Is A Little Competition A Good Thing ?

Tree of Green Hearts blowing away
The “green hearts” are in a tizzy about recent developments in green certification systems, as the General Services Administration announced that it will give the federal agencies it oversees a choice of green building certification systems. Because there was already some conflict and tension between the plastics, chemicals and timber industries with the proposed new standards for LEED v4, the news is being met with suspicion of behind the scenes manipulation and lobbying to ease the standards these industries were being called upon to meet.

The “new guy” on the block is the Green Building Initiative’s “Green Globes 2010” system. Still remaining a significant force is the US Green Building Council’s 2009 standards for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
LEED vs Green Globes

I am an environmental skeptic by nature. And it is not lost on me that this decision by the GSA is being met by the more hard-core environmentalists as a ruse. Where there is smoke, there is usually fire and there are a crowd of environmentalists yelling “FIRE !!” on this one. Still, I also try to bring a balanced perspective to any controversial issue, generally finding that there is wisdom in choosing a middle way – not on the fringes of extremism, either direction.

At issue is whether the latest authorization also yields the perception that “the Green Globes rating system aligns slightly better than LEED with federal requirements for new construction, while LEED remains the most compatible green building rating system for existing buildings.” for those are the exact words used in the report.

Treehugger.com in their article about this, shares the following comparison of 3 green certification standards prepared by the Dept of Energy –

Dept of Energy Comparison Chart

Dept of Energy Comparison Chart

Showing there is fuel for that fire is the official governance of the Green Building Initiative organization – “GBI is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. GBI has 53 Members and Supporters and 9 Industry Affiliates. In addition, GBI has over 10,000 ‘Friends of GBI’, formerly known as Associate Members who receive the quarterly newsletter and other information from GBI. There is a Board of Directors, Executive Director, executive staff, and Industry Advisory Board. Decisions of the Industry Advisory Board are non-binding.” I suppose that last bit is supposed to reassure those of us who have reason to be skeptical about what is driving the new competitive kid on the green block.

It probably is not a coincidence that there is a strong foundational perspective in GBI that derives from Hubbell Communications motto – “We understand how public policy and perceptions are created and we use the power of communications to shape both.” (gee, the President of Hubbell Communications – Wade Hubbell, is also the founder of GBI.) Hubbell proudly displays one of their successes on their website, a car manufacturer’s association who had a “legislative problem in Oregon.”-“In just a few days, we had a fresh coalition identity, a campaign website, and a strong social media presence.” Hmmm, there does seem to be a bit of smoke and mirrors going on with GBI and the Green Globes (green washing ?, anyone ?).

After Ward Hubbell left his position as a PR exec at Louisiana Pacific, he received startup capital from the lumber industry for the purpose of establishing a green standard that did not give points to FSC certified lumber (are you smelling it now too ?). In 2006, The Forest and Paper Association told the Wall Street Journal that “Green Globes is much more wood-friendly than LEED”. (Ahhhh, can you see that smoke rising from its source now ?) There is not even an attempt to distance Hubbell Communications from the Green Building Initiatives – they operate out of the same building. How convenient and eco-friendly !!! Fewer carbon emissions.

Smoke Rising from a Forest

Then there is the board of directors of the GBI. It includes a couple of representatives of Dow Chemical, the Vinyl Institute, the Resilient Floor Covering Institute, Solvay, a chemical company, a communications director for Weyerhaeuser, among others. According to Treehugger.com – “Two of the most contentious issues facing the green building industry are lumber certification and the safety of products made from PVC and vinyl. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative has done a tremendous job of attacking LEED, and convincing politicians that FSC is somehow foreign and unamerican; The Chemical industry has politicians writing letters to the GSA complaining that LEED will kill jobs. Now the GSA has a report in their hands that claims ‘the Green Globes rating system aligns slightly better than LEED with federal requirements for new construction’.”

The Vinyl Institute logo
I already knew the background story from Plastics News (a plastics industry trade publication that I receive for our business which recycles a variety of plastics). I knew that the plastics industry as a whole was very unhappy that vinyl was coming under fire. Our business is also deeply concerned about the risks to the environment and human health posed by the production of polyvinyl chloride. The best thing that we can think of, to do personally, is lock it up (after its initial production and use, to recycle it, rather than allow it to go into a landfill). It is our hope that someday, there will be little to none of this in our environment and that better alternatives will have been found.

