Are Illegal Drugs Green?

Are Illegal Drugs Green? The answer is no. Reason being anything that isn’t regulated is driven purely by monetary benefit without any rules or oversight. If you think big corporations are bad for polluting rivers, think what damage a large meth lab can do. Not only do they have a lot of chemicals to dispose of but they need to do it secretly – they aren’t going to pack the contaminants into barrells and send them off to an approved waste processing plant. They are going to dump it into a secluded river. “Secluded” being another word for no humans, meaning nature.

This occurred to me when I read the cool info on this Addiction Support site. They offer fantastic info on how drugs as they are made now are not sustainable.

Clear cutting forests in South America for Cocaine production. If stopping legal companies from destroying the rain forest is hard, it's almost impossible to stop illegal companies.

Clear cutting forests in South America for Cocaine production. If stopping legal companies from destroying the rain forest is hard, it’s almost impossible to stop illegal companies.

As a green builder in Brooklyn we work near the Gowanus Canal, a great example of what happens when waste is not regulated. Now we are paying for that big time. The millions they saved by using the canal as a dumping ground is many millions more that we have to pay to fix it. Thank’s guys! Next time just charge me a couple cents more for the product and do the right thing.


The mouth of the Gowanus Canal 1851.

A much more strangled and destroyed Gowanus Canal in the 19th Century.

A much more strangled and destroyed Gowanus Canal in the 19th Century.

From an environmental point of view it is a lot healthier for our society to legalize drugs. Tax the hell out of them, regulate them up the wazoo and strictly control where, when and who can consume them. And most importantly, control how and where they are made. Are they clear cutting mountains and drenching them in illegal pesticides to grow that marijuana or are they growing it in low footprint warehouses using solar electricity and city waste-water?

Global Drug Routes. Hmmm...who's the biggest drug addict?

Global Drug Routes. Hmmm…who’s the biggest drug addict?

Parts of the US have been ravaged by illegal drug production. The local authorities admit they have absolutely no control over the gangs doing it. There is just too much area to cover, too much money and too much demand.

Parts of the US have been ravaged by illegal drug production, like the clear cutting for Marijuana growing in California above . The local authorities admit they have absolutely no control over the gangs doing it. There is just too much area to cover, too much money and too much demand.

People are not stupid. Well, that’s not true. Many are. But it is my experience from having three kids that working with them is much better than against.

Why is alcohol legal and other dangerous drugs aren’t? Makes no sense to me. Why is is totally legal for my six year old to light a fire in our fireplace and yet I can’t legally buy some pot to light up on my back porch? Trust me, my son lighting a fire is a million times more dangerous to society than my addled brain on pot could ever be.

And I don’t even like pot. I want this stuff legalized – and meth and LSD and crack – because I am a New York green builder and I understand that burning down tropical forests in Burma to grow opium is going to directly affect my life in the big apple.

I want to see sustainably grown opium in my corner store. I want it to be really expensive and I want the profits to go towards Addiction Counselling and a new swing set for my local park. Now that is something I could get high on.

The Art of Shipping Containers

Recently a group approached Eco Brooklyn to help build a cool project involving shipping containers. The project is ambitious: three walls of containers arranged around a central triangular courtyard. The
walls are six levels of shipping containers high totaling 84 shipping containers overall. This is a second attempt to get such a project going. Their first attempt – an eight story shipping container on the Upper East Side – fell through.

As a New York green contractor we really like shipping containers as buildings; they appeal to our affinity for creative reuse and modular construction. Thousands and thousands of shipping containers are sitting stagnant in ports all over the world. In the 1970’s “shipping container architecture” began as trend in design and more recently the already existing building material is moving to the forefront of the sustainable architecture movement. Here are a few examples of architecture which ingeniously utilizes these bountiful, colorful, movable boxes.

Sky is the Limit

Typically when we think of a Japanese tea house, we think of low, thatched roof structures, but with Sky is the Limit, Portuguese artist, Didier Faustino decided to perch this space resting high above the rough sea in Yang Yang, South Korea.

He used two shipping contains to provide a sea-facing observation space atop a tower made out of scaffolding. Visitors must first climb five flights of stairs in order to reach the top of the 65-foot scaffolding.


