Happy Silver Anniversary, BuildingGreen

It is hard to believe that Alex Wilson and the gang at BuildingGreen have been at this for 25 years. Hardly anyone was thinking about green building back in 1992; green building was the purview of aging hippies still working their way through the Whole Earth Catalog. Alex and Nadav Malin write:

In 1992, the world was different. Environmental Building News—now embedded in BuildingGreen.com—was the first North American publication devoted to the nascent field of green building, and the Internet was mostly for scientists. In 1992, the U.S. Green Building Council didn’t exist. LEED, the program that eventually came to define green building in the U.S., wouldn’t emerge for another eight years.

I only learned about them in about 2002 when I started working in prefab housing, and was looking for the best sources of information on green building. It was (and is) a paywalled site; they didn't want to be tainted by advertising. This, of course, limits their audience, but not their impact. They have been the source and inspiration for many TreeHugger posts, and have profoundly influenced my writing and my teaching. Here are some of the themes and stories where their impact has been most significant:

Jargon Watch: "Transportation Energy Intensity" of Buildings

transportation intensity graph

Alex Wilson did an analysis of green buildings in the suburbs vs the city and found that the energy used getting to the building in the suburbs far exceeded any savings of energy by building it green. In fact, the greener the building, the more glaring the problem. I was really influenced by this, and have been talking about it ever since. I wrote in 2009:

It is a real lesson in the importance of planning, of designing our cities right so that one can walk or take transit or bike to work in safety and comfort, that all the green building in the world isn't going to make that much difference if we don't fix these things first.

More: Jargon Watch: "Transportation Energy Intensity" of Buildings
When It Comes To Green Building, Where You Are Is As Important As What You Build
The Transportation Energy Intensity of Buildings
For Saving Energy, Like Real Estate, The Three Most Important Things Are Location, Location and Location

Can we get rid of plastic foam in our buildings?

foam© A pile of foam being used in a Passive House

The BuildingGreen people have been foaming about the problems with foam for longer than anyone; when they started, people throught they (and TreeHugger) nuts. I wrote:

It's got great insulating value, it's cheap, spray foams are really effective, what's not to like? If you complain that they are made from fossil fuels, they will point out that it will save far more fossil fuels over its life than is used to make it. But as Alex Wilson of BuildingGreen pointed out years ago, they are also full of fire retardants that are bioaccumulative toxins, they are made with known carcinogens, they are incredibly dangerous in a fire and the blowing agents used are often terrible greenhouse gases.

As recently as yesterday, we were reporting that flame retardants "can increase the risks for cognitive, behavioral, or social impairment, as well as specific neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).”

A few years ago, if you went to a building conference discussing seriously green and energy efficient buildings, they were all foamy. A few weeks ago I was at the Passive House conference in New York City and everything was Roxul and cork and natural insulations; if people used foam at all, it was underground. This is directly due to the work of BuildingGreen in changing attitudes toward the products.

More in TreeHugger:
Can we get rid of plastic foam in our buildings?
Why The Choice of Insulation Matters
Put a cork in it: Natural renewable cork makes a comeback as home insulation
The BuildingGreen Guide to Insulation Products and Practices Should Be On Every Designer's Virtual Bookshelf. (Book Review)
Polystyrene Insulation Doesn't Belong in Green Building
Is Sprayed Polyurethane Insulation Safe?

Alex and Nadiv also point out their important work on PVC, house size and pressure-treated lumber, but they do not mention Alex's work on Resilience, one of the most important issues in the coming years. Resilience is a tough sell; nobody likes to think about preparing for floods and disasters. But it should be part of everything we build.

How To Build a Resilient Design: Make it Smaller, Higher, Stronger and Warmer

floods in North DakotaMinot, North Dakota, June 2011 by DVIDSHUB/CC BY 2.0

It turns out that many of the strategies needed to achieve resilience--such as really well-insulated homes that will keep their occupants safe if the power goes out or interruptions in heating fuel occur--are exactly the same strategies we have been promoting for years in the green building movement.

More:
How To Build a Resilient Design: Make it Smaller, Higher, Stronger and Warmer
Building Green Is No Longer Enough, It is Time To Build Resilient
The Difference Between Resilience & Sustainability? A Zombie Apocalypse
What Happens When Resilience and Sustainability Compete?

Alex and Nadav title their editorial about this anniversary A Quarter Century of Changing the World; that is no exaggeration, they really have. I do hope they can keep it up for another twenty-five, what would I do without them?

Tags: Green Building | Materials

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