Sustainable Wood

Last Tuesday the EcoBrooklyn interns attended the dasHAUS symposium and tour in White Plains, New York. The touring exhibition features the mobile dasHAUS pavilion, constructed of fully functioning sustainable energy technologies. The pavilion’s design is inspired by the Technical University of Darmstadt’s winning Solar Decathlon entries in 2007 and 2009. The tour, organized by the German American Chamber of Commerce, is meant to engage and educate the community while also connecting industry professionals. After a series of lectures by various professionals in related fields, the attendees were guided through the pavilion and introduced to the unique elements of the design.

The docent mentioned that every piece of the pavilion is German aside from the “sustainable” oak floors. We were intrigued by the concept of sustainable oak since oak trees are protected by law and the meaning of sustainable is often skewed by marketers.  Upon further questioning the docent shared that oak is a particularly good insulator wood, but that he was unsure of what sustainable wood entailed.

After some research we found that there are more than 50 certification systems worldwide, the two largest being the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). Both are third-party certifiers in that they are independent and non-governmental. In North America, the three additional certification systems endorsed by the PEFC are the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), the Canadian Standards Association’s Sustainable Forest Management Standard, and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) Program. Currently only 10% of the forests in the world have been certified as sustainable.

The Forest Stewardship Council was the first established third-party certification system and many others followed suit. There is criticism that the abundance of certification systems results in consumer confusion in relation to standards, therefore allowing some systems to uphold laxer standards.

LEED only accepts certification systems that adhere to the USGBC Forest Certification Systems Benchmark. A draft is available here:

Currently only Forest Stewardship Council – certified wood is eligible for LEED points. FSC accredits its associated certification bodies and checks compliance through audits.

The FSC has 10 general principles for responsible forest management:

Principle 1: Compliance with laws and FSC Principles – to comply with all laws, regulations, treaties, conventions and agreements, together with all FSC Principles and Criteria.
Principle 2: Tenure and use rights and responsibilities – to define, document and legally establish long-term tenure and use rights.
Principle 3: Indigenous peoples’ rights – to identify and uphold indigenous peoples’ rights of ownership and use of land and resources.
Principle 4: Community relations and worker’s rights – to maintain or enhance forest workers’ and local communities’ social and economic well-being.
Principle 5: Benefits from the forest – to maintain or enhance long term economic, social and environmental benefits from the forest.

Principle 6: Environmental impact – to maintain or restore the ecosystem, its biodiversity, resources and landscapes.

Principle 7: Management plan – to have a management plan, implemented, monitored and documented.

Principle 8: Monitoring and assessment – to demonstrate progress towards management objectives.

Principle 9: Maintenance of high conservation value forests – to maintain or enhance the attributes which define such forests.

Principle 10: Plantations – to plan and manage plantations in accordance with FSC Principles and Criteria.

The FSC certification promotes forests that are exemplary of ecologically, economically, and socially sustainable management practices. Sustainability has been defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, so the certification ensures that forest managers ensure the long-term health of the forest in question.

FSC also provides chain-of-custody certification, which takes into account all companies that have touched the lumber before it is purchased by a consumer.

The detailed standards can be found at

The certification systems promote responsible building practices by allowing builders to work with sustainable materials.  At EcoBrooklyn, we try to work mostly with salvaged materials, which is the most sustainable option available. Certified woods offer an acceptable alternative. We urge builders and contractors to consider purchasing certified woods for their projects.


Green Roof Professional certification

The Green Roof Professional (GRP) certification system was developed by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, a not-for-profit industry association working to promote and develop the market for the green roofs throughout North America.

In addition to providing a professional accreditation program, the organization facilitates the exchange of information, supports research, and promotes the establishment of effective public policies. The organization presents Awards of Excellence to celebrate innovative professionals and organizes the annual CitiesAlive conference to develop supportive policies.

Green Roofs for Healthy Cities has been committed to developing a professional accreditation program to legitimize green roof designers and provide education to fill knowledge gaps and improve the quality of work.

In 2004, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities developed its first training course, Green Roof Design 101. It has since added Green Roof Design and Installation 201, Green Roof Waterproofing and Drainage 301, and Green Roof Plants and Growing Media 401. The classes are available in Toronto, New York, Atlanta, and Denver on select dates. They are each full-day courses recommended as a part of the GRP training program. The following half-day courses are also available, and count as continuing education credits:

·  Advanced Green Roof Maintenance

·  Introduction to Rooftop Urban Agriculture

·  Green Walls 101: Systems Overview and Design (2nd Ed.)