Holiday Cabana at Maduru Oya

Sri Lankan architect, Damith Premathilake was commissioned to design and build a holiday cabana at Maduru Oya.

The lake house sits on an army training camp surrounded by jungles facing a lake as mountains appear in the distance. The structure is made out of materials that were all found on site such as timber from weapons boxes and shipping container.

The project took a total of one month to complete and is total of 700-square feet.



Korean designers, Keehyan Ahn & Minsoo Lee have used shipping containers to design a public observatory called Oceanscope. In order to overcome the restraints of the building site, where the ground level is too low to view the sunset across the harbor, the architects utilized old shipping containers to overcome the limitation.

The shipping containers are angled at 10’, 30’ and 50’ to achieve different views. As depicted in the diagram, the observer enters the shipping container and rests ones back against the angled wall, to view the reflection of the sunset through the mirror on the opposite side.

Shipping containers are used for temporary shelter in many rural areas of Korea because of their low cost.

However, indiscreet uses of this recycled product often don’t create harmonious relationships with the natural context because of their industrial aesthetic. Keehan Ahn & Minsoo Lee have been able to take this construction building block and mold it into an innovative prototype for the future of shipping container construction.

Normad Skyscraper

Globalization has given people the ability to not just be citizens of one city or region but become citizens of the world. Luca D’Amico and Luca Telso, two Italian architects submitted this “Nomad Skyscraper” design to a Skyscraper competition in 2011.

The concept centers on using shipping containers that act as individual, personalized apartment units, which can be plugged into the permanent scaffolding.  The main structure would provide basic infrastructure as well as recreational areas.

Units could theoretically be transported by ship, truck and train and transported to other cities, which have this same infrastructure.

Dekalb Market

These shipping container projects are also happening right here in Brooklyn. Take Dekalb Market for example, this low impact, relatively low cost, shopping center has become a centerpiece for the architecture of New York City.

Newark, New Jersey is home to one of the largest ports in North America, there is plethora of these module containers (in a variety of colors!) sitting and waiting to be shipping back to their port of origin. UK developers Urban Splash created a configuration made out of 22 shipping containers occupy a portion of Downtown Brooklyn.

Frietag Flagship Store

One of our readers spent us a link to another incredible example of innovative shipping container design. The Frietag flagship store is composed entirely of rusty, recycled shipping containers that have been gutted, reinforced and configured to serve Frietag, a Swiss company that specialized in products made from recycled materials.

Frietag took its initial objective (creating beautiful products from truck tarpaulins) and pushed it a step further by selling its recycled products within a recycled product.

The building is striking upon first glace, the first two floors are composed of four shipping containers (4×2), and the number of shipping container decreases as the height increases.

This structure is the world’s tallest recycled building, but short enough so that it does not infringe upon the coding laws of Zurich.








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

Urban Decay of the Past, A Model for Future Design? A Look into Kowloon’s Walled City

The now extinct Kowloon Walled City, also known as the City of Darkness may be a perverse prototype for green, sustainable living. Eco Brooklyn is constantly searching for green building alternatives applicable to New York City living, so when we came across Kowloon we almost fell off our seats.

It was Gotham City on cheap crack right out of a Blade Runner movie.

The Walled City was a densely populated, largely ungoverned settlement in Kowloon, Hong Kong that was once regarded as one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

It began as a Chinese Military fort and became its own enclave after the New Territories were released to Britain in 1898. Following the Japanese occupation during World War II the population increased dramatically and eventually contained 50,000 residents within 6.5 acres.

That averages 7,692 people per acre. The five boroughs of New York City, the most populous city in the USA, averages 41 people per acre. Manhattan, famous for being crowded, averages a mere 104 people per acre.

Another way of looking at it is how many square feet each

person gets on average:

* New York City five boroughs – 1062 sq.ft./person

* Manhattan – 419 sq.ft./person

* Kowloon – 5 ½ sq.ft./person!!

The city was largely under its own contained “government” as neither the Chinese nor the British wanted to assume responsibility for the development.

Controlled by the infamous Triad gang, Kowloon had high rates of prostitution, gambling and drug use.

In terms of air and light in the narrow “streets”, residents were barely able to view the sky through the thick web of criss-crossing clotheslines and make shift electrical wires. Windows were a luxury.

