RCA Newsletter - August 2001 

LEAD STORY: "Greenness" of Mansions Questioned

FEATURE STORY: Green Government Efforts Rewarded and Critiqued

a) Greening Suppliers
b) Green Building Standards Released
c) Examining Recycled Paper Costs
d) Hemp Crop Raided Again
e) Newspapers Incorporate Recycled Fibers
f) Study Shows Financial Viability of Deconstruction
g) Certified Wood Demand Grows
h) Eco-packaging Policy Implemented at Cornell
i) Paper Still Preferable for Books
j) Eco Furniture Installed


straw bale


"Greenness" of Mansions Questioned

On August 30, 2001, the New York Times highlighted the debate over whether large mansions (the 5,000 to 40,000 plus square foot variety) built with environmentally preferable materials can truly be considered "green" in the article, "Shades of Green: Muscle Homes Trying to Live Lean." While the homes may eliminate some wood use, by making walls from rammed earth mixed with quarry waste for example, architects and others ponder whether any home can be green when its size is tremendous. Given the resources required to furnish, heat and maintain the houses, they are unlikely to be "light" on the earth. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be an end in site for the houses, often dubbed "McMansions." Although environmentalists have been preaching a "small is beautiful" aesthetic since the first Earth Day, the National Association of Home Builders reports that the average house size has increased from 1,500 square feet in 1970 to 2,305 square feet today, while the number of occupants has decreased from 3.2 to 2.6 over the same period.

Green Government Efforts Rewarded and Critiqued

The White House Task Force on Recycling released its Summer 2001 issue of Closing the Circle News, "Greening the Government Showcases 2001." The publication highlights 40 federal programs which were recognized at the 2001 White House Closing the Circle Awards for their efforts at waste prevention, recycling and federal acquisition of "green" products. Many of the programs are models for reducing wood consumption.

The U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Geological Survey's Menlo Park, California office has a program in place that allows employees to drop-off and pick-up unwanted, but still usable supplies. Maps, books, scientific journals and furniture have been reused in this way. The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) partnered in the building of the EPA campus in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina to ensure that construction wastes were salvaged and recycled. As a result, 6,500 tons of waste, including 500 tons of wood and 50 tons of cardboard, were diverted from the landfill. The U.S. Postal Service, Pittsburgh Performance Center in Pennsylvania implemented a pilot project which replaced disposable cardboard mail transporters with reusable, recycled containers which reduced storage requirements and increased the efficiency of the process. The project reduced cardboard usage by nearly 40,000 units, avoiding more than 200 tons of waste paper in 2000 alone. The Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory saved more than $200,000 by reusing and recycling demolition materials and reusing or donating reusable building components.

For a copy of the publication "Greening the Government Showcases 2001," see http://www.ofee.gov/ctc/summer01.pdf.

But, not all of the news has been positive for "green" government efforts this summer. Although the federal government has been increasingly mandating the purchase of recycled and other environmentally preferable products during the past 25 years, it lacks the infrastructure to determine how effectively these measures have been implemented, reported the August 6, 2001 Waste News article, "Federal Agencies Must Buy Green Products But Lack the Ability to Track Their Success." The article highlights the findings of a recent General Accounting Office report, "Federal Procurement: Better Guidance and Monitoring Needed to Assess Purchases of Environmentally Friendly Products" which reveals that federal agencies rely on estimates on their affirmative purchases, because their procurement systems are not designed to track "green" purchases.


a) Greening Suppliers Recent studies on supply chain environmental management provide insights into this process of "greening" products, according to "The Laws of Supply and Demand" in the August 2001 issue of The GreenBusiness Letter. Supply chain management is a process whereby companies (or other institutions) work with suppliers to improve the environmental performance of products or manufacturing processes. This process is beneficial to institutions which are examining their wood consumption, because it sheds a light on the materials used in wood products (whether recycled or virgin, where the wood originated, what type of logging method was used, etc.)

The Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) Education Fund's study, "Supplier's Perspectives on Greening the Supply Chain," June 2001 included forest products companies among those surveyed and had some surprising results. Namely, suppliers stated that they were concerned that customers are not doing enough to integrate environmental expectations into their purchasing decisions and a majority of participants found that their environmental initiatives which had been driven by customers had a positive effect on their bottom line.

The BSR study can be obtained from Marya Glass at mglass@bsr.org or downloaded from GreenBiz.

b) Green Building Standards Released The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has released two standards related to building sustainability, according to "Sustainability in the Buildings Industry" by Ruth Heikkinen in the August 2001 issue of ASTM's Standardization News. The first two standards developed by the three-year old Subcommittee on Sustainability address "green" building terminology and the selection of "green" building products.

c) Examining Recycled Paper Costs Seventh Generation -- the company that produces environmentally preferable household products -- described why recycled paper typically costs a bit more than virgin paper in its newsletter, Non-Toxic Times, volume 2, number 10 in "Conservation Conundrums: Why Does Recycled Paper Cost More?" The article states that since raw recycled paper is a very unstable commodity on the open market, companies often charge higher retail prices in order to provide a buffer against the instability of the market. And, recycled must compete against overseas mills which dump large amounts of cheap virgin pulp on the market. Furthermore, virgin pulp can be cheaper than recycled, because it comes from private companies' forests or from National Forests where logging is subsidized by taxpayers. Lastly, virgin paper production already has a massive infrastructure in place which has been paid off some time ago, while the recycled paper making facilities are relatively new.

