LEED

The Science Behind Shopping For the Environment

By Thomas Landreth

Barcode with green tree illustrationLast week EPA announced draft guidelines under consideration to help purchasers across the federal government select the most environmentally-friendly and safe products.  Key components are the development and use of environmental standards and “ecolabels” to help make the environmental performance of products, such as energy output efficiency or the amount of biomaterial used during development, a seamless part of comparison shopping along with unit prices.

The challenge with coming up with such guidelines is that there are different standards for communicating environment performance on labels. When environmental performance claims are based on different standards, comparison of environmental performance information on labels is not possible.

EPA researchers are working to help. They recently co-led an international initiative to develop guidance on Product Category Rules (PCR), which will help organizations develop guidelines for products. Ultimately PCRs will allow comparable analyses of products’ environmental impacts.

The power of PCRs lie with generating a wider consensus on an approach for evaluating environmental impacts. The PCR approach will cover a product’s entire production cycle (Life Cycle Assessment, or LCA) to ensure accurate product comparison.

The Product Category Rule Guidance Development Initiative is a voluntary, international effort with more than 40 participating organizations dedicated to improving this ongoing guidance document.

In the first version published in September, the Guidance for Product Category Rule Development focuses on several key areas, including the general planning process for product rules, identifying what they need to cover, and coordinating a review process and series of ‘best practices’ leading to eventual publication and use.

The European Union has recently launched a Product Environmental Footprint program that will use this guidance to develop the rules for labels for European products. In the US, where these types of labels are not as widespread, there has recently been an increase in demand for standardized environmental information for building products, in part because of the new LEED 4.0 green building standards making credits available for products with these labels.

Cover of the "Guidance for PCR Development"In terms of reliability of information, PCRs are a step forward in making environmental data accessible and applicable, to both scientists and the public, helping us all be better comparison shoppers.

For more information:

About the Author: Thomas Landreth is a student services contractor working with EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Gray is the New Green

By Elisa Hyder

Reduce, reuse and recycle. Did you know this common phrase referring to “green” or environmentally friendly practices applies to water?

Every day, water goes down the drain when taking a shower, washing dishes, or simply washing hands. This “gray water” generated from these domestic activities can be recycled for other uses. Gray water is different from tap water that is safe for drinking (white water), and the water from flushing a toilet (black water). Though not suitable for drinking, Gray water contains considerably lower level of contaminants than black water, making it easier to treat and recycle.

The cleaned gray water can be put back into the home for some domestic activities such as watering plants or suppling toilet water. Reusing just a gallon of gray water a day for a year can save enough water for up to 36 showers! And it reduces the amount of drinking water needing to be treatment for human consumption.

However, gray water is not perfect – definitely not safe to drink – and needs to be handled carefully.

  • Gray water should only be stored for a limited time.  The nutrients and organic matter in gray water start to break down after about 24 hours and can start to emit a foul odor!
  • In some cases, the water should not be used unless it has been treated properly with a cleaning system or filter to prevent contamination. This treating process can be done in a variety of ways, some doable in the home or business place. There are both man-made filters and natural systems that gray water can go through for treatment, like distillation and membrane filtration.
  • Local public health agencies may have requirements to follow when developing and implementing a gray water system, so make sure you check with local jurisdictions to fully understand local requirements if you’re interested in your own system.
  • Check out these helpful FAQs for more on how to use gray water safely.

Learn more about water recycling and reuse here and here!  Interested in even more detailed info?  Check out EPA’s 2012 Guidelines for Water Reuse – Chapter 2.4.2.1 focuses on Individual On-site Reuse Systems and Graywater Reuse.

Some handy homeowners have installed diversion systems to reuse their own gray water, particularly in drought-prone and remote areas.  Water reuse also gets larger buildings points in the LEED certification process; buildings like the Solaire residences in New York City use recycled water from the building for toilet flushing, landscape irrigation and cooling towers.  There are even cases where wastewater treatment plants provide their treated water to local businesses for commercial or industrial use, such as Google’s data center in Douglas County, Georgia (check out the video!), irrigating golf courses, and others from a list of reuse projects in New Jersey.