As the city quickly grew, housing and factory blocks were added organically on top of each other using a mix of salvaged materials – cages, sheet metal and tarp – mixed in with cheap cinderblock construction.  By the end, the Walled City had became a tall and near-solid cube of construction materials – over 300 interconnected 10 story buildings without any contribution from an architect, city planner or department of buildings!

Completely “off the grid”, the residents illegally taped into municipal electricity for juice and drilled 70 plus make shift wells within the city walls for water.

Another “sustainable” aspect of the Walled City is the transformability of the interior space. For example, bakery by day would change into a living room come night. Sixty percent of living spaces where smaller than 230 square feet (about 20’x20’), and as the numbers above show, an average of five people would share that space.

Kowloon is an example of anarchist building that, despite what it lacked in basic necessity, easy access to running water and waste disposal management, was a community that existed; it supported of about 50,000 for over forty years, from the 1950’s until 1992.

That is sustainable in it’s own weird way.

And it would have lasted longer if it hadn’t been forcibly demolished in 1992 and replaced with a park.

The Kowloon Walled City was obviously a dismal place full of prostitution, murder, corruption and drug use. You could argue the citizens of the Walled City only submitted themselves to these conditions out of desperation. Although this city emerged organically, it could be more a cancerous tumor than a blissfully natural city, sucking in every resource in its vicinity and essentially capturing its inhabitants.

But New York Green contractors can learn from it.

Despite the terrible conditions of human life, certain aspects are worth looking at from a green building perspective. This is cluster housing at the most extreme, reducing the amount of space a person needs to the bare bone minimum. The small, multi-use spaces is a key element of good green design.

As a whole, as the opposite of a sprawling suburbia, the city drastically reduced it’s physical footprint on the planet, giving an example of extreme cluster housing.

The fact that so much of the building materials were salvaged reduced the materials consumed to build. Poor people’s use of salvaged materials are acts of necessity but nonetheless are crucial components of green building.

Of course, the Walled City, as an un-planned, un-designed structure, could have gone very wrong but for the most part it stayed standing, a testament that logical simple building, using basic low cost materials does work.

I don’t have the numbers but I know the embodied energy to build this city was drastically less than a comparable city today.

Is it possible that if there was designed applied to these same ideas of small, transformable spaces that a livable, functioning community could exist? Perhaps with the addition of good design and planning The Walled City would be used as interesting model for future urban development. It has provided some very interesting examples of what is possible. Maybe not safe or even desirable, but we can now definitely say that such a city is possible and extract from that experiment elements that worked (or didn’t).



Get Your “Passport to Green NY” and Celebrate Earth Day Early!

As NY Green Contractors, we work hard to turn NYC green and we love any opportunity to share our labors with the public because it spreads awareness of green building.  The Earth Day New York organization has created a great way for New Yorkers to celebrate Earth Day as well as learn more about green businesses and opportunities in the city.  The event is called “Passport to Green NY” and runs from March 20 to April 21.

 It is essentially a scavenger hunt style event that encourages participants to visit as many of the participating green businesses as possible to compete for prizes and raise awareness about what’s available in NYC for those looking to live greener.  The “passport” also includes valuable coupons and discounts that can be used at the participating green locations, everything from Build it Green NYC to the Bronx Zoo to Bare Burger.  For example, head to the New York Botanical Garden for 20% of any all-garden pass when you use your new passport from Earth Day New York.

This event gives people incentive to choose green products and services by offering discounts, prizes and simply by spreading awareness about them.  As a NY Green Contractor and green business, we love events like this because it gives us a chance to highlight our work, as well as showing us the work of others who share the common goal of turning NYC green.

To download your own copy of the Passport, check out the website.  Happy (green) shopping and eating!

(In Historic Districts) All Signs Lead to the Landmark Preservation Commission

We are renovating a Yoga studio in Brooklyn Heights, one of New York’s many historic and wonderfully preserved landmark neighborhoods. This beauty is preserved thanks to the diligent work of the Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC).

Eco Brooklyn, Inc., a green contractor, renovating a new yoga studio in Brooklyn Heights, NY.