d) Hemp Crop Raided Again Federal officials raided an industrial hemp crop on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for the second year in a row, reported the August 2, 2001 article, "White Plume Hemp Crop Destroyed Again" in the Lakota Journal by Hazel Bonner. Federal officials guaranteed immunity from criminal prosecution once they had negotiated a consent to search the property. The legal question of whether the Controlled Substances Act gives federal agents jurisdiction over hemp grown on the reservation remains unresolved.

e) Newspapers Incorporate Recycled Fibers New Hampshire's eight largest newspapers have dramatically increased the use of recycled content newsprint during a 10-year voluntary program in conjunction with the state's Department of Environmental Services, according to the August 6, 2001 Waste News article, "New Hampshire Publishers Make Strides with Recycled-content Newsprint." While the program fell short of its goal of increasing recycled newsprint use to 40 percent of overall consumption, it still made appreciable gains -- overall consumption rose from six to 33 percent. Meanwhile, newspapers in Missouri have also increased the amount of recycled-content newsprint with average usage reaching 43 percent, reported Waste News on August 6, 2001 in "Most Missouri Newspapers Meet State's Goal for Recycled-content Newsprint." The state had set a goal for publishers to use newsprint with at least some recycled content 50 percent of the time. A number of publications used 100 percent recycled content newsprint in 2000.

f) Study Shows Financial Viability of Deconstruction The Center for Construction and Environment at the University of Florida deconstructed six wood framed houses as part of a study to compare the costs of deconstruction and salvage versus demolition, according to E-volve Newsletter's August 16, 2001 article, "Deconstruction Time Looks Cost Effective." The study showed that depending on the salvage value of the materials, the cost of deconstruction ranged from 10 to 37 percent lower than demolition.

g) Certified Wood Demand Grows The Christian Science Monitor reported on August 23, 2001 in "The Quest for Certifiably Eco-friendly Lumber" that as corporations and others specify wood from well managed forests, the demand for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood grows. Ikea, Home Depot and Lowes are among the companies seeking FSC products. Although the market remains relatively small for FSC wood, demand continues to outstrip supply.

h) Eco-packaging Policy Implemented at Cornell Cornell University is purchasing biodegradable food service packaging from EarthShell Corporation, according to the August 23, 2001 article in Waste News, "Cornell University to Use Biodegradable Packaging at Food Service Sites." The new policy will institute an alternative made from agricultural fibers for its packaging. (Packaging is a heavy user of wood fiber.)

i) Paper Still Preferable for Books "Forecasts of an E-Book Era Were, It Seems, Premature" reported the New York Times on August 28, 2001. One year after Microsoft, Barnesandnoble.com, Simon & Schuster and AOL predicted a huge shift to electronic books, they are reexamining their predictions as there has been very little demand for the product. Anderson Consulting, which had forecast that by 2005 digital books could account for 10 percent of all book sales, now states that the estimate is a stretch. But, some predict that although it may take as long as 10 years, electronic publishing will eventually equal paper. And, AOL estimates that its sales of electronic books should reach $1 million by the end of 2001 and $50 million per year by 2006.

j) Eco Furniture Installed Purchasers can specify "green" furniture from companies that implement environmentally preferable practices in their selection of raw materials, manufacturing and fabrication of the furniture and packaging and shipping the product, according to Catawba College Center for the Environment's EcoConnections Online Magazine article, "Lighten the Impact on the Earth: Fill Your Space With Green Furniture" by Jeanne Mercer. The article highlights Studio eg's Ecowork line which is produced in an environmentally friendly manner and uses recycled and other "green" materials. The line is used to furnish the Center for the Environment.


The Sierra Student Coalition has joined the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) in attempting to persuade universities to cease buying Boise Cascade products. RAN is continuing its "Tree Free Campus" campaign which was launched in February 2001. The College of the Atlantic in Maine, the University of North Carolina and the University of Vermont are some of the schools that signed on to the campaign.

The Staples campaign being waged by Forest Ethics and several other environmental organizations -- to eliminate all Staples products containing wood from old growth forests and public lands and to phase in recycled products -- has seen several recent developments. A delegation of ministers descended on the Staples shareholder meeting on August 31, 2001 to deliver a letter from 127 religious leaders urging the company to stop buying and selling paper made from endangered forests. The campaign also waged a "call-in/fax-in" effort for consumers on the same day. Meanwhile the Boston Globe's ombudsman acknowledged he mishandled the "Staples" issue when writing about the newspapers refusal to run Forest Ethics' Staples advertisement. (See Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting for more information.) And, Staples has been busy trying to counteract its bad-guy image by partnering with Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection to encourage Pennsylvanians to buy recycled products. For more on the Staples campaign, see Stop Staples.

The Certified Forest Products International Conference & Showcase will be held on September 26-28, 2001 in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Energy and Environmental Building Association Annual Conference will be held on October 24-27 in Orlando, Florida.


Arbokem Inc. is once again distributing its DP#3 paper -- Downtown #3 paper which has been made of 45 percent straw (totally chlorine free), 45 percent post-consumer waste, recycled fiber and 10 percent chalk. For more information on the paper and available sizes, contact Arbokem at 604-322-1317, e-mail: cw@arbokem.com.

Greenbuilder.com, The Last Straw Journal and The Straw Bale Association of Texas are building a database of straw bale buildings. There are a number of purposes for the registry, including determining where there are publicly viewable straw bale structures and obtaining an accurate number of straw bale buildings in the United States. The listing can be found at http://sbregistry.greenbuilder.com.