Posts Tagged ‘Greenwashing’

Examples of Things That Can Go Wrong on a Green Building Project

Green Building is all the rage in the United States.   Whether it be a LEED project, or just a promise to the property owner to build or make a building more efficient and sustainable, as 2010 passes onto 2011, those in the construction industry are quite likely to run into projects with at least some green elements.

When bidding, contracting and working on these projects, it’s important to know what might go wrong.   After all, if you have no idea what things can go wrong, you have no way to prepare for them (or charge for the extra risk).

There’s no way to enumerate all of the risks…but here are a few to get you thinking about it:

1)  Vegetative Roofing: In some areas, these so-called “green roofs” are becoming popular.  The most ambitious green roof program is likely found in Portland, which we’ve discussed in a previous post.   Essentially, vegetation is planted on the roof of a building to better insulate it, reduce the heat island effect in the area, and better control water runoff.   The downside?   Well, it’s quite a bit heavier than a standard roof, and the construction and design of the structure should accommodate the extra weight.

2)  Rainwater Runoff:   Plan on channeling rainwater into storing containers to use within the property as waste water?   Be sure to contract with someone with experience, because the control of rainwater is different than the disposing of it through ordinary guttering systems.

3)  Greenwashing: It’s popular to be green, and there’s an absence of real regulation prohibiting businesses from advertising its products and services as “green” – which, really, is undefined.  So, when incorporating a service or product into your technology, make sure you select vendors, products, services and the like that will live up to their marketing.

4)  New, Untested Technologies:   Even the stuff that isn’t fraudulently labeled green may still present problems, as many technologies advertised as green may simply not perform as expected, since the technologies and products are new and haven’t been tested over time.  The lesson?   Keep your vendors on the hook for promises made by their products, and be cautious about relaying promises that are uncertain.

5)  Human Interference: Green buildings and green technologies are not insulated from human intervention.   Especially considering energy performance, the human factor can be great – as humans are the ones that will control energy use (such as using more than the allocated energy amounts), and generally doing things that can affect energy use (covering windows, for example) .

6)  Certification Problems: Rating and certification system (like LEED) are not easy to guarantee.  The certification decision is left to a third party, certification can be taken away, and certification can be challenged.   Don’t be too concerned – many projects work toward a certification and get it.   But know the road ahead.

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Washington Legislation Wants to Define “Green” Homes

My wife and I were looking for condominiums in the Seattle area a few years ago, and every place we inspected marketed themselves as “green built.”   Being a LEEP AP, I asked a few questions about what the label meant.   Most of the time, it meant nothing.

That’s precisely what a new bill in the Washington legislature is trying to prevent.

The practice of deceptive green marketing has a name.   Wikipedia defines Greenwashing as follows:

Greenwashing (green whitewash) is the practice of companies disingenuously spinning their products and policies as environmentally friendly, such as by presenting cost cuts as reductions in use of resources. It is a deceptive use of green PR or green marketing.

Greenwashing is so serious it has its own Greenwashing Index.

The new bill was introduced just this January 2010 by Senators Becker and Fraser, and requires the state building code council to adopt rules to define “green” home and “energy efficient” home for residential units and residential buildings.   It seeks to prohibit builders and developers from marketing or selling a home as “green” or “energy efficient” unless it meets the specifications.

As currently written, the code must be written by December 2012.  Thus far, the bill has strong support.

Builders and Developers should keep a close eye on this legislation, especially as they begin new projects in the coming years hoping to market the project to green-seeking buyers.

If the bill passes, it will be interesting to see how the definitions are drafted, and whether they will incorporate already existing certification programs, such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program (as a recent amendment to the bill suggests).   Follow the bill at Washington Votes here, or stay tuned to the Northwest Green Building Law Blog.

This article was originally posted on Wolfe Law Group’s topic-specific Northwest Green Building Law Blog.

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Green Building Presents Legal Risks, But Shouldn't Stop Builders recently posted a blog titled “Are There Any Risks in Building Green?”   The post mentions a survey conducted by the Marsh Green Building Team finding two things that play into builders’ reluctance to construct green projects: financial concerns and legal concerns.

Examining the Legal Risks

We’ll talk about the legal concerns (& have in the past), which the post summarizes as follows:

The idea of jumping into a supposedly “green-built” project, and then failing to reach LEED certification levels expected by others, is unnerving to think about. There’s also the worry in many constructions that standards of operation and new design features – especially those not covered by the insurance market – will fall short because contractors won’t be willing to take on those things.

Let’s face it – ordinary construction projects present enough legal challenges.   Throwing in unfamiliar green certification process programs and novel green technologies increases risk.   Here are some of the risk factors mentioned by the Marsh Green Building Team report:

  • Not obtaining the LEED certification expected;
  • Determining the appropriate standard of care used by green builders and professionals;
  • The competence of team members, subcontractors, laborers in green building technologies and requirements;
  • Untested contract language;
  • Concerns about contractors taking design responsibilities not covered by insurance.e

Managing Risk

The existence of risk should not stop owners, builders and designers from participating in a green building project.   As the Marsh Team analyzes and the Green Building Elements post discusses, there are many possible solutions for the legal risk factors identified.