You could almost say the LPC is a green building organization since it encourages us to reuse the housing stock we have and doesn’t easily let us replace it. As a green building contractor we appreciate this.

Anyone who has tried to do construction in a land marked area knows that the LPC is a mixed blessing.  It is great that we have such an organization looking out for us, but boy can they be a pain in the butt.

Any work affecting land marked property requires approval from the (LPC) and woe to the person who ignores this. The general rule of thumb is, if the work affects the exterior of the building and you can see it from the street then Landmarks needs to be involved.

Work in the back of the building is generally, but not always, less of a Landmarks issue.

The trick to reducing the pain of dealing with Landmarks is to be diligent and play their game even when at times it can be time consuming and tedious. If you do this then you won’t have major problems.

Guidelines and Materials Checklists for Performing Work on Landmarked Buildings provides a comprehensive list of modifications that will obligate you to obtain authorization from LPC.  Our experience is the application and hearing process takes 20-30 days, although it can take months if Landmarks has objections or if the application was prepared with anything less than anal fervor. There is a program designed to expedite the process for certain projects within ten days.  So, if your renovation is plumbing, electrical work, construction on non-load bearing partitions or even HVAC work, you should start the application process here.

Photo taken by Ed Costello

Montague Street, Brooklyn Heights, NY

For the Brooklyn Heights yoga studio job we needed to put up store signage, and being a good green contractor we called Landmarks to apply for approval.  Here’s what we need to support our application:

  1. Color photo(s) of the entire building with proposed location of signage indicated.
  2. Close-up photo of proposed location of signage.
  3. Photomontage showing proposed sign location in relation to building and neighboring buildings and other storefronts in the building if the building has multiple storefronts.
  4. Detail drawings showing dimensions of the sign and how it will be attached to the building.
  5. Drawing of the sign with dimensions and sign lettering indicated.
  6. Material and color sample(s).

As you see the list underscores the importance of being detailed. Play nice, follow their rules and you will be fine. We expect to have approval in a week or two.

New Green City: A key element to Green design and construction.

On a beautiful fall day in early October, Eco Brooklyn, a New York City green contractor, took to the South Plaza of Union Square in downtown Manhattan to check out New Green City, an event hosted by GrowNYC.  The event hosted many contributors, ranging from non-profits and schools to entrepreneurs, government agencies, and corporate sponsors.  All sharing programs, services, products, and insights as to how to make New York City, New Green City through solar, wind, and agricultural terms. The tents were wide spread over the south side of Union Square, with a large crowd through most of the afternoon. 

Two really great tents were Ethikus, a online community of ethical and sustainable shoppers, that also offers deals and discounts to these great local shops in downtown Manhattan, and The New School’s Eco-Lectures focusing on sustainable foods, Eco-Farms and solar energy, giving out great information these subjects. With a ton of other great tents thanks to GrowNYC,  everyone in New York should take advantage of these great green companies.

Aside from the goal of a New Green City, at Eco Brooklyn we believe that the ultimate goal should be a total green city, built from the ground up with recycled and reused materials, and making zero energy homes.  Although the companies at New Green City don’t specialize in building, they do make great strides in lowering energy use and continuing the discussion of green policy, which are things that can not wait but happen immediately. Not only did New Green City bring together lots of outsiders to the green movement, but also created the opportunity for great minds in the green industry to collaborate, furthering our knowledge and reach as a green community. Eco Brooklyn will definitely have a tent next time, or next year, but until then, these are great ideas and options for making NYC a greener place.

Eco Brooklyn 2010-2011 Annual Report

The year has ended and a new one has begun. I have prepared a state of the union statement for where Eco Brooklyn has been and where it is going.

Here goes….

2010 was a turning point for Eco Brooklyn: we became too successful for our size. Up until last year our love for green building and eagerness to turn Brooklyn green meant we took on every green job that came our way. But in 2010 we actually took on more work than we could handle. At one point we had six full brownstone renovations going at once plus a host of green roof installations and other green building jobs.

During the year did green roofs, gray water systems, custom green kitchens, salvaged floors, eco gardening and countless other cutting edge green building. Our clients were great and never did we have to compromise. We maintained our policy of never buying new wood and we got closer and closer to our Zero Brownstone goal.

But we were so busy that it stopped being fun and started to feel like work.