Have you heard of gray water being reused near where you live?  Would you try this at your house?  Always take care to ensure that you are reusing gray water safely, and check with your local health department if you’re not sure.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Time Well Spent on a Pier

By Kelly Dulka

While vacationing in Nags Head, NC, I became curious about the pier just a few blocks down the beach and had heard it had an environmental education center, so I decided to check it out.

Jennette’s Pier originally opened in 1939, and changed fishing on the Outer Banks forever.  For more than 60 years, the pier was repaired or rebuilt from time to time due to hurricanes and nor’easters. The NC Aquarium Society bought the pier to develop it into an educational facility. In 2003, Hurricane Isabel knocked down about 540 feet (over half) of the pier, practically shutting down an Outer Banks institution. It then became time to rethink the fishing pier concept, with the aquarium taking the lead to rebuild Jennette’s as an all-concrete, 1,000-foot-long, educational ocean pier.

The new pier opened in 2011, and is a fascinating place to visit. Aside from all of the cool displays inside the educational center (like floor to ceiling aquariums), I was happy to learn that the pier was LEED certified by the US Green Building Council. This meant that “green” technology was everywhere you looked, and even in places you couldn’t see.

First off and probably most noticeable are the three wind turbines that rise 90 feet above the pier and provide over half of the energy for the pier.  Some solar cells convert sunlight into electricity, which is then stored to provide the power necessary for the pier’s lights at night. The building is heated and cooled by a geothermal HVAC system.

Collected rainwater provides water for irrigation and cleaning the deck and facility vehicles, and there is an on-site waste water treatment facility providing reclaimed water to the pier. These features are projected to reduce water use by up to 80%.

Inside the pier building, educational classes are offered year round. School groups can learn about ocean and marine life, and in the summer, camps are offered. If I hadn’t already realized this wasn’t your ordinary fishing pier, I could tell once I ventured out of the center.  It was very “user friendly” with plenty of benches for seating, tables for cleaning your “catch of the day,” and informational displays about fishing regulations and size requirements. Best of all, it was clean (and not smelly at all, I might add!) Plenty of trash and recycling receptacles, and there were even bins for recycling fishing line!

On the day I visited, there were many people visiting the pier, young, old, sportsmen, and sightseers. It was clear to me that the time I spent exploring was well worth it, and certainly worth spending more time visiting again.

About the author: Kelly Dulka has worked for EPA for many years. She currently works in the Office of Web Communications at EPA Headquarters.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Greening EPA's Seattle Office

A green roof has been installed on our downtown Seattle office building

A green roof has been installed on our downtown Seattle office building

By Bruce Duncan

The Region 10 Science Steering Council recently hosted our first “Science Café” to discuss how our Seattle office building is working toward LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification as we undergo a major remodel. LEED is a third party certification program administered by the U.S. Green Building Council that focuses on the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings.

I moderated the meeting and want to share some of the discussion. The first presentation focused on the building’s infrastructure (its green roof, pipes, and pumps) and participation in a private/public group committed to significantly reducing energy consumption by 2030.

Next, was a detailed look at the upcoming remodel of EPA space in the building and how we might get to a LEED “Platinum” rating. Presenters showed how the remodel is a unique opportunity to capture environmental benefits, energy efficiencies and cost savings. EPA is pursuing projects in:

  • sustainable site selection
  • water efficiencies
  • energy and atmosphere
  • materials and resources
  • indoor environmental quality
  • innovation and design process
  • regional priorities that further sustainability.

Each project generates points toward the LEED rating.

Our last discussion centered on what we can do in our individual spaces to be sustainable by recycling and reducing our use of resources.

Interesting information to me from the Q&A sessions included:

  • What is the cost to building management to register for LEED certification?

Approximately $10,000.

  • How is the return on investment working out for the building upgrade to LEED?

The payback horizon is reasonable for those components that do have a quantifiable return on investment. As we move forward, we would be comfortable with a 5 year payback horizon.

  • What are we doing to improve our office space that does not count toward LEED rating?

One example is the computer server room, which will be located to take advantage of cool outside air near windows.

What I liked most about our Science Cafe was seeing the linkage from my own office space and habits, to EPA’s space, to our building overall and how it sits within a self-led management community committed to sustainability.

Read more about EPA’s efforts to “green” our facilities.

