From the category archives:

Sustainable Building Materials

I’ve been researching kitchen cabinets for my sustainable apartment kitchen project here at Sustainable Schmidt, and stumbled upon the main “green” certification for the kitchen cabinet industry: KCMA‘s Environmental Stewardship Program (ESP).  KCMA, the Kitchen Cabinets Manufactures Association, is an industry-based group with over 400 members that began in 1955.  It started it’s ESP certification program in 2006 “to help cabinet manufacturers demonstrate their commitment to environmental sustainability and help consumers easily identify environmentally-friendly products.” Cabinet companies that seek certification have to go through the ESP’s point-based certification process, that involves collaboration with a sustainable forestry program and compliance with the formaldehyde emission level of the California Air Resources Compwood ATCM.

While this stewardship program seems relatively strict, I found it curious that this certification process for the cabinet industry is sponsored by its industry-based organization.  When you consider the fact that KCMA was “founded with the goal of promoting growth for the entire cabinet industry and strengthening individual members,” it’s hard to see how the ESP can objectively evaluate this industry.  One wonders if this “certified green” stamp that manufacturers can label their products with is less informative and more a form of greenwashing.  The ESP does receive a third-party consensus from the American National Standards Institute, which somewhat alleviates my worries.  However, ANSI’s mission statement is to “empower its members and constituents to strengthen the U.S. marketplace position in the global economy,” so economic factors still have a louder voice than environmental ones.

It might be informative to compare the ESP to what many consider to be a truly rigorous and objective third-party

certification system, Cradle to Cradle Certification.  Brainchild of William McDonough, whose book I featured in my last post, Cradle to Cradle Certification “is a multi-attribute eco-label that assesses a product’s safety to humans and the environment and design for future life cycles.” The multi-tiered format of the C2C certification system, from Platinum down to Gold, Silver, and Basic, already demonstrates a big difference in the legitimacy between this and KCMA’s ESP, which lacks any sort of differential standards.  In fact, C2C’s highest Platinum certification is so rigorous that no products have yet achieved this award.  On the other hand, because their is only one standard certification within the ESP, their lacks any incentive for cabinet manufacturers to upgrade their processes above the required minimum, and fails to reward those that take extra steps in their processes to be more sustainable.

Unlike Cradle to Cradle’s required standards for each tier of certification, the ESP certification process follows a point-based system where not all possible points have to be undertaken to receive certification.  Thus, manufacturers can skimp out on accomplishing certain aspects of it’s resource processes or product management completely unchecked without and consequences.  Furthermore, applicants for the ESP only need to “self-certify” that they’ve achieved certain tasks by filling out various forms.  C2C appoints their own project manager to each applicant who is trying to receive certification.  Strange enough, in this article manufacturers have reported little to no added cost for compliance with ESP, which adds to the perception that this certification process might be too light on manufacturers, who barely need to change their processes to comply.

All these points strongly call to question the true sustainability of KCMA’s Environmental Stewardship Program.  Something doesn’t sit right with industry-groups regulating industry-groups.  This voluntary certification’s stamp can be misleading to customer’s who are looking for environmentally friendly products for their homes.  Greenwashing or not, in 2007 KCMA gathered that its manufacturers sold a total of $10 billion in certified products.  The monetary incentive to be “green” is there, and industries are finding ways to take advantage of that fact without having to change their processes and actually strive for environmental stewardship.  Not surprisingly, there are yet to be any Cradle to Cradle Certified kitchen cabinet products, even on the Basic level.



I have hope that flying cars will exist in the future. I have hope that there are actual people reading this blog. I have hope that ‘World Peace’ never changes his name back to Ron Artest. I can hope that these ideas come to fruition. But I don’t have to simply rely on hope when I think about the future of green construction.

On Wednesday, SRELP made a field trip to PCBC, a trade show at the Moscone center that showcased construction materials from around the nation. The vast number of green options was exciting and inspiring to behold. As is the case with many companies, there were a few people that used the word green a bit too freely to describe products that weren’t exactly green, but for the most part, the booths offered a variety of green options for building materials and construction. Some favorites:

Matrix Viribright LED Light bulbs: Whereas fluorescent light bulbs are indeed sustainable, LED lights are even better!  This is due to the fact that LED lights do not use mercury, making them easier to dispose of; and use a greater portion of the electricity they consume for generating light– meaning that they are more efficient.  In addition, Viribright’s light bulbs are cheaper than most LED bulbs.   The one downside I noticed to Viribright’s LED lights is that they are only manufactured in China and Vietnam.

Trunano Counter Top Sealant: This sealant is unique for– supposedly– using no VOCs (a fancy word for dangerous chemicals like formaldehyde or acetone), being biodegradable, and using covalent bonds instead of using an adhesive to repel the liquid.  This means that the counter tops only need to be resealed every 3 or 4 years, rather than every 6 months.  The downside to this product is the price, but over time, having to buy this product once every few years ensures that the costs even out.