The main problem was logistics. Eco Brooklyn is founded on pure idealism – we are dreamers who believe in making the world a better place. We follow the triple bottom line business model where every interaction is beneficial for everyone including employees, clients, neighbors and most of all Mother Earth.

This energy is great and it is contagious. It is why clients come to us.

But we weren’t focused enough on the day to day details, which resulted in wasted money and stressful projects. We weren’t as pragmatic as we should be, which meant unrealistic goals and missed timelines. We didn’t focus on the bottom line enough, resulting in under bidding or going over budget.

Up until 2010 this wasn’t a big problem. Our energy and enthusiasm made up for any lost efficiency and money. What we lacked in logistics we made up for in good will and creativity.

But by 2010 we had gotten much bigger than previous years and it became clear we needed to make some changes fast. Our biggest challenge was coordinating all the jobs so they ran smoothly and on budget. This is a challenge for any company but when you are redefining green building as you go it is even more challenging. Our work is cutting edge and we often have no past reference for how to price it or organize it.

How do you bid on an earthen floor when you have never done one? How do you meet the deadline when the workers are more interested in making the job ecological and beautiful rather than making money?  How do you make sure the dumpster bill is paid if you are more interested in paying for the salvaged flooring?

All this came to a head this year and the jobs became too big, too many and too complex for us to run on fervent idealism alone. We realized what every ethics driven company eventually has to face: no matter how great your cause if you can’t compete in the marketplace you will eventually burn out from lack of energy and money. You will end up bitter and an example that life is no place for dreaming.

Luckily we weren’t too late in our realization. After a couple jobs with late timelines and hurting budgets we saw that we had to become a lot more efficient and pragmatic in order to continue on our own terms. We didn’t become less idealistic or dreamy; in fact we expanded on those values. We added to our focus the idea that we could be competitive and profitable while keeping our values.

We realized that in order to change the current world to a better world we had to be the best of both worlds.

We stepped up our efficiency and our attention to detail. We focused more on profit, not because we particularly care about money itself, but because we understand that money is largely today’s currency of freedom and power. We reduced the jobs we took on to focus on improving the profit and efficiency of our current jobs. We became a very competitive building company as well as the best green builder.

Going into the New Year we are ready. We have found a good balance between visionary dreamers and effective entrepreneurs.

The biggest step in this process was seeing that in order to change the system we can’t criticize it from the outside but rather we have to offer a better system from the inside. The world is inherently pragmatic, sometimes brutally pragmatic, and if you offer a better system it will be embraced.

So instead of getting angry at the world for caring more about profit and efficiency than the planet’s health we ramped up our business so as to be profitable, efficient, AND good for the planet. Eco Brooklyn is now an example of how to be profitable in the current definition of the term while also being a benefit to Mother Earth.

We learned the hard way, and we suffered loss and angry clients, but it has been resolved and we are looking at 2011 with a clean slate, newly hardened to the realism of capitalism but still blossoming in our idealism and passion to turn Brooklyn green.

And we enter 2011 with a more streamlined and effective company, better prepared to be a powerful force in regreening the world.

Going forward we are being more cautious in the jobs we take on. We have reached a comfortable size and want to stay at this size until we master the logistics of a medium to large company. We feel that at this size we can make a steady impact in turning Brooklyn green without stretching our limits.

We will focus on jobs that take green building further instead of branching out trying to make every job green. We will be very vigilant with our finances and stay profitable so that we never have financial constraints keeping us from being as green as we possibly can.

We have a few jobs in the pipeline for this winter onwards, among them a Passive House Harlem brownstone, a Manhattan Earthship, a Brooklyn living wall, a solar install, and some deep energy retrofits. This spring we launch our green garden design and landscaping arm of the business. Last month we incorporated a not for profit to expand on our salvage resale activities and student training program. The Eco Brooklyn green show house is nearing its completion.

Through these jobs and others we hope to continue growing in our own green building knowledge so that we are even more powerful and effective custodians of a green Brooklyn and a green planet earth.

We as a planet are at a crucial ecological point where we have lost so much and have so little left, and yet because of this there is a passion and awareness that propels so many of us to do good and green things in our lives. We must do more and we must do it now. Turning Brooklyn green is our responsibility because acting locally is the only way we can be good global citizens. If every community and business did this for their own geographical area we would be far ahead in our path to global ecological regrowth.

