Don’t be brainwashed by ‘green washing’

Don’t be brainwashed by ‘green washing’

By Rob Moody on 03/16/2006

Green building has become a buzzword around Asheville. Consumer demand stems from homeowners interested in lower energy bills, healthy indoor air quality and durability. These are benefits that true green builders offer. The National Home Builder’s Association is introducing its own green-building standards and organizes an annual green-building expo. The U.S. Green Building Council is gaining strength and membership, as indicated by the 12,000 attendees at their Green Build Expo in Atlanta last November. The state of North Carolina recently started its own green-building certification program called NC Healthy Built Homes.

With all of this interest on the local and national levels, there is huge marketing potential available for builders and suppliers. As with any other hot topic, many people involved will benefit from the buzz. Some will benefit because they are sincerely green. Others will capitalize by putting forth a green façade. Some may purport green methods and ideals, but in reality they could lack the qualities that make a product or builder truly green. This is known as “green washing.” How can consumers and builders guard against green washing? With education.

For products, several certifications can be trusted. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international nonprofit whose goal is to promote responsible management of the world’s forests. Their mission is to ensure that forestry practices are environmentally conscious, locally and socially ethical, and economically viable. Governed by a general assembly, board of directors and executive director, the FSC has the most stringent and recognized policies and standards. Buying FSC-stamped wood is a great way to reinforce that the product has been thoroughly monitored and certified as environmentally responsible.

The Greenguard Environmental Institute (GEI) is an independent, third-party testing program that measures emissions from a variety of products, from adhesives to carpet and insulation. GEI tests products to ensure that chemical and particulate emissions meet acceptable levels for good indoor air quality. Like the FSC, Greenguard has a governing advisory board that consists of experts in the field. The Greenguard Web site has a product guide to inform consumers of certified products. Greenguard certification allows the consumer to breathe easy.

Most consumers would not hire a contractor who does not have a license to build a home. For the same reasons, if someone wants a green home built, he or she should insist that it be certified “green.” Unless a builder has a history of green building, certification is the only way to ensure that a home is built to green standards. In North Carolina, that means the NC Healthy Built Home certification. Clarification is necessary here. Green building is different from energy efficiency. Green building takes a holistic approach that incorporates energy efficiency, indoor air quality, resource use, native landscaping, water conservation and other components. Energy efficiency just refers to a building’s energy demand. The certification most recognizable for energy efficiency is the Energy Star program created by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy. If a builder says the company builds Energy Star homes, there is proof of this claim. The homeowner should receive an Energy Star sticker that verifies the home is certified. This will be accompanied by a 5 percent Progress Energy discount on the electricity bill.

Is an Energy Star builder equivalent to a green builder? No. Energy Star does not cover some important aspects of green building, such as indoor air quality. Anyone affected by allergies, asthma or chemical sensitivity can attest to the importance of indoor air quality. If a builder suggests he or she is a green builder but only does Energy Star, this can mislead customers into thinking that the builder covers all green facets of building. Customers should ask builders about the specifics of their building practices. Consumers should ask their builder to build them a NC Healthy Built Home.

For more information, visit these Web sites:

[Rob Moody is vice president of the Western North Carolina Green Building Council. He is president and owner of The EcoBuilders Inc., an Asheville area green builder. The EcoBuilders focuses on Asheville in fill custom and spec homes that are certified NC Healthy Built. He can be reached at 337-0623 or]