In the Nov 18, 2013 issue of Plastics News they give the story of the GSA decision, to allow the Green Globes certification system to be used by federal agencies as an alternative choice to the previous dominance by LEED, front page top billing. In an attempt to appear balanced and impartial, they quote The Sierra Club’s, Jason Grant (a member of their Forest Certification and Green Building Team), allowing him to express his suspicions in print, regarding the influence of certain industries on Green Globes standards. “Green Globes certainly goes easy on those industries.” He is further quoted as saying “Apparently the chemical and plastics industry is willing to invest a lot to prevent the truth from coming out.”

The Society of the Plastics Industry is concerned that LEED v4 will encourage its applicants not to use certain materials such as PVC or the fluoropolymers used in wiring and cable. Of additional concern to producers and manufacturers throughout that spectrum are points given to building products that have environmental product declarations (EPDs) and for the firm’s willingness to disclose their ingredients and the sources of raw materials. Wouldn’t you want to know those things ? That the chemicals that you are being exposed to, are not going to cause cancer in you, down the road. One could suspect the prevalence of cancer in our modern society has some of its roots, in the exponential growth of a wide range of new chemical combinations allowed into our lives. But then, you might think I’m being unfair . . . and biased in my blog.

To their credit the USGBC is taking it in stride. Lane Burt, their policy director counters the fears of industry by affirming – “We don’t have language in LEED v4 that says – “Don’t use this stuff.” And acknowledges that has been a significant misunderstanding. Yes, there was a draft, that considered giving points for the avoidance of certain materials, but the council decided to shift towards a more positive perspective, a “green-list approach”.

An environmentalist would be hard pressed to fault the spirit of the proposed LEED v4 standards – credits for life-cycle analysis of materials, product transparency and picking those products that haven’t been extracted in a way that’s environmentally destructive. The Sierra Club’s, Jason Grant, was quoted in Plastics News as saying of v4 – “In general, what it rewards is higher levels of transparency than existed in the past about what chemicals are found in significant quantities in building products.” He feels that knowledge of “… chemicals that might be carcinogenic or mutagenic or endocrine disruptors” is some important information, that people have a right to know; and that profit motives should not be subverting that disclosure.

SOURCES, additional reading – information for this blog came from

Plastics News – “Feds given green light to LEED competitor” by Catherine Kavanaugh

Treehugger.com – “LEED Bashing: Government Study Finds ‘Equivalence’ Between LEED and Green Globes” by Lloyd Alter

LINKS

Hubbell Communications – http://www.hubbellcommunications.com/

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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How I Fell in Love with Cork

Wine Cork Stoppers
This is not a love at first sight story. No, when my partner, Stephen Yemm, first suggested to me adding yet another material to our product line, during the go-go days before the economic crash of 2008, it was the last thing in the world that I wanted to contemplate. I had a full plate. Both of my in-laws were going through cancer treatments. I had two young children in my home. Our business was going like gang-busters, so much, that the demands of my day, simply pulled me through, with only what needed to get done, getting done; and those things that simply ought to get done, often postponed. I remember saying to him – “as long as you don’t need me to do it, go for it.”

And he found a way by enlisting the sheltered workshop for the developmentally disabled in our community, which we had long been involved in the welfare of, and not simply exploiting them as a low-cost alternative. So, we were quite happy to share our incipient business with their efforts to provide meaningful employment to people who might have difficulty being employed otherwise.

However, something happened to me along the way and my passion was engaged – even though I was still thankful, the effort required little direct labor from my own self. In January 2007, I read an article in the Audubon’s magazine titled “Cork Screwed” by Susan McGrath and I understood the bigger picture that we were part of a support for. Her point was that synthetic and screw-top stoppers have been replacing real cork — and that it was threatening an entire ecosystem.

Alentejo Montados Forest
In the Cork Montado regions, cork is sustainably harvested only once every 10 or more years. Extra years are often added if drought is a factor. Cork Montados resemble the savannas of East Africa, with the wide oaks irregularly spaced in meadows of mixed grasses and shrubs. They occur today principally in Portugal and Spain and, to a lesser extent, in France, Italy, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.

The author poetically describes the Tiradores (the cork strippers) as being “a natural part of the landscape. They flow from tree to tree, working them over the way a flock of songbirds does.” A good tiradora is a skilled artist, a master at what he does – cutting precisely through the outer bark and no deeper. Eventually discarding his tool and using his hands to pull the plank gently away from the tree.