In closing I would like to thank all Eco Brooklyn’s workers and clients who make Eco Brooklyn and its goals real. Eco Brooklyn is defined by its name as both an ecological company and a company deeply rooted in the community and culture of Brooklyn. The community of New York and Brooklyn is what makes the company so special.

Thank you and I wish you a focused and prosperous green year. Happy 2011!

Gennaro Brooks-Church

Owner, Eco Brooklyn.


Wood, Cancer and Boiled Frogs

When most people think of wood they don’t think cancer, but studies have shown that wood workers have a higher level of respiratory cancer.

This was brought to my attention when a local lumber supply sent me the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for wood . At first I thought, ” Why do you need MSDS for wood? Wood is perfectly safe.” However the sheet points out that:

Cases of pulmonary fibrosis have been reported in individuals with long term exposure to wood dust. Nasal carcinomas, especially adenocarcinoma, have been documented in workers in the furniture and cabinet-making industries. This excess risk occurs mainly in those exposed to wood dust.

An increase in Hodgkin’s disease has been seen in other industries that are involved in woodworking, especially sawmills. Wood dusts appear to produce a mucostatic effect on the body. A study has suggested that this mucostatic action may be of importance in the development of nasal adenocarcinomas in furniture workers because of the prolonged retention of wood dust in the nasal cavity.

Wood dust is an irritant, although perfectly harmless for most people. However if you irritate the body consistently for long enough then eventually the body will react negatively.

The message here is not that wood is bad, but that any prolonged exposure to an irritant is bad.

This is a key point in green building and the foundation for our strict policing of what substances are allowed in a green home. As green builders we don’t just rely on MSDS to determine if something is toxic. Obviously if the MSDS says it is toxic then it is.

But as this wood safety sheet shows it is often how the material is used that determines the safety of it. And this is what distinguishes green builders from “normal” builders. A green builder has a stricter benchmark for health. And a broader benchmark. The material is looked at from various angles, uses and environments.

A green builder does not just consider the average healthy person when building. They consider how materials will effect pets, old people, sick people, children and even plants.

And they do not just consider the average living environment. What happens if the material gets wet, or if it is scrapped, or in 40 years, or if it is exposed to sun, or to fire? Or a combination of the above?

Is the material toxic when installed and then “it is fine” once it dries?

For example PVC and epoxy are both used commonly in construction and considered safe. The glue used to bind PVC is carcinogenic and so is uncured epoxy. But after installation PVC glue dries and once epoxy cures it becomes inert, thus they are considered safe for the inhabitants.

A green builder isn’t so sure. First of all, have all the carcinogenic fumes REALLY evaporated? And what happens if a child chews on it? Or what happens if the material is subjected to heat?

But most importantly, what about the worker who installs it?

Green building is a holistic process that looks at the entire cycle of building. There is no such thing as a green building if it was built in non-green ways.

Or is the material “fine” when installed and then gets toxic over time, in which case  we’ll deal with it then? This happens a lot.

There are countless sealants, sprays, varnishes, paints and surface protectors in “normal” buildings. They are on almost every surface you touch. They are considered harmless unless ingested and they are too tough to remove for ingestion anyway.

But what happens to that chemical filled floor sealer on the entranceway floor after two thousand footsteps? It begins to wear. And where do those microscopic worn particles go? On your skin, in your lungs, in your eyes…

And what happens when you mix the hundreds of different materials together from all the slowly worn surfaces in your home and throw then into the air as microscopic particles?

You get a chemical soup that slowly wears away at your body like sawdust to a wood worker’s lungs. Mix in a little stress with some genetic predisposition and you’ve got yourself a great recipe for cancer.

Billions of dollars are spent on cancer research without any success. What are these people, idiots? All you have to do is open a normal person’s fridge and see their food surrounded by plastic, sealant, rubber, spray gloss, painted packaging and chemical paper. Check out where they sleep. They are probably surrounded by EMF radiation, fire suppression chemicals in their pillows, anti wrinkle synthetic in their sheets and formaldehyde glue in their mattress.  And we haven’t even gotten to the deathbox of chemicals in their shampoo and conditioner!