·  Integrated Water Management for Buildings and Sites

·  Ecological Green Roof Design

·  Green Infrastructure: Policies, Performance and Projects

·  Green Roof Policy Development

Each course is accompanied by a course manual, which includes all the material on the accreditation exam.

Unfortunately, the accreditation process is rather expensive. Tuition for each full-day course is $399 USD and is accompanied by a course manual. Each course manual can be purchased for $199 USD separately for those who choose not to take the classes in person. The accreditation exam itself consists of 100 multiple-choice questions and lasts 2 hours. It costs $495 USD to enroll and cannot be taken online, but is only offered in Denver, Toronto, New York, and Chicago, incurring further transportation costs. In order to maintain GRP Certification, you must be a Green Roofs for Healthy Cities member ($160 USD annually), and renew your certification every 2 years. This involves completing a minimum of 16 continuing education credits, 8 of which must for GRHC related activities, and paying a renewal fee of $95 USD. Interestingly, each continuing education course is listed at 3.5 units, effectively forcing members to increase the number of classes they must take to maintain their accreditation. Some of the half-day courses can be taken online for $125 USD as part of the Living Architecture Academy.

While the accreditation process may be designed to increase the reliability of green roof designers, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities is also cashing in on the deal. The North American green roof industry grew by 115% in 2011, drawing many more interested professionals and increasing public awareness. Much like LEED in their field, GRHC monopolizes the accreditation process and effectively takes advantage of all the growth.

The existence of the certification is a double-edged sword: while it assures potential consumers that the professional hired has a sound informational backing, it also forces those who want to become green roofers to submit to the monopoly as it becomes the standard.

As a guerrilla green builder, EcoBrooklyn works with clients who seek the most cutting edge techniques. We reduce the net energy of each project by maximizing the use of natural and salvaged materials. The green roof methods taught in the GRP program adhere to the contemporary methodology involving plastics and other foreign materials. While we agree with the basic ideals driving GRHC’s mission (in that the application of green roofs is an essential component to reducing building impact and bettering the urban environment), we do not believe that adhering to the methods prescribed in the accreditation program are necessarily the only right way to build a green roof. In addition, as the organization grows, there is the danger that monetary and political pressures skew the curriculum towards supporting certain brands and materials which may not necessarily be the most ecologically friendly. The GRP curriculum is updated to include new knowledge, and we hope that GRHC’s updates will move towards greater net sustainability.

As it stands, the program is a good way for interested people to learn about green roofs as long as they allow themselves to expand on the ideas taught by GRHC. While we applaud Green Roofs for Healthy Cities’ organizational and promotional achievements, we hope that it does not become a prerequisite to legitimize oneself in the field but instead serves as a possible stepping-stone for professionals.

The Living Building Challenge- Winner of the 2012 Buckminster-Fuller Challenge

Green building and eco-sensitive design is currently at the forefront of our modern ethos.   What this means for the green builders, contractors and architects of NY, and the world, is a period of dramatic change and challenge is ahead if not already begun. A change in the way we think about new buildings and construction, in how we consider “used” materials and how we use and interact with space.

As Scholar David Orr stated-

“We are coming to an era the likes of which we’ve never seen before, we’re in the white waters of human history. We don’t know what lies ahead. Bucky Fuller’s ideas on design are at the core of any set of solutions that will take us to calmer waters.”


One of the most prominent voices in sustainability and responsible design since the 1960’s is R. Buckminster Fuller.  Fuller pioneered in fields from architecture, and mathematics, to engineering and automobile design and only patented 12 designs allowing the vast majority of his work to be open-sourced and free to the public.

His life’s mission and philosophy was simple, “to make the world work for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or disadvantage of anyone.”

Even today, years after Fuller’s death his name is still the vanguard of the sustainable design community. The largest testament to his legacy is the R. Buckminster Fuller Institute and their annual international competition the Buckminster Fuller Design Challenge.

According to the institution’s website $100,000 is given “…to support the development and implementation of a strategy that has significant potential to solve humanity’s most pressing problems. Named “Socially-Responsible Design’s Highest Award” by Metropolis Magazine, it attracts bold, visionary, tangible initiatives focused on a well-defined need of critical importance. Winning solutions are regionally specific yet globally applicable and present a truly comprehensive, anticipatory, integrated approach to solving the world’s complex problems.”