Bonelli's Eagle

Bonelli’s Eagle


Ornithologists who study this region will tell you it has “some of the richest biological diversity in the Mediterranean”. And so I learned, not only does real cork support an indigenous and sustainable lifestyle for the human tiradores and their families, but the presence of this protected region does other very important things. Iberian mixed oak forests support the majority of Europe’s Bonelli’s eagles (now numbering fewer than 1,000 pairs), the last 180 breeding pairs of Spanish imperial eagles, and fewer than 100 Iberian lynx. Cork-oak forests across the Mediterranean, in Algeria and Tunisia, harbor some of the world’s last Barbary deer.
Iberian Lynx

Iberian Lynx

McGrath in her Audubon article shares with us that “Laws of one kind or another have protected Portuguese cork oaks since the year 1259. As a result, montado still covers 1.7 million acres here, mostly in the Alentejo region of southern Portugal. But it would be a dangerous mistake to assume that abundance today assures the montados’ safety in years to come, conservationists say. The slow-growing cork oaks are the ‘gold of Portugal’, a tirador told McGrath. They’ve been preserved because they provide an invaluable source of income for the farmers who own them. But 70 percent of cork revenues come from the wine industry; flooring, insulation, and cork’s myriad other uses barely pay their way. And now, increasingly, the wine industry is turning to alternatives to cork.”

Through the centuries, cork farms have weathered fire, drought and overgrazing; wars, revolution, land collectivization, and land restitution; ill-conceived agricultural subsidies, good and bad market cycles. What no one in the area anticipated was the development of alternatives to cork – synthetics and metal screw caps. Even though the cork region is still protected, that could change very quickly, if their value drops away. And cork and it’s financial support of local farmers, is not the only important value that would be impacted, if that happens.

Alentejo Cattle w Cork Oak
The World Wide Fund for Nature published a report in 2006 that laid out the economic and environmental impacts from a switch to cork alternatives that predicted that if trends continue, “three-quarters of the world’s cork forests could be lost within 10 years.” Cork harvesting offers a more sustainable and holistic model of extensive land use that is easier on soil, water, and wildlife but produces smaller yields than large-scale, industrial agriculture for growing food. The Montado farms have a traditional Southern European mixture of livestock, a few crops, hunting leases for pigeon and partridge, organic honey production, wild mushrooms, and so on. But the bulk of these farms’ income is generated by cork. If cork revenues dried up, this countryside, because it is pretty, sunny, and inexpensive, would attract wealthy urban Portuguese and duplicate the holiday-bungalow–building boom that has occurred in other areas. The presence of the cork montados prevents the desertification of Portugal and the march of the Sahara onto the European continent.

There you have it in summarized form. How could I not care ? By teaching others, passionately, about why choosing wines with real cork stoppers matters to a bigger picture, I am playing a role in preserving them and protecting all that is valuable about their existence. In 2004, our business began a grass-roots wine cork stopper recycling program. You can find details on our website at this link – “Recycle Your Wine Corks“.

Yemm & Hart Cork Tile

Yemm & Hart Cork Tile


While our primary focus in this effort is to create new building products – floor tiles or surfacing material – when requested, we consider alternative applications for the corks that people send to us at their cost (we do have plans ultimately to “buy” corks and support fund-raising activities but the economy has proven a constraint upon this effort reaching its full potential thus far). One lady, Cathy Gary of Coldwater Mississippi, is an example of someone that we have allowed to purchase some corks (we have storage and processing costs for the corks that we receive, even though we do not pay at this time for those materials). She handcrafts wreaths from them. In 2008, we bought a couple as Christmas Gifts for our mothers; and then, discovered that they were reducing clutter and expressly asked that we not give them such things.

7th Annual  Wreath & Menorah Design Competition  & Charity Auction

7th Annual
Wreath & Menorah Design Competition
& Charity Auction


The wreaths have sat un-used in the box they were received in until this year. One of our contacts, Color Art of St Louis, is sponsoring in conjunction with Steelcase and others, the 7th Annual Wreath and Menorah Design Competition and Charity Auction on Wed, Dec 11th from 6-8pm at the Kemper Art Museum at Washington University in St Louis. So, we donated the two wreaths to that effort.

The Wine & Cork Connection

When people drink wine, They are celebrating life, They are celebrating their life or The life of family and friends, They are celebrating the life Of the vine and the grape, The skilled hands of the vintner. When the wine is all gone There often remains at the table, A small reminder of life. It’s the wine cork stopper. The centuries old solution To preserve the special taste Of wine stored in stone.