But the main point here is that even something as harmless as wood can kill you with cancer. Hell, you could die of chocolate poisoning if you spent a career inhaling chocolate dust.

The point is that we need to become more aware of life. Every religion and philosophy preaches it, every great thinker and visionary said it. Awareness is the key. If you are not aware you will let the saw dust kill you.

There is a great fact that if you put a frog in cold water on the stove then turn the heat on the frog will let itself boil to death. The frog is not able to compute the incremental changes. Obviously it has a lapse of awareness in this area.

With all my respect for frogs I think we can do better. The fact that people are dying from wood dust is simply a microscopic reflection of what we are doing on a global scale as a society. Again, with full respect for wood workers, letting yourself die from wood dust is simply a lack of awareness. Letting ourselves destroy the world like we are is also a lack of awareness.

I don’t think we ever had this awareness consistently. Looking at primitive societies most of them moved camp when the smell from their own garbage got unbearable. Sure they understood their natural surroundings out of survival but they were far from environmentalists.

That solution of moving camp is not an option to us on a global scale. What worked for us before no longer works.  We need to evolve in our awareness. Or we will be boiled alive.

I’d like to think we are resourceful enough to evolve, even if it is out of knee jerk survival instinct. But history shows us that human societies and animals alike don’t always survive.

I for one am rethinking this pot of water I’m sitting in. We all have our own way and for me green building is my ticket out of this increasingly hot pot of water. As a green contractor in Brooklyn I’m swimming as fast as I can to get out of that pot and find the gas knob!

Green roofs, gray water, zero chemicals, salvaged wood, you name it we’re trying it.

Oh, and we wear dust masks when cutting the salvaged wood.

frog7.jpg image by ChatteringTeeth

Formlua: find your passion, apply green

I love the way people are so inspired by green. The great thing about it is that it can pretty much be applied to anything in your life and make it better. For example as a green contractor in Brooklyn I’m putting a green perspective on Brownstone renovations.

It is such simple yet powerful formlua: find your passion, apply green.

I can’t think of anything where applying a green perspective would actually be harmful….can you?

Like this personal blog’s name “Going Green is Divine” where green has been elevated to a personal joyful decadence (but the good kind). Putting a green perspective on your life’s passion is really the way to go.

Quality is tied to quality and no longer tied to price

Our budget for the Brooklyn green show house got decimated with this banking crisis. So we don’t really have a budget any more. It is basically as cheap as we can make it.

For our kitchens for example we were going to buy salvaged kitchens, make them in house out of salvaged wood or find a company we wanted to represent and could afford. There is a lot of good wood and second hand kitchens here. The closets were going to be studs and sheet rock with basic doors and drawers. The visual parts were going to be salvaged wood.

Our financing problem is not unique so we are using it to take advantage of the new attitude by showing affordable quality green products. That is what I think will sell now and for a good while into the future.

The outlook has changed drastically here in the epicenter of the financial crisis, AKA New York. It is considered very intelligent to buy affordable green products. “High End” is considered stupid and associated with Wall Street spending. The underlying change is that expensive is no longer necessarily tied with quality. Quality is tied to quality regardless of price.

And with the new green perspective more often it is greener to buy something affordable over something expensive. The reasoning is that a green product has no impact if the middle class doesn’t buy into it. So the fact that everyone is broke and thinking green is a great thing. We are being forced to pull green from the grips of “high end” niche production and find creative ways to make them affordable.

So with the green show house I’m pushing hard to dispel the myth that green is more expensive than other products and I’m targeting the middle sector that owns the majority of the brownstones. In fact I’d like to show that it is actually cheaper to buy green since the resources are used more intelligently and there is less waste.

This comes mostly from a practical point of view since in this economy I think nobody will buy it unless it is priced competitively anyway. And I can probably say that increasingly people won’t buy it unless it is green as well. There is a double bottom line developing in consumerism: green and affordable. it may not be mainstream but it is at least gaining in numbers.

But because quality green still isn’t entirely mainstream there remains considerable competitive advantage to selling green products and any cut in price is made up by less competition and better market placement now and in the future.

There is a changing of the guard and the competitively priced green companies will emerge as the leaders. The companies making non-green products and/or expensive ones will fall to the side and become niche markets.