In 2012 at an awards ceremony held here in NYC at Cooper Union The International Living Future Institute was awarded first prize for their “Living Building Challenge” initiative.  According to the institute’s website the Living building Challenge is:

-a PHILOSOPHY, ADVOCACY PLATFORM AND CERTIFICATION PROGRAM. Because it defines priorities on both a technical level and as a set of core values, it is engaging the broader building industry in the deep conversations required to truly understand how to solve problems rather than shift them.

-an EVOCATIVE GUIDE. By identifying an ideal and positioning that ideal as the indicator of success, the Challenge inspires project teams to reach decisions based on restorative principles instead of searching for ‘least common denominator’ solutions. This approach brings project teams closer to the objectives we are collectively working to achieve.

-a BEACON. With a goal to increase awareness, it is tackling critical environmental, social and economic problems, such as: the rise of persistent toxic chemicals; climate change; habitat loss; the collapse of domestic manufacturing; global trade imbalances; urban sprawl; and the lack of community distinctiveness.

-a ‘UNIFIED TOOL’. Addressing development at all scales, it can be equally applied to landscape and infrastructure projects; partial renovations and complete building renewals; new building construction; and neighborhood, campus and community design.

-a PERFORMANCE-BASED STANDARD. Decidedly not a checklist of best practices, the Challenge leads teams to embrace regional solutions and respond to a number of variables, including climate factors and cultural characteristics.


The challenge seeks to encourage designers to bridge the gap between the built environment and the surrounding ecosystems thus reinventing the typical developers’ business model and transforming the role of the building occupant from passive to more of an involved partnership with the earth and her resources.

For all manner of development the Living Building Principles are applicable, whether, “… a single building, a park, a college campus or even a complete neighborhood community, Living Building Challenge provides a framework for design, construction and the symbiotic relationship between people and all aspects of the built environment.”

You can download a complete document that outlines the specific requirements and benchmarks that must be met to receive certification HERE.

With its radical and rigorous requirements, this is more than “green washing”.  This is an excerpt from a statement released by The Fuller Institute after the award ceremony;

“The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is setting the standard for how to build in the 21st century by establishing the highest bar yet for environmental performance and ecological responsibility within the built environment … by “building a new model” and establishing new benchmarks for non-­‐toxic, net-­‐zero structures… The Living Building Challenge goes far beyond current best practices, reframing the relationship between the built and natural environments. LBC seeks to lead the charge toward a holistic standard that could yield an entirely new level of integration between building systems, transportation, technology, natural resources, and community. If widely adopted, this approach would significantly enhance the level of broad-­‐based social collaboration throughout the design and building process and beyond, dramatically reducing the destructiveness of current construction, boost the livability, health, and resilience of communities … the International Future Living Institute is charting a new and critically needed course in an industry that arguably remains one of the most consumptive … The LBC’s model of regenerative design in the built environment could provide a critical leverage point in the roadmap to a sustainable future and is an exemplary trim tab in its potential to catalyze innovation in such a high impact, high consumption industry…”

This is a valuable new asset and tool for the green building and green contracting community in NYC nd abroad in the fight for a greener and livable tomorrow.  -living building challenge website  -Buckminster-fuller institute website

Green Walls 101 Class at NY Horticultural Society

Check out this great event hosted by the New York Horticultural Society, a perfect opportunity to learn new ways to incorporate green walls into your space! Also, you’ll learn about the design, benefits, major components and systems, as well as market drivers behind this modern green building technique.  We think they’re a sustainable, beautiful and efficient way to create a unique wall on many building types – chances are, after this class, you’ll agree!

More information and registration here:

The Horticultural Society of New York
148 West 37th Street, 13th Floor
New York City, NY 10018
Thursday, February 23
1:00pm – 5:00pm
Space is limited. Reserve your seat now.
$175 for HSNY and GRHC members
$199 for non-membersIncludes a detailed 70-page course manual.

Small Changes x Large Scale = Big Results.

Small changes on a large scale make a huge impact. This is a simple concept and if applied it will improve the countless number of buildings that make up our total global infrastructure. NYC claims around 975,000 buildings and they account for 79% of this cities green house gas emissions. When it comes to residential and commercial infrastructure we can improve it in two ways, through few but very large projects such as the one billion dollar Bank of America building at 1 Bryant Park, or with a higher number of smaller projects, for example  $700,000 Brooklyn brownstones. Either way, the idea is to improve our infrastructure by implementing building practices that maximize efficiency and reach for the ideal of sustainability.

