Friday, August 28, 2009

Living Buildings Challenge - Pursuing True Sustainability in the Built Environment

Shayne Korithoski

A paradigm shift is now underway in the how buildings and developments are designed and constructed. Unfortunately many projects pursuing Built Green, LEED and other forms of green certification fall short of what is truly needed at this time. Currently, buildings contribute the largest single source of emissions to our environment. Approximately 40 percent of all carbon emissions. Buildings also represent a top priority health concern in regards to indoor air quality, according to the U.S. EPA. Indoor air is in fact over 2 to 5 times more polluted than the air outside. A recent recall of toxic imported drywall contaminated with hydrogen sulfide, sheds a light on just how toxic materials used in our indoor environment can be. Experts are calling this case worse than the urea-formaldehyde crisis of the 1970s, houses built with this dry-wall have to be demolished. "We think this could literally turn out to be the worst case of sick houses in U.S. history," says Thomas Martin, president of America's Watchdog. Sick building syndrome is just as the name implies, people getting sick from their indoor environments. Yet despite the urea-formaldehyde insulation material crisis in the 70s, formaldehyde is still used in a majority of indoor building materials; particle board, MDF, (medium density fibreboard) fabrics, glues and paints, and most fiberglass insulation contain it. Formaldehyde is a suspected human carcinogen and new studies link it to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease. Many new green houses are now being built with rigid Styrofoam boards or closed cell polyurethane spray insulation products. According to the Green Science Policy Institute, all polystyrene foam insulation used in building is treated with hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) a persistent, bioaccumulating, and toxic flame retardant. This chemical is likely to be banned in Europe. It has been found in household dust, sewage sludge, breast milk and body fluids and well as wildlife and the global environment. Polyurethane contains TCPP (tris 1-chloro-2-propyl phosphate). Long term exposure to this chemical is unknown but it is known to be toxic in aquatic environments. Polyurethane can also contain up to five percent blowing agents which are usually volatile and/or halogenated hydrocarbons. This is just the tip of the iceberg of toxins that go into everyday building materials, including products used in green construction. This is because green is an umbrella term that is unregulated so you really have to do your research to know exactly what they mean by being “green”. According to Bob Berkebile of BNIM Architects and consultant to the Cascadia Green Building Council “We can no longer rely solely on the industrialized materials and building systems now in use given the enormity of their lifecycle impacts, embodied energy, and damage to the global climate. It is now critical that we invest in creating high performance, low-impact alternatives, including many traditional lower-tech building materials and systems. The utilization of local and minimally processed materials will be increasingly important as we develop a restoration economy for the 21st century.” We agree 110%.

The 1st International Hemp Building Symposium is a ‘call to action’ for natural building professionals from all over the world. We believe this method of building is only going to be bigger as people become more aware of the overall footprint of the building industry.

The Building Symposium is hosted by renowned Irish hemp construction expert, author of "Building With Hemp", Steve Allin and Jayeson Hendyrsan Canadian hemp building specialist.

The conference takes place Sept. 16-18 in Keamare, Ireland. We will be learning all that we can to bring back and get the ball moving to create some truly amazing organic sustainable living buildings. Stay tuned!!

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