Brownstones are ripe for green renovations

I think the New York and Brooklyn brownstones are ideal candidates for green renovations. They have all the ingredients that make for an easy and powerful green overhaul. I can’t list them without sounding like a sales pitch, but it’s more pride of Brooklyn than me trying to sell anything.

Firstly the greenest thing you could do in a building is reuse an old one, and what is more perfect than the shell of a beautiful brownstone. Usually all four walls are more than fine for keeping. They have been there for a hundred years and can last another hundred. Now that is green!

If anything you want to rip off the layers of lead laden sheet rock and expose the interior brick walls (at least the ones that aren’t external facing walls). This means no new sheet rock and studs, which means less resources used.

Just the mere fact that Brownstones share side walls with the neighbors means less energy lost to the outside and half the materials needed to build.

Another tenet of green is not taking up virgin nature. Brownstones are densely packed together, which leaves more of the world for uninhabited rolling hills and nature.

The bones of brownstones are solid. They have lots of old hardwood. NY isn’t called the Gotham Forest for nothing. We have more excellent old growth timber in this city than exists in the wild. That is a sad thought, but the good news is that it is sitting protected under cheap vinyl floors and cracking tiles just waiting to be reclaimed to its true beauty.

Whether you cut the old joists into siding, floors, studs, or new joists, the wood is good and strong. In our Brooklyn green show house renovation we have done all of that with the old wood.

Brownstones have plenty of bricks. They are strong and beautiful. We are using them for new walls, patios, walkways and fireplaces. likewise for slate, either on walls or walkways.

Brownstones have nice flat roofs that are perfect for gardens, solar and hot water panels and decks. For some reason they weren’t built for use and for the most part have spent a hundred years ignored. But their value is great. We are using the show house roof for all of the above plus a bee hive :). We have strengthened the roof with salvaged joists and it is strong as ever.

Brownstones are small. McMansions are a waste of everything. But New Yorkers, with our small apartments and large spirit, have been living green for years without knowing it. New York is one of the only places in the United States that shares an average house size with the rest of the world. Most of the United States has two or three times the house size as the rest of the world and wastes energy accordingly.

New Yorkers have much less cars than other Americans. There are even New Yorkers without driver’s licenses! Blasphemy! A Brooklyn brownstone is often within walking distance of good transport and amenities. This means less driving and specifically less asphalt for parking spaces, another feature many normal homes suffer from. Instead, a Brownstone has a great front yard area for greening.

New York is a center of commerce. This means most of the materials are local. Sand, glass, cement, wood, stone, metal…it can all be acquired locally. There is great economy of scale to be located in such a dense commercial and residential area. When a truck brings material to New York it is feeding a hundred houses, instead of only a couple in the countryside.

I am very excited to be doing a green renovation on a Brownstone. Because of all the in built green features of Brownstones it is relatively easy to turn a Brownstone into a very green and more comfortable home.

Green Training Materials

Here are some good PowerPoint from different trainings from the NYC Dept of sustainable Design. You can get a pretty good idea of the course from the slides.

Last time I checked they had interesting material on:

Energy Efficiency in New York City
Energy Efficient & Quality Lighting
Architectural Daylighting in New York City
Commissioning for DDC Projects
LEED & Local Law 86
Recycled Content & Low-Toxicity Materials
Construction Waste Management
Local Law 77: Ultra-low sulfur diesel and emission reduction for construction vehicles

Eco Brooklyn Featured at

Above: A tomato plant growing out of the sidewalk at the green show house. You can’t get more local than that!, a pretty cool “Mother Nature Network” featured Brooklyn as a green destination of the week. Eco Brooklyn was mentioned in the article:

“Brooklyn residents can now stretch out in new green-friendly living quarters through Eco-Brooklyn Inc. The green real estate, renovation and developmen…” read more.

It is nice to get the positive attention. Eco Brooklyn Inc. was specifically named to represent a local focus. Being green is very much about being local. Local materials, local labor, and local community.

If we make a wonderful place where we live then we don’t need to take “escapism vacations” (I just coined that 🙂 away from our home. Who would want to escape from something wonderful!

Long Live Eco in Brooklyn!