Brownstone green renovation is a concept that provides solutions to the many brownstone building owners in NYC.  By specializing in a particular type of building a contractor becomes equipped with all the solutions that work in that specific case, and efficiency in the process is maximized.  Striving to create net zero brownstones is a goal not easy to achieve, but as time goes on and our incipient green technology begins to bloom, this ideal will become the standard.  Anything short of a net zero brownstone is relatively brilliant and each renovated and retrofitted brownstone will be  part of the sum that makes a real difference.  Equally but vertically, superstructures are embracing this philosophy, and NYC’s first platinum trophy is occupying the two acre lot at 1 Bryant park.

The first LEED platinum sky scrapper in the United States was completed last year and is located on 42nd street and 6th avenue. The Bank of America tower at 1 Bryant Park was the vision of Richard Cook from Cook + Fox Architects, but the hard work of many union tradesmen, designers, and construction managers made it a reality. The goal of the project was to create a building that uses 50% less energy than a building of comparable size. Some creative energy saving features, resourcefulness in allocating material, and beauty in design make this tower a 1,200 foot symbol of the construction industries new priorities.

Most of the materials were sourced from within a 500 mile radius. Also a high priority was placed on using recycled materials. The greatest amount of material used in such buildings is in the form of steel, concrete and glass. Of the 26,000 tons of steel used on the structure at least sixty percent of it was recycled from scrap metal. The blast furnace slag, a byproduct of steel production, is usually discarded but for the Bryant Park site this slag was reused to make up 45% of the concrete mix. By using recycled slag to make a stronger mixture it reduced the amount of cement needed thus saving 56,000 tons of CO2 emissions from being released into the atmosphere. Just to make this fact more relevant let us compare a passenger car driven by an average driver in the USA; such a vehicle puts out just under six tons of CO2 emissions per year.  Recycling the slag had the same effect as the equivalent of taking around 9,000 cars off the road for one year. The tower is covered and outfitted with eight thousand panels of crystal and glass. The exterior glass panels have a special coating that keeps heat and UV out, while letting light in. This implement saves money on cooling costs, and by reducing the heating up of the building it also reduced the tower’s contribution to the heat island effect.

This building has some neat systems and I will only describe some of them. The HVAC system was designed to minimize energy usage and ensure high air quality. The air intake located on the upper floors pulls in air and moves it through the filtration media, this air is then circulated throughout the building and released to improve air quality in the building’s immediate surroundings. It would be interesting to test air samples along an increasing distance from the building in order to observe its effects on ambient air quality. Radiant floor heating in the lobby heats the floor and air 5-6 feet above it instead of all 30 feet of vertical space in the foyer.  I’m thinking warm air moves up away from the floor anyway but I hope it lingers long enough to keep the passing crowd warm. Forty four frozen water tanks act as batteries that store cooling power. During off peak hours energy is put in to freeze the water and during peak hours the frozen tanks are used to cool the building. This timing of energy usage relieves the energy grid during peak hours.  The buildings gray water system collects and reuses almost all rainwater and most waste water. It stores gray water in five different tanks that can hold a total volume of almost 78,000 gallons. Estimates show a potential of saving 127 million gallons of water per year, that much water adds up to savings of about $500,000 annually. The gray water system is also a substantial relief to our sewage system which has enough trouble processing NYC’s 1 billion gallon per day usage rate.

A design that reduces energy and water usage in such a megastructure becomes very powerful since those reductions pile on.  I can’t find the exact number but there must be thousands of brownstones in Brooklyn and if so then they add up to millions of square feet of infrastructure. Each square foot is waiting to become more healthy to live in, more energy efficient, and in general more sustainably built and managed. Minor changes on all this square footage adds up to real changes in our infrastructure.  Its up to the New York green contractors to provide the methods and solutions that work, and the building owners to select the most forward looking contractor they can afford.

LEED Green Building Myth

I don’t know if it is a mainstream thing or what but I don’t get LEED.  I even became a LEED AP in the hope that I would see what the big deal is but I still don’t get it. Why would you want to spend all that money and time so that you can get some plaque to put on your building. It just seems like a big game that makes no difference to anything. People have bought into it so it is a great PR and marketing move, but what does do to make the world a better place?

“Oh look! A LEED Platinum skyscraper!” Wow great. Let me tell the folks in the Amazon jungle they can relax.

Maybe it is because I am a Brooklyn green builder who builds green no matter what. I don’t care if I’m given a Brownie Badge. Building green is the most logical, ethical and financially intelligent way to build after not building at all, which is the greenest.