Enerflex Radiant Barrier:  A layer of foil with a net of wire built inside, the enerflex barrier can be placed in one’s attic to reflect the heat waves that come from the sun outward, lowering the temperature of one’s attic.  This means that the air conditioning unit can reduce its energy usage by up to 20%.

All in all it was a wonderful event, and I am glad to know that green business is still important to homeowners of the Pacific Coast.

Until next time,




I’ve been busy at the office researching/googling a host of different aspects to green building–in the hopes of gathering research for my sustainable apartment kitchen project.  I have stumbled across a good amount of interesting websites and articles, and thought it would be a good idea to share it with you all.  My first “green building bucket list” goes as follows:

  • GreenPoint Rated: If you think you own a “green” home or are considering building one, try putting that “green”-ness to the test with the systemized rating system from The Green Building Council.  This GreenPoint Rated system certifies that the property you own or plan to build is more comfortable and healthier, while simultaneously lessening your impact on the environment.
  • PG&E sham(?): An interesting article from SFGate exposed a PG&E carbon offset program to be more marketing sham than sustainable function.  This “ClimateSmart program highlights the complex and murky relationships among big business, state regulators and conservation groups working on climate change – a relatively new and untested system in which a huge amount of money is traded without much public scrutiny.”
  • Noise Abatement: If you are looking for some way to muffle your neighbor’s noise next door, Keene Building has a line of products called Quiet Qurl that are made out of 40% recycled content and are designed to absorb sound in apartment or dormitory complexes.  This polymer matrix that you apply between walls or under flooring in conjunction with gypsum concrete can also help if you are looking for LEED certification.
  • Alternative Countertops: On the subject of kitchen countertops, few consider using butcher block.  “Butcher block countertops are natural, beautiful, practical, renewable, economical, and, contrary to popular belief, one of the safest, most sanitary kitchen work surfaces available.” Helmut has also noted other cool alternative countertops to the traditional laminate or granite.

That is all I got for now. More soon.



Hello! My name is Kyle Graycar.  I just finished my first year at UCLA, and am just finishing up my first day with Sustainable Schmidt.  I have gotten used to “coach” Schmidt these past four or so years from high school cross-country, and am still adjusting to addressing Helmut on a first name basis.  Before I get in to the logistics of what I have been tasked to for the summer, I’d like to wish John, the boss’s second in command, a very happy birthday.

Generally speaking, I have been tasked to compile information on the various components of a sustainable apartment kitchen.  This template should contain  comprehensive lists of different kinds of “green” products for the kitchen.  It will be exciting work, especially when you consider the how essential the kitchen is to home life.  This central hub, where meals are conducted and created, serves as the nexus for interactions at the home – it’s really an obvious decision to make this place devoid of environmental hazards and deteriorative products.  The challenge here lies in finding the middle ground or compromise between environmental-friendliness and cost.

Today I’ve been trying to find a general way to focus my research.  I came across an interesting page on the EPA website that gives a nice, general definition of what Green Building is.  The EPA calls Green Building “the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction.”  I too hope to find the best products for my compilation that take all these different aspects of its life-cycle into consideration.

Well, looking ahead, I’m excited to be here this summer.  I’m especially excited to see the tangible outcome of my work: Helmut hopes to apply my research into the remodel of a kitchen in a unit on one of his properties.  More posts to come!



Sustainable Flooring Options

by Sustainable Andy on July 6, 2010 · 0 comments

in Sustainable Building Materials

There are many options for sustainable flooring on the market right now.  All these locations provide “reclaimed wood” meaning that they do not cut down trees but rather purchase or take used wood and refurbish it. Earth Source offers a wide variety of woods and is based in the Bay Area.  Green Waste Recycle Yard is also a Bay Area company which allows you to recycle your own tree and shrub and use credit to buy their recycled products such as lumber or mulch. One main attraction of the reclaimed wood is its age and durability.   Other companies such as Restoration Timber, North Cal. Wood Products, and Wood Anchor, offer a variety of woods some of which are restored in an exotic way for various purposes.  One company, Timber Tech, not only reclaims the wood, but also transports it and restores it through environmentally friendly methods.  Some companies such as East Teak Fine Hardwoods and The Reclaimer focus on specific woods such as teak wood and Douglas fir, respectively.  Because of its old age and slow growth the wood gains different colors and better stability.

Other products for sustainable flooring indoors include Showercork, which is made from 100% renewable raw materials, and organic carpet made by Corniche Carpet Mills by only using jute and latex.

If outdoors, products such as Airostone Corp, GraniteCrete, and TerraPave, each offer different types of sustainable pathways for small or large scale purposes.  Each have different designs and are compressed to last a long time.