Plus, as anyone in the construction industry knows, risk is absolutely everywhere.  A builder is in the business of managing and mitigating risk…and it’s possible to do this with green building.

  • Address Concerns in the Contract:   “Green Contracts” are largely untested, but that is no reason to not draft green contract language.   Before a project begins, have a lawyer experienced in green building projects draft language regarding the roles and responsibilities of each party in a green certification process, and properly allocate risk and liability for green building tasks.
  • Do Not Greenwash.  If you haven’t heard the term ‘Greenwashing,’ and you’re in the green business…it’s time to read up on it.   A builder or designer or supplier can avoid a lot of risk on a green building by simply avoiding vague and misleading advertising or labeling of services/products.
  • Insure.   Finally, it all goes back to insurance.   Insurance is a familiar product in the construction industry, and while policies protecting builders and designers from green building exposure is new…it is out there.   Talk to an attorney and/or your insurance agent about these products.
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Budgets, Changes Orders and A Green Building Project

If you were to survey green building critics, it’s safe to guess most will argue that the cost to build green do not outweigh the benefits.

Indeed, many have suggested that the cost of building green (especially gaining LEED certification) is significantly higher than building to ordinary standards.   Others argue that LEED certification can be achieved through an everyday budget.

Regardless of where you fall on this issue, everyone should agree that green building projects have certain specifications, and bidding contractors must project the construction costs responsibly.

And so, one of the most challenging components of a constructing a green building may be the process of bidding it.

Since green building work is just starting to take hold in the construction industry, many contractors and subcontractors are working on little-to-no experience on green projects.   And sometimes the data behind green building techniques and products are thin (see greenwashing).

On Wolfe Law Group’s Construction Law Monitor, we published a 2-part article on the Bidding Process and Change Orders:   Bidding Errors and Change Orders: Avoiding a Nightmare [Part One and Part Two].

How do we suggest you avoid Bidding Error nightmares?   Spend time with the Contract Documents pre-bid.

With green building projects, this is more true than usual.

When preparing your green bid, here are some example thoughts that should be considered:

  • If the project is being certified with LEED or another standard, who will be responsible for the submittal process?   Who will be responsible for monitoring the construction process?
  • Contact vendors who will be providing the project’s materials, and review the data they have to back-up their performance and environmental claims.   It would be a pity to plan on using one product, and being forced to later use a more expensive substitute.   See this article on how to shop for green building materials.
  • If the builder is anticipating a tax credit, do you understand the requirements to qualify for the credit?   Will this increase your construction costs?

A successful green building project starts where successful ordinary projects begin:  during the bidding and contracting period.

Whether your green building project will increase costs, or not, understand the green building expenses associated with your project, and avoid bidding errors and change order nightmares.

This article was originally posted on Wolfe Law Group’s topic-specific Louisiana Green Building Law Blog.

Posted in:     Bidding, Change Orders, Green Building  /  Tags: , , , , , ,   /   Leave a comment

Painting Your Roof White Saves Energy? Contractors Should Be Careful with Green Promises.

Anyone familiar with green building or the LEED Certification process should know that great emphasis is placed on the reflectivity of open spaces.

Under LEED Credit SS 7.1, for example, parking lots and open spaces must have a reflectivity (SRI) of at least 29 to qualify for credit. Similar, roof installations must contain a percentage of vegetation or reflectivity to achieve credit SS 7.2.

The idea of pavement and roofs being white, instead of black, in other words, isn’t new.

However, in the news this week is a rather radical proclamation by a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in California, who opine that painting rooftops whiter will cause enough sunlight to bounce back into space and cool the planet. They also aver that it will save in energy costs, as the planet – and individual homes – will stay cooler.

Contractors in Louisiana might want to take note of the study, as the state has generally hot summers and year-long weather. There may soon be a market in taking residential and commercial roof installations, and coloring them white.

Marketing the sale of a “white roof” or “white roof coating” has already begun actually.  See this Craig’s list ad, and Spray Foam Louisiana’s website for cool roof systems.

Of course, with any type of green construction, it will be important to insulate your company’s offering from liability. The idea of a “white roof” lowering energy costs for individual homeowners is just that: an idea, and there are many other variables (insulation, roof type, etc.) impacting the energy costs of a home of business.

One of the dangers with “green building” is the promises that come along with the construction offers. Selling your service by highlighting energy savings and performance enhancements is legally problematic if the service doesn’t result in savings and efficiency.

If your company is engaged in a service that promises energy savings, be aware, and speak with an attorney about how you can protect yourself from potential liability by smart contracting.

This post originally appeared on Wolfe Law Group’s topic-specific Louisiana Green Building Law Blog.

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