The reason I say this is that Eco Brooklyn just recently posted an add to hire a Green Architect. We got over 100 applications.  Most of them were LEED AP. And pretty much all of the Architects were not green. So clearly LEED and green are not connected. LEED and eager hoop jumping is connected. LEED and a warped desire for approval. LEED and an insecure need to jump on a bandwagon. LEED and anal paper-pushing bureaucracy. LEED and the belief that green can be put into a neat list of bullet points. LEED as part of your marketing budget. LEED as an attempt to greenwash your business. All that I’ve seen.

But LEED and green building so far have very little in common. In fact anyone who uses LEED as proof of their green building kudos is either a newbie wannabe or a marketing agent wanting to sell you something (and it aint green building).

LEED is better than building crap. LEED is better than chopping down the rain forest. But LEED is a deterrent from practical, affordable, ethical and easy green building.

You can build a LEED Platinum building by fudging the numbers and spending lots of money on useless elements, but it takes a lot of time and paper-pushing. Wow hat sounds like an ethical way to spend a fun day!

LEED sucks. I am happy to say that I spend my days building LEED Platinum buildings and the only reason I have the time, money and excitement to do so is that none of them are LEED Certified.

Gennaro Brooks-Church and Henry Gifford Discuss Energy on the Radio

Gennaro Brooks-Church was on a radio show with Henry Gifford last week. Henry is a great building energy technician who has pointed out that LEED houses and the USGBC are not exactly transparent in their energy efficiency statements.

Turns out LEED buildings are not as energy efficient as USGBC would like us to believe. In fact they are outright deceitful about it.

Check out the radio show here.

LEED Marketing Mania

What is manufacturer’s’ obsession with telling me how many LEED
points I can earn by buying their product?!
From the advertisements you’d think every house being built is going for LEED.
But the manufacturers know they aren’t. They are betting on people
saying, “Heck, if it good for LEEDS then it’s good for my little
house. Give me two!”

It’s a big marketing game and pretty much every one is involved. I got
LEED accredited the other day and when my girlfriend asked me what the
benefits were I was, “Well, I guess it looks good on my business
card.” The main benefit of me studying and paying money was

Nobody is knocking on my door to certify their house. I’m not even
sure I’ll certify my own building!

But I like to be involved in the game and right now that’s the biggest
one in town. And what a racket it is.

Gennaro Brooks-Church is a LEED AP

I just passed the LEED AP test.
LEED certification has some benefits. If everyone built along the LEED standards I do think that the world would be a greener place, not so much because LEED is amazing but because people build really badly.

I also have my reservations.

The LEED certification process is a complicated and expensive bureaucracy that can be avoided through simple common sense and good ethics. LEED accreditation makes the world a much more complicated nd expensive place and who needs that. For what? A plaque on the wall?

A LEED certified house has no checks or balances to verify that it is actually energy efficient once built. In fact some excellent research by a NY local Henry Gifford has shown that LEED buildings are on average LESS efficient than normal buildings of the same standard. It seems a lot of LEED buildings were simply press strategies and they didn’t really care about the green part. Henry’s research shows that LEED has actively tried to hide this. So there are some ethical and efficiency issues that trouble me.

The LEED rebute is that they don’t want to scare people off with overly aggressive green practices. Call it green for the masses.

There is a possiblity that LEED will be implemented as a requirement for building. This has some problems. USGBC is a private organization that can change its rules when it wants and charge what it wants. It is not a governmental agency established to represent the interests of the people. If it were implemented into code they would have the power of a governmental agency without any of the regulations. Big problem.

Because of my reservations about LEED I found it very hard studying for the test and actually failed it once. But the money in the hole made me want to pass the damn thing even more.

So now I’m a LEED AP. Eco Brooklyn already had a member of its staff that was LEED qualified. I hired him for other reasons. Now Eco Brooklyn has two LEED Accredited Professionals. We are considering certifying the Green Show House (much to the horror of Henry Gifford).

Our reasons for certification are that firstly we believe we have built a LEED Platinum building without any of the energy efficiency issues. Secondly LEED has the “moral high ground” and people view it as desirable. Magazines love to mention it and home buyers like it. Both those things would be good for the green show house from a press point of view and might be a justifiable investment to help establish Eco Brooklyn as the most innovative green builder in Brooklyn.

But again, LEED in my eyes is very much a marketing tool. Eco Brooklyn builds LEED Platinum buildings and better regardless of whether LEED exists or not.

Whether we go ahead and certify the house has yet to be decided.