Green your life at home, work & play

Green Office Pioneers in the DC Metro Area: Part 2 November 28, 2011

The second installment in our series on green offices in the DC metro area is the new East Coast headquarters of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) in Fort Belvoir, VA. The building received a LEED Gold rating, the second highest LEED rating and the largest federal government building to receive such a high rating (2.2 million square-feet). The office focused on three areas: water, energy and transportation. By collecting 

rainwater and using low-flow fixtures, NGA saves about 3 million gallons of water a month. It also reduces energy use by 30% with efficient lighting w

ith motion sensors and transparent ETFE roofing to provide more natural daylight. Carbon dioxide emissions from cars are reduced by NGA encouraging their employees to use public transportation.

NGA also included healthier materials in their building, including ones with low or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which contain chemicals that can cause headaches, nausea, and eye, nose and throat irritation, among other things. Chilled beams are also incorporated into the building to further reduce energy use associated with heating and air conditioning, since these reduce the power used by the fans.

Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Defense


Green Office Pioneers in the DC Metro Area: Part 1 November 21, 2011

When you are younger and trying to find your way in the world, it sometimes helps to have a role model. I think the same is true if you are trying to green your office and don’t know where to start or what options are available. To help you in this endeavor, we are going to have a multiple part series on green offices in the Washington DC metro area.

What better place to start than the headquarters of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the inventors of the leading green building certification: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). Their office has the highest rating LEED offers: Platinum, in the Commercial Interiors category.
Energy and water efficiency are key in the corporate yet fashionable USGBC office. Water use is 40% less than in conventional offices and energy use is 50% less. In order to increase heating and cooling efficiency, the “eco-corridor” nearest the outside windows is slightly warmer in the summer and cooler in the winter than the inner cubicles.  Individualized temperature controls are available inside the cubicles, allowing for a more comfortable environment where workers are during most of the day, without having to make the less-used corridors just as comfortable. There are also plenty of indoor plants to increase indoor air quality.

Natural daylight is another important aspect in the USBGC’s headquarters. It significantly decreases the need to use electricity to power lights, but also helps improve employees’ moods with views of nature. The floor to ceiling windows provide plenty of light, while the automatic window shades decrease glare. An automated system also helps coordinate the need for lighting by sensing how much natural light is available and adjusting the artificial lights accordingly.

The USGBC also makes use of a lot of reclaimed materials. Much of the wood that adorns the walls were reclaimed from 500-year old gumwood trees that had fallen off of logging boats and were preserved in the Tennessee River. Trees that were cut down hundreds of years ago emit no additional carbon to the atmosphere and provide a great story for guests! There are many other great aspects to the USGBC headquarters that can be found in their press release or website that makes it a chic yet environmental office.

Photo Courtesy of McGraw Hill Construction Continuing Education Center


Greening Restaurants September 11, 2011

As the retail industry’s largest energy consumer and greatest source of waste production, the restaurant world takes a serious toll on the environment. According to the Pacific Gas & Electric’s Food Service Technology Center, restaurants use nearly five times more energy per square foot than most commercial buildings. Inefficiencies in food preparation, food storage and water usage are main contributors to the problem. Restaurants also generate tremendous amounts of waste. On average, a restaurant can produce up to 150,000 pounds of garbage each year.

The food itself also raises several environmental concerns. Besides on-site energy consumption, transporting ingredients from thousands of miles away is yet another source of carbon emissions (although it is a smaller source than one would expect – estimated by some, such as BioRegional, at 10%). Factory farms and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are a huge non-point source of runoff pollution, degrading surface and groundwater supplies. High levels of nitrates and phosphorous in agricultural runoff can cause algal blooms downstream, severely depleting oxygen levels and resulting in vast “dead zones”. Additionally, high nitrate levels in well water can cause blue baby syndrome in infants and pregnant women, jeopardizing circulatory and heart health of newborns. Also, as the name implies, CAFOs keep animals in confined, unhygienic spaces that compromise the health and general well-being of the livestock pre-slaughter.

Institutionalized greening initiatives are emerging to reform restaurant procedures through energy and water conservation, waste reduction, and sustainable purchasing. Here are a few examples:

  • Conserve Initiative The National Restaurant Association’s Conserve Initiative  is an online resource developed by the restaurant industry for the restaurant industry. It helps restaurants to reduce energy, waste and water – driving down costs and leaving a lighter footprint on our environment.  The program features an easy-to-use checklist, divided into six categories, with over 90 industry-tested best practices, and over 64 videos by industry experts providing demonstrations and explanations of best practices.
  • Green Seal Green Seal is an independent non-profit organization offering third-party certification for products and companies that meet certain sustainability standards. Established in 1989, Green Seal sets nationally-recognized standards for green restaurants, basing its criteria in life-cycle analysis and scientific research. Green Seal certification is accompanied by site audits and regular monitoring to ensure that sustainability standards are met and upheld.
  • Green Restaurant Association Founded in 1990, the Green Restaurant Association strives to create a sustainable restaurant industry by providing tools for restaurants, manufacturers, distributors, and consumers to make environmentally healthy choices. The GRA has certification standards to reward restaurants, restaurant renovations or new builds, and events through a point system that spans several environmental categories including waste reduction and recycling, sustainable food, and chemical and pollution reduction.

