drafted guidelines and the threat of litigation. They proved effective — all 37 cases that were brought to the FTC were settled — ridding the market of the most egregious examples of this “greenwash” and sending a message that someone was watching. But misinformation still exists, and some would say the FTC’s effectiveness has waned.
Arthur Weismann, president of Green Seal, an organization that does product and service analysis and certification, says while compliance with FTC guidelines in the marketplace has been pretty good, “it’s definitely not 100 percent today.” But, Weismann says, the FTC and its guidelines have gone about as far as they can go.
Not so, says Michael Italiano, CEO of Institute for Market Transformation to Sustainability. He says the FTC has plenty of power but has let up the pressure and doesn’t follow its own rules. Italiano says that more than 50 percent of the environmental marketing claims pointing to green attributes are misleading. In most cases, the problem is calling a product “green” because it has one environmental attribute. But, a single environmental attribute does not make a product green, he says.
“I frequently see recycled, energy efficient and low VOC products communicated as green,” Italiano says. “This is misleading to the public, and inconsistent with the law.”
Section 260 of the FTC Act — Guide For The Use Of Environmental Marketing Claims — provides manufacturers and consumers guidelines for what the FTC considers as fair and accurate environmental claims for products. Any claims misleading or inconsistent with these guidelines can bring litigation. Either the U.S. Department of Justice or the FTC can bring cases to federal court.
The guide is composed of general principles and specific guidance on the use of all environmental claims, followed by examples. For instance, the guides say an environmental marketing claim should not be presented in a manner that overstates the environmental attributes or benefit. The claim, for example, that a product contains “50 percent more recycled content than before” may be in violation of the guides unless more information is provided.
The problem is that an increase from 2 to 3 percent is technically a 50 percent increase, but it misleads the consumer into thinking it is much more, says Janice Frankle, an attorney with the FTC.
“We look for recycling claims, improper use of the recycled symbol and claims made about a product’s recyclability,” she says. “Another big problem is using the word ‘green’ without qualifying it.”
If a manufacturer claims a product is eco-safe, environmentally friendly, environmentally preferable, practically non-toxic or Earth Smart, look for qualifications and substantiation, she says.
Instead of backing up its guidelines, Italiano says, FTC has backed off. As evidence, he points to a decline in the number of cases the agency is taking on. Of the 73 cases that settled, 27 were settled in 1994 or before — three of them before the guides were even published in 1992. Only one case was settled in 2000 and two in 1999. And missing from any case is litigation brought because of misleading use of the term “green.”
Frankle disagrees and says the FTC has not backed off. It continuously surfs the Web and frequently issues warnings to manufacturers about claims they make, and this often does the job, she says. The cases that settle are just a small portion of the activity at the FTC concerning the guides, she says.
“If the FTC is litigating fewer claims, it is because companies are beginning to get the message,” Frankle says.
But batting a thousand can mean good legal work or cherry picking opportunities. The FTC doesn’t go after companies unless it has a strong case, but that leaves all the cases that aren’t obviously a violation.
Since the introduction of the use of the term “green,” claims may have become more difficult to litigate.
Frankle says the term “green” used in an environmental way does not have a hard and fast definition. The definition depends upon the context of its use. And while the FTC says that life cycle analysis could be used and would help, there is no generally accepted methodology for LCA. So, Frankle says, the FTC lacks sufficient information on which to base guidance on such claims.
So the FTC guide has helped, but its impact may be waning, particularly as standards don’t exist for claims such as green carpeting, paint or office furniture. Discussions took place in the mid-90s about beefing up the guidelines or having the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency take over the job of determining what is green and what isn’t, but none of that happened.
“The federal government didn’t want to take a leadership role, and that’s why there’s no federal eco-label like all the other industrial countries have,” Weismann says. So clearly the government is not going to be the one to clean up greenwash once and for all.
Italiano says with less government protection, the burden has now fallen on the marketplace and non-governmental organizations.
— David Kozlowski
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reached an agreement with the construction industry to reduce the use of chromated copper arsenate (CCA) treated wood and eventually ban it by 2004 from use in play structures, decks, boardwalks and other residential uses.
According to the National Academy of Sciences, CCA contains arsenic that can leach out of wood. Exposure to arsenic can cause lung, bladder and skin cancer in humans and is suspected as a cause of kidney, prostate and nasal passage cancer.
CCA has been added to wood since the 1940s to protect it from dry rot, fungi, molds, termites and and other pests.
New reports and a Web-based tool offer advice for saving energy and greening commercial buildings.
A report from Penn State University, available here, offers ideas for improving the performance of buildings. The report evolved from a student project in which an analysis of a building resulted in savings projected to be $45,000 a year.
Also, World Wildlife Fund and the International Hotels Environment Initiative launched a new Web-based tool to help hotels monitor key areas affecting the environment such as energy management, freshwater consumption, waste management, wastewater quality and purchasing. The tool can be accessed by clicking here.
Finally, a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council says California’s high-tech industry contributed to the success of the state’s 12 percent reduction in energy demand. The report can be downloaded by clicking here.
Long-term sustainability issues will be addressed in a proposed energy position document being drafted by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).
The document addresses current issues including electric utility restructuring, the role of demand-side management through energy efficiency and the impact of buildings on the energy infrastructure.
Also from ASHRAE comes a “Toolkit for Building Load Calculations” that makes calculating loads easier. The toolkit contains the FORTRAN 90 source code needed for the new heat balance load calculation procedures introduced in the 2001 ASHRAE handbook, Fundamentals.
