Championing Green Building

Is it easier or harder to be green in 2008? (Some people still ask, what is sustainable building?) Here’s what I mean. The Summer Olympics brought us a new swimming venue. Beijing’s Watercube is—luminescent, athletic, borne of air. It’s also energy efficient. The Bird’s Nest, too, was an icon of organic form—light, durable, cost-efficient, and eco-conscious. In both buildings a transparent polymer makes “green” look easy. Read “One to Watch” to find how architects and builders are using ETFE to push the limits of design and sustainability. China is an ancient culture with a new face; ETFE is decades-old material being used as a new “face”. For a case study on ETFE, head to

Also featured in this issue are ICFs, extending design choices while increasing energy efficiency. Lightweight and easy to install, these foam-and-concrete “sandwich” forms dampen noise, and resist wind and pests. To follow up our last issue’s article on recycling vinyl roofs, read the interview with the architect who solved tough design challenges topping off the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium. Even in Texas heat, a vinyl roof can help a stadium keep its cool.

With ICFs (“Forms and Function” ) providing environmentally smart design choices and vinyl roofing that can lower energy use and be recycled, it looks easier in 2008 to be green. But it turns out Kermit has a point: the Federal Trade Commission is noting it’s easier to claim green than to prove it, when it comes to building products. The FTC plans to revise its Green Guides to be clearer about how green claims can be made about buildings so as not to be misleading to the consumer. This discussion invites architects, builders, and manufacturers to ask how they can go beyond a LEED-style checklist in demonstrating actual performance through the life of a building. See “Watching What We Call Green” for a report on the FTC’s public workshop on green-building claims. Later this year, check out for the results of our reader survey, as architects like you define “environmentally friendly” and “safe” products. It appears easier to be green with plastics.