It’s getting easier to be green

    Firestone and the Asphalt Paving Alliance might not come to mind when you think "green." But the significant presence of the two organizations at the recent Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in Chicago points out just how mainstream "green" is becoming.

    Your probable disassociation of those two names with green also reflects a widespread challenge for those who want a greener world and more healthy living spaces.

    That challenge involves the definition of green. More specifically, it involves a definition that consumers can relate to and easily understand. There are plenty of industry specification guidelines that architects, engineers, builders and developers are familiar with. But the homeowner pretty much has been left on his or her own when it comes to trying to figure out what building or home improvement products are green and to what degree of green.

    For the record, Firestone Building Products Co. launched a green roofing initiative this year. (Yes, its parent corporation is the one that makes tires.) And the Asphalt Paving Alliance likes to note that asphalt is the most widely recycled product in America. That counts as green. Most of the people who attended Greenbuild this year understand that, even if not all of them are willing to live with such a broad definition.

    Many of the products displayed by the 850 exhibitors at Greenbuild, however, were consumer oriented, including flooring, paint, toilets, windows and a myriad of other products. By and large, those products are purchased through retailers who have face-to-face contact with homeowners.

    Those homeowners are confused, and many of the retailers that serve them have been frustrated by that confusion. We’ve heard that time and again from the many green retailers we deal with through the distribution side of our business, and from consumers we work with through our retail outlet. They want green definitions and guidelines to help them make informed decisions.

    Our response has been Degree of Green – a program that helps retailers educate consumers and contractors on the green and healthy characteristics of home building and home improvement products. The program, which will officially be launched in January, received enthusiastic response from retailers who attended Greenbuild.

    At the heart of Degree of Green is a product rating system. The judging panel, which includes Thiensville’s Lyn Falk, a nationally recognized expert on green and healthy living spaces, reviews products from three perspectives: 1) the least adverse effects on human health; 2) the highest level of environmental sustainability; and 3) the least adverse effects on the environment.

    That will not only help retailers educate consumers, but also allow consumers to make choices based on factors that are most important to them. Just as green building products come in varying degrees of green, consumers have varying desires and needs when it comes to green products. Some are more concerned about environmentalism while others are more concerned about personal health or the health of their families. (Products in the "green" world are most often less toxic than traditional building products. For example, "green" cabinetry, carpeting and paint do not out-gas the way traditional products do.) For others, the concern involves materials sourcing.

    Each Degree of Green report describes a product, its composition, advantages and raw materials sourcing, and offers comparative data.

    Retailers who participate in the Degree of Green program will not only receive an ongoing flow of rating sheets but also a full merchandising support program, including a web site that was just launched at

    Industry thought leader Joel Makower asked this in a recent blog: "What will it take to bring honesty, accuracy, accountability, and transparency to the marketplace?" We believe Degree of Green is an answer to that question.

    As recent national studies and the recent Greenbuild expo have shown, green is growing. Last year’s expo in Denver drew 14,000 people. This year, more than 20,000 went to Chicago for the expo. Plenty of those people were from Wisconsin, as were many of the exhibitors, including Johnson Controls Inc., Johnson Diversey Inc., Marshfield Door, Super Sky Products, InPro, Kohler, Wausau Paper, Wausau Tile, Trane, Cooper Industries, FJA Christiansen Roofing (through Tecta America) and the Energy Center of Wisconsin.

    Those are all established, mainstream companies that have solid green products or services.
    And like those mainstream companies, the crowds at Greenbuild were pretty mainstream too. Sure, the "Birkenstock" crowd was represented at the expo. But based on the number of people with suits and ties or in corporately accepted business casual, green has certainly come of age in American business.


    Andy Pace, CSI, is founder and president of Safe Building Solutions in Waukesha. Pace has served on the board of the Wisconsin Green Building Alliance and is a two-time president of the Construction Specifications Institute-Milwaukee Chapter. He can be reached at or by calling 800-697-5371.

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