Chicago and Mexico City are joining the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX), a voluntary market for trading emissions of greenhouse gases, which are linked to global warming. The CCX is developing a mechanism for limiting emissions through a voluntary cap. The CCX would enable companies to get credit for reductions and to buy and sell these credits.
The goal is to reduce participants’ greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent below 1999 levels over five years.
The U.S. Green Building Council is launching the pilot for the LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED EB) rating system, which is designed to help building owners operate their buildings in a long term, sustainable way, and the council will be signing up pilot participants. Building owners and managers are invited to apply to participate in the LEED EB pilot.
The development of LEED EB is modeled on the very successful LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) 2.0, a green building rating system for new construction and major renovations of commercial buildings.
LEED EB is a set of sustainable standards based on whole-building performance for operating and retrofitting commercial and institutional facilities. Included are standards for making green improvements to the building systems and building operations practices. As a comprehensive green building rating system for existing buildings, LEED EB addresses cleaning and maintenance practices, indoor air quality, energy and water performance, recycling and building and site management, and ongoing monitoring, measurement and management of building systems.
We are excited about the launch of LEED EB, because it extends the range of LEED products to include existing buildings. As we all know existing buildings can exert a huge environmental impact. According to Jean Lupinacci, director of commercial and industrial branch of Energy Star, 71 percent of non-residential, existing buildings are 20 years or older.
We believe annual electrical demand in all existing buildings could be reduced by nearly 45 gigawatts and save some $21 billion a year in energy costs if all commercial buildings were made more efficient. That amounts to eliminating the need to build 86 500-megawatt power plants. It also translates into reducing CO2 emissions by more than 275 million tons annually.
We are now ready to pilot LEED EB to test it in the marketplace. At the end of the pilot, LEED EB will be revised to reflect what is learned.
Throughout the development process, the LEED EB Committee has received a wealth of valuable input from the LEED EB Technical Advisory Group. With additional technical expert review following the pilot, it then will go through the USGBC balloting process for final approval by the Council membership.
You can download information on the rating system, the pilot and an application to participate in the pilot from the USGBC Web site. If your organization wants to learn more or apply to participate in the pilot, please send me an email message or call me at 608-255-0988.
— Michael Arny, Co-Chair of LEED EB Committee
Capitalizing on the state’s green building program, Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection developed its second major green building project, the Cambria Office Building in Ebensburg, Penn.
“We were aiming at a green building for this project all along,” says Jim Toothaker, bureau director for the Department of Environmental Protection. “When we did Cambria, we knew what LEED was all about, and we weren’t going to accept anything less than a silver rating.”
The design team worked together more closely on this project than it did on the state’s first green building, the Southcentral Regional Office Building (SCROB). A more focused systems integration process was used to minimize redundancies between systems, maximize efficiency and downsize or eliminate system components. Problems were solved quicker than if teams worked on the project separately.
“Integrated planning is the absolute key to having a great green building,” Toothaker says. “It works out so much better when all parties involved work together.”
The building placement and parking layouts were integrated with existing site conditions in order to eliminate the negative impact on existing wetlands and to minimize the removal of trees. The clearing of vegetation was limited to a maximum of 25 feet from the building perimeter.
The developers improved energy efficiency by using access flooring, which provides an underfloor supply air plenum for displacement heating and cooling through floor-mounted air diffusers. Lighting power density was reduced to an average of less than 0.7 watts per square foot; the lighting design integrates a split task-ambient lighting scheme, natural daylighting, roll-down solar shades, and occupancy sensor switches in workstations, restrooms and conference rooms.
Since building SCROB, the team wanted to look at things a little differently to increase the efficiency of certain systems.
“One of the big lessons that we’ve learned is that we have to look at HVAC implementation far deeper than we have,” Toothaker says. “HVAC systems aren’t usually looked at too hard, which leaves buildings with systems that don’t work up to their full capacity and use twice the energy they should.”
Recycling became another system that the team wanted to focus on. Cambria’s operations plan incorporates employee desk-side recycling containers for high grade office paper together with active collection and recycling of glass, aluminum, paper, plastics, batteries and ink jet cartridges; an on-site public recycling pickup site was also provided.
Criteria for the selection of building materials were based on each product’s recycled content and recyclability, the product’s renewability as a resource, and the environmental and energy consumption impact of the production process. The developers used recycled structural steel; fly-ash-content concrete; recycled steel roofing shingles; high density fiberboard roof decking made from 100 percent post-consumer waste paper; ergonomic seating made of recycled material; solvent-free, water-based non-VOC emitting paints; and flooring tiles made up of 100 percent recycled rubber.
Air quality was enhanced by not allowing smoking in the entire building, using floor-mounted air distribution diffusers that provide 100 percent ventilation efficiency — typical ceiling-based diffusers range in efficiency from 33 to 65 percent — and providing operable windows throughout. Air quality is monitored by permanently installed indoor air quality monitoring devices for measuring relative humidity, temperature, carbon dioxide and VOCs.
Plumbing fixtures reduce water consumption by more than 20 percent below the requirements of the federal Energy Policy Act of 1992. Lavatories are equipped with economical “push rod” automatic faucet controls that reduce water consumption by more than 40 percent and minimize piping redundancies by mixing hot and cold water into single pipe supply lines. The waterless urinals also require no water supply or flush valves.
The construction cost was roughly $90 per square foot.
— Benjamin Lund