Why? that little cork is bark. Bark from a tree, a mighty tree. A tree that lives In just a few places, On our planet Earth. A tree that is endangered. If the use of wine corks declines, The magnificent cork oak Is threatened with being cut down, To make more living space for the Coastal loving people. Once a cork tree is gone, It is rarely replanted Because it takes generations to grow From seedling to cork bark.

When people save their corks, They are saving some of this life. They are saying that they want it to continue. It surely must have a longer useful life, People want to believe, When the wine corks are transformed Into something all may use and see, Awareness is renewed About the mighty cork oak tree. And drinking that wine With a real cork stopper Becomes a cause For even more celebration. Drinking wine is a celebration of life.

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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Connectivity & Sustainability

Nothing gives me more optimism than the rise of internet connectivity for the quality of life on this planet going forward. Being able to interact with a wide diversity of individuals, gain quality information simply by having good search techniques and a degree of discernment for what is true or not, for misinformation is rampant on the net – both intentional and ignorant, and the speed at which one can accelerate their learning based upon their own connections, patterns, interests and perspectives is staggering sometimes. Just keeping up is a challenge sometimes.

Circles of Connectivity

Yet it is good to be alive at such a point in history if one is inclined towards social activism, which certainly those involved in sustainability and environmental issues for the built environment certainly are. I believe that the world is a better place for it. There is possible now, a high degree of cooperation between a diverse group of interests – governmental, institutional, scientific and commercial organizations. Each utilizing their specialized understandings in concert with each other for the highest good of a broad section of the population, who are the ultimate beneficiaries. There is a discernible impulse towards innovative responses and the ability to get attention focused on these, thanks to a greater degree of accessibility and connectivity.

There is a symbiotic relationship between environmentally innovative firms and interest in one another’s pursuits. As a materials business, focused on sustainable processes that utilized already extracted natural resources by extending their usefulness and not squandering their residual values, we come in contact every day with other niche interests with common perspectives of seeking the good for all involved. It is heartening at a deep level. There is great hope inherent in these developments.

When larger mainstream industries operating within traditional standards can also realize coincidentally greater profit margins, it is not difficult for them to be motivated to cooperate with national programs such as the US Green Building Council’s LEED specifications. We have seen conventional resistance, certainly, within the plastics industry, when their profitability feels threatened by too generic of an approach to standards. It does not promote progress for parties to take too rigid of a stance in opposition to one another.

Symbiosis Circles

For example, though Monsanto continues to experience a high degree of opposition to their practices which I am not here to judge publically one way or another, a moment in time stands out for me. We were involved in St Louis Earth Day celebrations back in the 1990s and developed a friendship there with a long-time local environmentalist who also works at state levels to promote the common good. A group of activists came into the celebration and staged an impromptu demonstration against the corporation. She said to me, still a fledgling in the movement at that time, better progress is found sitting down with Monsanto seeking commonality that appeals to their financial interests than all the demonstrations that will ever be staged. I understood and have not forgotten.

There is a law in physics “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” but somehow, it is my belief that indications of harmony and efforts at cooperation move progress forward more quickly that waging battles and seeking to win by causing others to lose. As the controversies over climate change show, even the best and most diligent minds find it difficult to arrive at simple explanations, likely outcomes or good solutions to the large issues that remain of utmost importance to – not the sustainability of the planet, which will easily survive anything humanity can hurl at her – but the sustainability of our species. That is the issue that people need to consider carefully, down to the level of individual actions and translated up to whatever higher level they have any influence over.

Circles of Sustainability

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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Why Local Matters – A World That Works

Buy Local Save Jobs
We are such a globally “sourced” world now but even if that keeps the costs of goods low to the consumers, I don’t really think this is a good thing for the mass of humanity and quality of life. I would rather pay more and have a world that works for everyone. My partner, Stephen Yemm, often muses that countries should keep some basic goods production in operative condition – both for employment and for security. Also, we both became a bit more aware of the issue of human trafficking by watching a 2010 movie recently – based on a true story – titled The Whistleblower.

So, this desire for “a world that works for everyone” is not a bleeding heart liberal perspective but a very practical and realistic perspective, on the state of the global economy as it exists at the moment. There is too much emphasis on more and more consumption, for one thing. There is too much exploitation going on – of people and resources. There is something wrong when local agricultural land is purchased and used to grow foodstuffs for a more affluent consumer, while the local population is left dependent upon charitable “excess” big ag food hand-outs.