Image source: Poste Moderne Brasserie


Canada: A leader in sustainability? August 5, 2011

Those tempted to think of Canada as “America’s Hat” may have to think again.  In fact, our neighbor to the north has some solid environmental credentials.

While Americans produce 1584 pounds of solid waste per capita per year, Canadians produce only 921 pounds.  Americans also use 100 gallons of water per day.  Canadians use slightly less at 87 gallons/day.

Incentives and Rebates
The Canadian government has an extensive system of rebates and incentives to encourage sustainability.  For instance, British Columbia subsidizes energy efficient vehicles, refrigerators, composters, furnaces, boilers, pumps, windows, toilets, and more. Click here  and here for more details and a list of programs.

Energy Policy
Canadians also rely on more sustainable energy sources.  Hydropower is in use across the country, comprising 58% of energy production nationwide and a full 92% of the energy in Quebec.  Hydro-Quebec, the province’s power company, also has pilot programs in wind power and methane recapture.  They even provide grants for home geothermal heat pumps.  And the price?  Quebec has some of the lowest electricity rates in North America.

Room For Improvement
The Oil Sands of Alberta – The oil reserves in Alberta may be crucial to Canada’s economy, but the product produces even more CO2 emissions than regular oil.
The Kyoto Protocol – Canada just isn’t going to make it here.  Their emissions have risen since 1990, not fallen.
Solar Power and Electric Vehicles – Cold and wet weather seriously interfere with these crucial technologies.


Managing Water Risk in the Private Sector June 13, 2011

It is becoming increaDroughtsingly clear that lack of access to potable water will lead to one of the next major crises that we will face as a global community.  We are already witnessing the impacts of water scarcity in pockets around the world today, and this dilemma will only worsen with time.  While much of the focus surrounding water favors social and environmental issues, water is important to all sectors of modern society.  To remain competitive, businesses will need to assess the impact of water risk on investments.

Water risk is a lack of water that arises from water scarcity, water pollution, and water competition.  In the private sector, this risk can cause financial disruptions, increase costs, lead to revenue losses, and compromise growth.  Sectors most vulnerable to water risk include the food and beverage industry, the power industry, mining, and some manufacturing.  Water risk poses such a significant threat to business that last year the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) identified water as a potential material use that public companies should disclose to investors.

In line with the SEC’s sentiment, in 2010, the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) released a report studying corporate disclosure of water risk (view the full report).  The study looked at the water risk reporting of 100 publicly traded companies across eight of the most water-vulnerable sectors.  The report’s intention is for investors and companies to learn from the reporting practices of these 100 case studies and promote a better understanding of how water risk impacts a company’s operations, supply chains, and products.  But CERES was surprised to find that even in sectors most threatened by water risk, reporting on risk and corporate water performance is weak.  As water quality and scarcity becomes an even more severe issue, companies will be forced to take water risk more seriously.

Recognizing water’s relationship to future prosperity, the World Resources Institute (WRI), in partnership with Goldman Sachs’ Center for Environmental Markets and General Electric, is developing a Water Index to chart water risk across regions and sectors.  The Water Index will help investors understand and forecast water’s impact on businesses and investments.

The Water Index will rely on publicly available data provide information on water quality and water scarcity indicators.  This data will be presented spatially on interactive map overlays that allow users to compare and combine risk scenarios.  Because water is a local issue, risks will vary by region and sector.  Although some groups have attempted to calculate companies’ water footprints, this is one of the first attempts at quantifying water’s impact on companies.

The pilot project will focus on the water risks of thermal power generation in China.  WRI and its partners hope to highlight potentials for reducing water risk in this sector by providing recommendations for making the sector less vulnerable.  This pilot is just the start of what may prove to be an instrumental tool for aiding corporate water risk reporting and for businesses to ensure future growth and success.


Green Custodial Services – things to be aware of if looking for a vendor December 19, 2010

Stephen Askin, who is often called the ‘Father of Green Cleaning’, refers to green cleaning as being ‘best thought of as a concept or thought process that focuses on creating a healthy, safe and attractive building while minimizing harmful impacts.’

Green cleaning is closely tied to the concept of sustainability and the triple bottom line. It is beneficial to the organization, the employees, and the planet, as well as the individuals using the products. Studies show increased staff productivity (up to 7%), decreased staff absenteeism, and decreased turnover of janitorial personnel as a result of using green cleaning products.

