This month we introduce two new pages, GreenSpeak and GreenSpec. Together they make up a new department called “Sustainability” that will run every other month throughout 2007. GreenSpeak is devoted to helping you integrate sustainable thinking and practices into your business; GreenSpec sorts through the growing number of products and technologies that lay claim to the “green” label.

“Green” seems to be in the spotlight more and more these days for reasons ranging from soaring energy prices to the frequency and intensity of hurricanes and tornadoes to the popularity of the global-warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Far from simply jumping on the bandwagon, however, it is the growing cachet of the term “green” that demands our attention.

The last time the term “green” entered the everyday vocabulary of our industry, its meaning as short-hand for the broad concerns of the sustainability movement was quickly watered down by marketing hype. The same thing is already beginning to happen this time around, as manufacturers attempt to “green wash” their products to cash in on the growing sustainability movement. In some cases, those products clearly deserve the green label, but in as many others they don't. In between are issues surrounding a particular product or class of products that are too complex to render an easy judgment one way or the other.

Best Practice But sustainability in the remodeling business isn't only about the products with which we choose to build; it's a way of thinking about our practices, both in the office and in the field. It can start with something as simple as going out of your way to preserve existing trees on a jobsite or to provide more effective dust protection during construction. Or you might decide to substitute deconstruction for demolition on your next project. That means disassembling existing structures and finishes instead of destroying and disposing of them, then salvaging materials that can be reused and recycling those that can't. The added cost of the time spent salvaging materials is lower than the cost of acquiring them new and also is partially offset by reduced disposal costs.

Beyond the Bottom Line Then again, not all returns can be measured on the bottom line, at least not directly. Many remodeling clients believe that green is the right thing to do, and remodeling contractors are starting to pay attention. Initial cost matters, of course, but sustainable practices pay for themselves over the long haul in much the same way that sustainable products do. And the benefits, however incremental, reach well beyond those who implement them. If, for example, through air-sealing and insulation, every remodeler were to improve the energy efficiency of every house they work on by just 10%, they would certainly reduce their clients' utility bills. But by reducing the amount of fuel consumed to heat and cool those homes, they would also extend fuel reserves and, perhaps more importantly, reduce the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere.

A New Standard I believe that, far from being just a passing fad, sustainability has the potential to establish a new minimum standard for quality professional remodeling. It will usher in a new way of thinking about business that is likely to involve something like John Elkington's “triple bottom line,” a concept he coined in his 1998 book, Cannibals With Forks. Elkington argued that, in the 21st century, trading profit alone will not be adequate to measure business performance; along with its financial accounting, a company will need to measure its environmental and social performance.

Green remodeling moves our industry in that direction. When fully realized, it will affect not only the products we install but the methods we employ to preserve the jobsite and protect a home's occupants, as well as the policies we enact to attract, educate, and retain the people who perform the work.

Sal Alfano
Editorial Director