Real Green – Part 1
- May 14, 2010
- No Comments
My wife and I just returned from a long date weekend in Boston. It’s a great town for both of us; for every activity I can dream up (a 4 minute cab ride to the North End to grab pizza, or a $1.70 T ride to a Celtic playoff game), there’s ten more opportunities to indulge a Shakespearean Lit graduate turned English teacher. Did I mention that my wife majored in Shakespeare and teaches English? So we ate pizza and I suggested a nap afterwards. I got my nap. Thirty-five minutes later, we were laced up and walking in what turned out to be a seven mile all afternoon stroll through the city, culminating with a stop at an outdoor café on Newberry Street for a couple of $24 salads and two $16 glasses of Portuguese vihno verde. Her Boston and my Boston are so different. The next day we went for a run and finished at my favorite Italian bakery for coffee and some éclairs. Her turn: how about a four hour visit to the Museum of Modern Art to study Dutch pottery? That trade worked out for me about as well as the last time I got hit by a flying golf ball. But I digress.
What actually got me thinking about this article was the downtown hotel that we briefly called home during our stay. It’s actually a fantastic structure with a phenomenal location, excellent service, and quite the amenities. It’s also gone ‘green’ since the last time we visited. From the lobby to the exercise club, to the bathrooms, you could hardly walk five feet without stepping on a postcard about environmental stewardship. Funny thing, I do recall the elevator being devoid of any green marketing. On the contrary, they were displaying a photo of the Wagyu steak served at their hip street-side restaurant downstairs (you know, the hand-massaged cows gently slaughtered and then flown 6,000 miles for consumption).
Anyway, back to ‘green’. Although the lights were on and the CD player was humming a piano concerto upon the porter opening our door, the hotel had made some reasonable changes. Compact Fluorescent Bulbs were in each fixture, the windows had nifty motorized solar shades hidden under the valance, and bottled water had been replaced with morning and evening glass, ice and water service. Towels, robes, and sheets weren’t replaced unless requested, and the complimentary shuttle even ran on natural gas. Channel 1 was the usual hotel overview and Channel 2 was some sort of Eco Channel specific to the property’s ownership group.
What at first seemed reasonable later struck me as ‘greenwashing’. For those of you that haven’t heard the term before, ‘Greenwashing’ is disingenuous green marketing, or a PR maneuver that makes the environmental benefits appear to fit the sacrifice. Let’s face it – we don’t sacrifice too much here in America. True green lodging would probably be a cot and a tent. Motorized solar shades? Twice daily glass service that results in extra glasses and more dishwashing? A hotel-sponsored EcoChannel running on a 42” flat screen? There was no need to request a change of sheets; we had four of them on the bed. I’d wake up each morning tangled somewhere in between the 2nd and 3rd layers.
While in the room, I probably spent too much time obsessing over logic breakdowns in their newly found green culture. It was either that or listening to the local news anchor read 20 minutes of ‘Big Dig’ lawsuit stories. So obsess I did. I started thinking about our own company and our clients – even some of our competitors. I took some notes in my Kindle and enjoyed the rest of the trip.
Upon my return last week, I checked my notes and had some research put together. I culled through industry data and professional journals and then decided I had my blog topic for this year (not too bad – it’s still May). So each month for the remainder of this year, we’re going to dive into some of the more trendy green building techniques. We’re going to analyze their merits, their hidden tradeoffs, and try to discern how they stack up with regard to: 1) environmental stewardship, 2) cost savings (i.e. is there really a business case) and 3) comfort. Intentionally, we’ll even dedicate a few editions to some of our favorite techniques that rarely get discussed. Not trendy or overly popular discussion points, but sincerely green. Here are some of the topics we’ll try to cover:
- Insulation – looking into foam versus batt insulation, radiant barriers, proper applications of both, and industry claims and studies.
- Windows and Doors – design of the custom home, material selection amid the ongoing vendor deluge of marketing, and solar film and its’ introduction to a dog-eat-dog world.
- Solar PV – is the payback 12-15 years or 4-7? Is payback the right metric? How do you incorporate into design and planning?
- Rainwater Collection – it’s a black and white business case, and always one or the other.
- Tankless Water Heaters – I was against them before I was for them. No I’m not making fun of any specific politician; I’ve genuinely switched directions on this one.
- Eco-friendly surfaces – examining flooring, countertops, trim and even paint. Too much to cover here, so we’ll have to pull certain examples to illustrate the sin versus the morality.
- Design – just design.
I just remembered that the average online attention span for reading is 4 minutes, so I’ll wrap up this month’s musings. If you visit our website, you won’t see a section devoted to green building. We build upscale homes, but we’ve always done so with as much common sense as possible. That means understanding the clients’ goals, and then taking advantage of certain products and solutions while carefully filtering through the rest. We’ve avoided the temptation to market our luxury product as green, but we still put forth a green effort.
One last thing I forgot to mention about the Boston trip. On the last day, I suggested a trip up to Salem. I figured a nice lunch together on the water and plenty of stores would all but assure me an asylum from another museum hardship in Boston. It was raining that day, so I knew I had outsmarted her with this insurance policy. Half an hour into the commuter rail ride, she told me we were going to get to see the House of Seven Gables. Remember Nathaniel Hawthorne? Ughh! I told her how pleased I was to have this opportunity and feigned excitement. We took the tour and I forgot to ask her afterwards what she had learned. My takeaway: the house wasn’t very green for its time.
Stay tuned for June, Part 2 – Solar