To date, there are four commonly accepted certifications in the commercial green cleaning sector, in North America and Europe:

  • Green Seal is the most recognized and more prevalent in the United States. Green Seal started out certifying products inthecommercialsector and now provides not only certification for green custodial products but also training on green cleaning procedures, among other services. It is also beginning to certify products in the residential sector.
  • EcoLogo is another environmental standard and certification mark, started in Canada, which is gaining ground in the United States andwhich also has rigorous standards for certification. Started by TerraChoice, EcoLogo focuses on the commercial as well as residential market.
  • Thirdly, the EPA’s Design for the Environment’s DfE label can be obtained by manufacturers for products that ‘meet stringent criteria for human and environmental health’.
  • Finally, Ecolabel is the commonly accepted certification standard in the European Union. Ecolabel addresses both commercial and residential products and services.

There are an increasing number of resources and companies offering green custodial services. Be sure to verify the products and processes that they use, ask them if these are certified by a third-party, and check in periodically with the cleaning crew to ensure that the products are being used as agreed.


The Word on Urinalsuri March 18, 2010

Truthfully, I love urinals.  Not only do they shorten bathroom lines, but they also save water (as opposed to flushing an entire toilet bowl).  Additionally, any place with its own bathroom facilities looking to save a bunch of money and water could easily retrofit their existing facilities with some new hardware.

All over the world, there are many variations of the urinal and I’ve been wondering which type is the most eco-friendly.  In this post, I’m going to do a quick overview of four common variations typically found in bathrooms and based on their attributes, rank them 1 to 4, 1 being the most eco-friendly and 4 being the least.  Ready?  Set?  Let’s go!

  • The Standard/Conventional – Manual Handle:  These are the most prevalent urinals throughout America, but are slowly declining in favor of other, more convenient types.  Conventional flush valves use about 1 – 1.5 gallons of water per flush, which is quite a lot.  In addition, urinal cakes are used to eliminate odors, but are made of chemicals such as naphthalene and paradichlorobenzene, which is carcinogenic.  Their affordability sustains their popularity.
  • The Conventional Automatic/Timed Flush:  Convenience, convenience, convenience.  That’s the name of the game for these “hands off” urinals.  Armed with either a timer, which flushes periodically, or an infrared sensor to detect usage, the amount of water used per flush is still generally the same as a standard manual handle.   Possible drawbacks of auto-flush are errant flushes, the continued use of urinal cakes, and the need for batteries in the sensors.
  • The Waterless: A more recent innovation, urinals that use no water at all are beginning to sprout up in bathrooms all over the world.  Most models employ a trap insert, which is filled with a low-density sealant liquid.  The sealant floats on top of the urine collecting in the U-bend trap and prevents odors from escaping into the air.  Though the sealant liquid and the trap insert need to be replaced periodically, one waterless urinal can save anywhere from 15,000 to 45,000 gallons of water per year.  The largest disadvantage is the high initial price of each urinal, almost double that of the industry standard.
  • The Low Flow:  I suppose low flow urinals could be seen as a compromise between standard and waterless variations.  They work just like a standard urinal with a manual or automatic flush system, but the use far less water.  For example, compared to a one gallon per flush urinal used 26,000 times per year, a “Pint Urinal” (0.125 gallons per flush) can save around 23,000gallons per year.  Low flow urinals have the highest initial cost, but the lowest operating cost.

The Rundown:  And the results are in!  Based on a brief smattering of details and specs, the rankings begin at number 4, the least eco-friendly urinal out of the lot.  This grade goes to the Conventional Automatic/Timed flush urinal.  Not only does it use a great deal of water and urinal cakes, but it also uses batteries or electricity to run the auto-flush mechanism.  Tisk, tisk.

In third place is the Standard Manual Handle urinal.  Like the auto-flush, it uses a lot of water for flushing, but due to the manual operation, there are no errant flushes, no batteries or electricity used, and flushing can be conserved by discretion of the user.

The battle for the top two spots was close, and ultimately, economics was the final tipping point.  Second place belongs to the Low Flow urinal.  It uses a lot less water per flush, but its cost is the highest of the four types of urinals.  And finally, first place for the most eco-friendly urinal goes to the Waterless urinal! (Pause for applause, cheers)  It uses no water so it is perfect for arid and water-strapped places and the sealant liquid is made of non-toxic ingredients.  Its initial cost is higher, but the water saved over the first year can easily be enough to pay off the initial cost.

And there you have it!  The confusing world of urinals is now a little less cryptic.  I hope you learned something and are considering the move toward more eco-friendly bathroom equipment.  For the women who are feeling left out, I’m sorry, but there hasn’t really been a female urinal invented that has gained much popularity…I can’t say I blame you!


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