About the author: Bruce Duncan is an Ecologist supporting risk assessments our Region 10 Office of Environmental Assessment. He is a member of the Region 10 Science Steering Council and has a long-standing interest in sustainability. Bruce also “walks the talk,” having installed solar panels on his Pacific Northwest home.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Greening History

I’ve been excited lately to see two of my passions – green building and American history – coming together. Several of our nation’s major historical sites are starting to incorporate green techniques in their visitors’ centers and sometimes even in their historic restorations. Such meaningful bridges between past and future are being built at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s architectural masterpiece in central Virginia, and at President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldier’s Home, a newly restored site in Washington, DC.

The caretakers of Monticello made the wise move of honoring the cutting-edge architect of the 18th century with the cutting edge architectural development of our time. As Daniel P. Jordan, president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation put it: “Sustainable design is a Jeffersonian concept.” Indeed – it’s based on a lot of concepts that just make sense – saving energy, water and materials; building healthy spaces; reducing the pollution and environmental impact of how we build and live.

The green features of the newly-built Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center and Smith Education Center include:

  • a geothermal heating and cooling system, which uses the relatively stable temperature of the ground to provide more efficient heating and cooling;
  • two “green” or vegetated roofs, a more natural solution to help insulate roofs, and reduce stormwater runoff and the “heat island” effect;
  • recycling nearly four-fifths of the project’s construction debris; and
  • a variety of water conservation and stormwater runoff reduction techniques.

At the Lincoln Cottage, the National Trust for Historic Preservation successfully pulled off an even more amazing feat, greening a 104-year-old historic building! The Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center was the first National Trust Historic site structure to qualify for the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard. Helped by a $1 million grant from United Technologies Corporation, this building’s green features include:

  • a computerized building management system that adjusts the mechanical systems based on occupancy and climatic conditions;
  • green cleaning and housekeeping practices; and
  • an energy recovery unit, which recaptures energy in exhaust air to pre-condition incoming air, thereby increasing ventilation without using more energy.

It’s important to view history not as dead and gone, but as something we participate in every day and continue to shape. That’s precisely what happening at these historical sites, where we honor great leaders of the past while doing a favor to the future too.

There’s more information available on Monticello’s green visitor’s center and on the Lincoln Cottage.

About the author: Ken Sandler is Co-Chair of EPA’s Green Building Workgroup. He has worked for EPA since 1991 on sustainability issues including green building, recycling and indoor air quality.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Las Vegas Recycler Recognized for being EVERGreen!

Last year, I got a call from Dr. Kim Cochran, EPA’s construction and demolition expert in DC. She was going to a Demolition Convention in Las Vegas and wanted to set up a tour with Evergreen Recycling. As the Regional EPA recycling contact, I’d been working with the great folks at Evergreen for many moons.
After the tour, she called me in awe — she’d seen a lot of recycling facilities — but they’d never seen anything like Evergreen, and said “Their facility is probably the most exciting recycling facility I have ever seen! I was really impressed with the numbers and types of materials they are able to recycle.”
Evergreen Recycling was an EPA Pacific Southwest award winner for transforming recycling efforts in Nevada with their state-of-the-art recycling facility.

They partnered with MGM MIRAGE, one of the world’s leading development companies, to divert 50,000 tons or 94.7% of the CityCenter project’s construction debris from landfill disposal in 2008. CityCenter, an 18-million-square-foot multi-use LEED registered project, will be one of the world’s largest sustainable urban communities.

Evergreen’s 85 employees have recycled over 200,000 tons of resources. Evergreen also developed a local market for drywall that removes the paper and makes it back into new drywall. Now that’s real closed-loop recycling — drywall in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas!

Evergreen’s founder and President, Rob Dorinson, has been invaluable in supporting Nevada’s green building movement and helping Nevada’s recycling rate more than double in the past ten years. Luckily, I was able to tour Evergreen Recycling last year while I was on vacation, and it was the highlight of my visit. Of course, enjoying the Vegas buffets with family and friends was great too! Take a virtual tour and tell me what you think!

About the author: Timonie Hood has worked on EPA Region 9’s Resource Conservation Team for 10 years and is Co-Chair of EPA’s Green Building Workgroup.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.