When you see a product touted as "green," turn on your B.S. meter to gauge whether it's true. Here's why: There is no standard definition for the term"green." That's where certification programs come in. Even then, standards among them vary. Ideally, you'll buy products or a home whose green standards match yours.
Here's the skinny on some green labels:
LUMBERLook for wood labeled "FSC certified," meaning it's certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Unlike other certification systems, it prevents the conversion of natural forest to plantations, prohibits genetically modified trees and takes caution in wooded areas with high conservation value, according to one analysis (see: www.fscus.org/news/index.php?article=506). A campaign by several environmental groups Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, among others -- discourages consumers from buying wood bearing a competing Sustainable Forestry Initiative label ("SFI"); see their reasons at www.dontbuysfi.com.
APPLIANCESLook for appliances with the worthwhile Energy Star label (overseen by the US Department of Energy and US Environmental Protection Agency), and remember this: Be sure to go a step further and check how much energy your desired fridge, stove or other appliance will use compared to other Energy Star-rated options there can be a wide range of energy use, even though they all meet Energy Star standards. See anticipated energy costs listed on the yellow label stuck on the appliance. A home fully equipped with Energy Star products will operate on about 30 percent less energy than a house equipped with standard products. Read more at http://www.thedailygreen.com/2007/04/18/energy-star/892/. Find products and rebates at EnergyStar.gov.
SINKS, TOILETS, SHOWERHEADSThere's a new label in town WaterSense -- and it addresses the need to be water-smart as well as dollar smart. Example: A WaterSense-labeled toilet uses at least 20 percent less water than standard toilets. According to the EPA, the average American home uses more water for flushing the toilet than running the shower. A family of four could save 16,000 gallons of water yearly by replacing a traditional toilet. Get info at www.epa.gov/watersense/index.htm.
NEW HOMESWhatever you do, don't accept a builder's claim that a building is "green" without asking questions. What exactly does the green claim mean? What environmentally sound features and building techniques were used? Some homes are far more sustainably built than others; at times, builders simply follow community codes yet market their homes as green. To help you judge the validity of claims, some builders seek to meet the standards of national or local rating systems.
A quick look at the three national programs:
* LEED. What's evolving into the 800-pound gorilla among rating systems is a high-end program known as LEED (officially, it's the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program). It sets standards for buildings that achieve a set number of benchmarks, from using locally derived building materials to the insulating ability of the windows. Chances are a new skyscraper near you is LEED-certified. The program is now expanding to offer standards for homes. Among them, homes will be rated not only based on the materials used, but also their location and orientation. If they reap passive solar benefits from their position relative to the sun, or are situated on a village block close to stores, schools and work, they will be rated more highly than those built to otherwise high standards in suburbia. See standards here: www.usgbc.org/leed/homes/.
* The National Association of Home Builders plans to roll out its own green building standards in early 2008. See guidelines here: www.nahbrc.org/greenguidelines/.
*The federal government's Energy Star program has already rated 200,000 homes. These standards rate homes strictly on energy efficiency - a key part, but only one part of the LEED standards. For many people, the energy efficiency - as measured in electricity demand, pollution output and perhaps most importantly, dollars - is the most important facet of the environmental performance of their homes. For those who want to aim for a darker shade of green, watch for the specifics on the LEED and National Association of Home Builders standards. See Energy Star info here: www.energystar.gov/
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