The Lemp Brewery, St Louis MO

The Lemp Brewery, St Louis MO


On Halloween, during a long drive with family from St Louis, after having a bit of themed fun there at the old Lemp Brewery (such well-built architecture; and so sound, even at a century old !!), my husband and I explored issues of restroom partition hardware. The “Lemp” story is about how those old German brewers recognized the advantages of LOCAL natural resources (including the river and the huge caverns below) to bring financial success into their ventures. While I don’t have any ready answers regarding our own business’ involvement with anodized bright aluminum finishing for restroom partition hardware – thanks to my iPhone, during that long drive home on Halloween night, I learned a lot.

It does pay to ask questions, and do the research, and try to understand the environmental complexities of the choices that we make. We first began to have questions about the origins of the hardware that is kitted up by our “partner” in restroom fabrication some years ago. In truth, we only have control over the high density polyethylene plastic that we source from 100% post-consumer processors but which is the bulk by volume of any restroom partition installation. However, the buck stops here at our business, when it comes to financial involvements. We experienced a shower installation which included stainless steel hardware. Imagine our disappointment and shock, when rust started showing through !! In researching the problem, the best answer was that it had an “inferior” coating. It seemed to have been sourced off-shore by our fabricator in order to save money and keep costs low.

Rather than accept their offer of an inexpensive solution (they were willing to replace that hardware with pretty much the same product), we simply couldn’t accept the possibility that it would just rust all over again; and therefore, our customer would be left disappointed once again, regarding the performance of our produce on their project. So, we paid more, to purchase “Made in the USA” stainless steel hardware; and we have heard no more complaints about that installation. Another restroom partition associated partner, recently shared with us their concerns about the environmental impacts of brightly anodized aluminum hardware being sourced off-shore, most likely from China. Stories abound about real circumstances that would leave any thoughtful person concerned, about China’s inability to police sufficiently, all the businesses that sell products into the United States. We are proud be a “Made in the USA” producer of quality building-related materials.

On our drive home from St Louis, thanks to google and my iPhone, I got a little education about the anodizing process, which includes significant potentials for disturbing pollution. It was inspiring to read the story of an Ohio manufacturer, Anomatic Corporation of Newark, OH, which expresses itself as a great role model and an example of “government working” and the value of enforcing environmental regulations. The air and water that people in the vicinity of that processor must cope with, is less likely to cause health impacts because they are a business that actually cares, even if they are also coerced a bit by regulation. Much of that anodizing process has moved off-shore because the environment oversight is less burdensome for the multinational corporations whose practices are often exploitative. You can read about the great lengths the Anomatic Corporation goes to, in order to anodize metal (which does lend important durability aspects) in an environmentally safe way, at this link – http://www.anomatic.com/pdf/anomatic-sustainability-the-environment.pdf.
Anomatic Sustainability

The tide goes out and the tide comes back in. Such are the cycles of nature. After WWII, the United States sent their genius of automation, Dr Edwards Deming, to help the Japanese recover from the wounds of war. I still remember when the words “Made in Japan” suggested the same inferior quality that the words “Made in China” do now. I know that I read labels – I’m not buying any food product for my children or our felines that isn’t made in the United States. I simply lack the confidence to trust my beloveds well-being, to Chinese oversight.

I am happy to see some plastics manufacturing returning to the United States but I have deep concerns about fracking, which is the source of the industry’s optimism. I am happy that there are efforts to train workers for sewing jobs in the state of Minnesota. Garment and Shoe Factories were once major employers in our region. Mining was also. I think we are shortsighted to have allowed the demise of the steel industry in this country. We are short-sighted not to care about the well-being of people – about a world that works for everyone. I mean that word “works” in a very broad sense – the people have “work” to do that maintains their sense of pride and self-worth, that the systems that supply basic goods – food, clothing, etc – to people are maintained locally, without the need to transport such items by air or ocean.

A World That Works
I want a world that works because everything is in balance again; and people and resources are not exploited, simply to line the pockets of the wealthiest 1%. Rising wages in Asia are also helping to return “work” to the United States. I know that it is naïve to expect that automation and robotics are going to cease being an important aspect of production; and honestly, to the degree that it keeps people out of harmful environments, I’m all for it. However, for a long as 30 years ago, I personally believed that such a return to a balanced economic situation is necessary – for the overall quality of life to improve and progress. Those in the significant position of specifying materials are part of that opportunity for improvement. The more informed and aware these professionals are, regarding the small details and fine points of their choices, the more certain it becomes that our children will find in their own tomorrows, that the world does work for everyone; and that local well-being is an important part of that equation.

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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