I've been greenwashed!
Now that green is good business there's lots of talk about "greenwashing" and the danger posed by spurious claims to sustainability. If consumers feel duped after spending more money on a product they thought was eco-friendly but is actually the same old thing in a new (100% post consumer material) package, they won't buy green again - or so the argument goes.
But what if everything we've come to think about green is wrong? O.K., not wrong but, excuse my French, half-assed?
That's how I felt after learning about passive house. Like I wanted to rewind our pretty-damned-significant investment in new double-paned Low-E windows, weather stripping, duct sealing, air sealing, a high-efficiency furnace and about a million feet of insulation. Like these utility-sanctioned energy efficiency upgrades were just another bottle of Clorax Green Works dish detergent!
Passive house is the real deal
Passive house is a German energy efficiency building standard. And it makes LEED look like a bad case of greenwashing. A passive house is first and foremost a well-insulated, leak-proof building. It's so tight that you barely need to heat or cool it. There are lots of technical ways this is achieved, the vast majority using building techniques that are NOT cutting edge. No points for fancy new systems in this standard - it's all about performance.
We've been working overtime here at GreenRenter to launch a couple major changes to the site.
First, introducing the new GreenRenter Score! When we launched GreenRenter almost a year ago we shied away from rating buildings according to their shade of green. We reasoned that there were plenty of other people out there doing that, namely the US Green Building Council and their LEED rating system.
But, much of the early feedback we received from bloggers like Paul Smith at GreenSmith Consulting and sites like KillerStartups (thanks everyone!) suggested that renters needed an easy way to compare the properties they're interested in. While we still think trying to compare two buldings is an apples and oranges problem, we think we've found a simple and relatively painless scoring system that has benefits for everyone.
Every residential building on GreenRenter (commercial building scores are coming soon!) now has a 1 to 5 score, the higher the score the greener the building. The score is based on the building's green features, with weight given to innovativeness and breadth. You can also filter by score, using the filters on the right side of the list pages.
OK, that may be a wee bit premature, but we are very excited to announce the beginning of our nation-wide expansion.
You will now find a location drop-down on the home page and the right side bar that allows you to search for properties in a select city. For now, they are:
Portland, Seattle, SF Bay area, Boston, Chicago and New York City.
And, now you can list properties anywhere in the country. Any building not located in one of the above cities will go into the rather inglorious "Everywhere else" category. As soon as a city has a critical mass we'll bump it up to prime time.
As a founder of GreenRenter and an all-around sustainability enthusiast, I'm always searching the web for interesting sites. I found EcoFuse on Facebook, of all places.
EcoFuse is a relatively new website founded by a husband and wife team that, in their words, "wanted to do 'more' than
just recycle and conserve." EcoFuse provides users links to current enviro news, helpful partner sites (like GreenRenter!), and simple tips to reducing waste and carbon emissions in our own daily lives. And, in a nod to the supreme excellence of the Pacific Northwest, the founders recently relocated to the great state of Washington!
Last time I checked the site the tip-o-the-day was about reducing junk mail. And who doesn't want to do that?
When I asked EcoFuse founder Nick about the biggest challenge he and his wife faced in founding the site, he answered with what might be the most common problem plaguing all of us start-ups: "attracting and retaining users."
He offered some great tips to winning the competition for eyeballs:
- Keep your message consistent
- Fight spam in order to provide users the content they want
- Give everyone a voice
But what can I do now?
Given that EcoFuse aims to help all of us make small but important changes in our lives, I asked Nick what he wishes each of his viewers would do tomorrow that we didn't do today. It's an easy one folks:
"Recycle!!! It's SO easy and important! Gosh, if everyone did it, can you imagine the possibilities?"
Sometimes it seems the green building industry is fixated on finishes - bamboo floors, concrete counter tops, recycled glass tile. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with obsessing over materials - except when it clouds our judgement about what it means to be green. In the green building boom we've experienced up to now, the greening of existing buildings has taken a back seat to new projects, with their shiny finishes and clean lines. And the greening of demolition - the very last stage in a building's life-cycle? Not even on the map.
That's starting to change. More "deconstruction" experts, as they like to be called, are starting to offer their services and the national news media is taking note. A recent article in Forbes highlighted the work of David A. Bennink, who's currently deconstructing homes in New Orleans.
Well, we're getting close to launch. This project has been a year in the making and I'm ready to send it out into the world and see what comes back. Of course it's still rough around the edges, but I think there's enough functionality that users can see what we're trying to do.
Probably the biggest struggle for me so far has been seeding the site with content. After several misfires I finally found an approach that works: identify a green building, gather as much info as possible off the web, then call the property manager and ask permission to post their contact info. No one has said "no" yet, and it's quick and painless for everyone.
If only we had more time ... I've still got a list of more than 90 green commercial buildings in Portland alone, waiting to get some attention. Hopefully seeing the live site will be enough of an incentive to get property managers and owners to enter their data. Either that or we'll need an intern! Anyone interested?