what color is green?
by Sheldon Wolfe, CSI, CCS, CCCA
the first environmentalist appeared shortly after the first city
Part 1 - sorting out the garbage
There has been a lot of interest in green design, sustainable architecture, recycling, conservation, and related subjects in the past year. Unfortunately, despite a great deal of activity and an enormous body of published work, few issues have been resolved. We are marching in several directions at once, raising a lot of dust, but going nowhere.
Environmental concern is not a new concept, but rarely has it received the attention it presently enjoys. I suspect that the first environmentalist appeared shortly after the first city, someone who lamented the absence of a particular plant or animal and saw that civilization was to blame. Most times, though, immediate needs and expansion of wealth were of overwhelming importance. It was also obvious that disruptions were local; pristine nature was always within reach.
The 1970s saw an immediate need for conservation due to a potential shortage of petroleum products. Demand for fuel-efficient cars was the most obvious effect, but the construction industry was also affected. The lasting result is evident in the building code, which saw substantial changes in requirements for insulation and HVAC energy consumption.
Similarly, supply and demand have been powerful agents of conservation during wars and other economic hardship. But when times are good, it is easy to forget that raw materials come from finite sources, and that garbage doesn't simply disappear. Given today's healthy economy, it is somewhat difficult to understand the attention given to environmental building problems.
Because of the wide range of subjects involved, some organization is in order. To make my life easier, I arbitrarily divide "green" issues into three groups: site waste and recycling, indoor air quality, and sustainable design. Although all are interrelated, there is sufficient distinction between these categories to allow discussion of each as an independent topic.
site waste and recycling
This is the easiest of the three categories to tackle. Packaging materials are obvious targets for recycling; they are easily identified, readily separated from the products they contain, and often relatively clean. These characteristics allow them to be quickly segregated into like substances, an essential step in recycling. Local ordinances now often require recycling, dictating how to sort, store, and deliver most materials.
Waste generated during demolition is similar in nature, but the products removed are usually highly processed and less easily handled. Wood and metal products include embedded fasteners and applied finishes, and finish materials are not easily separated from adhesives. Some products, such as carpet, are produced in so many combinations of chemicals and processes that each must be treated as a separate item. Despite the greater difficulty of segregating demolition waste, it remains a definable task, and the end products often fit into existing recycling programs.
A few manufacturers now offer to accept and recycle specific demolition waste such as carpet and acoustical ceiling panels. The viability of these programs depends somewhat on the location of the manufacturer, as shipping costs can easily exceed tipping fees at a local landfill.
Next month: Indoor air quality
© 1998, Sheldon Wolfe
Go to the home page