The Signal: News & Notes from the Pharos Team


The Story of Cap & Trade

Bill Walsh - December 1, 2009

Global warming potential - like many health, environmental, and social issues - is hard to tag with a single number. That is why the Pharos Project is developing multi-attribute profiles for the products that go into our buildings everyday. To date, our research suggests that many factors must be addressed in combating the climate crisis, leaving the cap and trade framework's effectiveness questionable at either the company or national policy level.Today, the folks that brought us the virally-popular The Story of Stuff have done it again with The Story of Cap & Trade, a 9-minute animated romp through the vagaries of proposals to allow companies to buy, sell, trade or bank the right to put C02 into the atmosphere. Such programs are the centerpiece of virtually every plan under discussion for addressing climate change. The conventional wisdom is that it's a no brainer. After all, it worked before to stop acid rain.Not so fast.For example, a June 2009 investigative news report examine...

This Thanksgiving: See the Forest Through the Beans

Bill Walsh - November 23, 2009

I was standing in the coffee aisle of my local co-op last Wednesday, the bustle around me signaling the start of the Thanksgiving rush. Sipping a complimentary decaf, handed to me by Dean Cycon, owner of Dean's Beans coffee, one of the co-ops most popular brands, I couldn't stop thinking about the fate of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified wood credit in the LEED rating system. Dean had just explained to me how every pound of his coffee that we buy, and every cup that we drink, contributes directly to better environment, health and social welfare, in every place touched by his beans. But here's what got me thinking. For Indigenous coffee farmers, he said, fair trade practices were proving to be way more important than he had foreseen. Certified fair trade practices were a cultural lifeline, a vehicle for regaining a measure of autonomy in an export-oriented economy whose dynamics are contrary to the survival of Indigenous Peoples.1 That's when I though...

"Red List" & "Precautionary List" Chemicals Found in Pregnant Women

Bill Walsh - November 18, 2009

Can we agree that if toxic chemicals from a building material are showing up in babies, then that is not a "green" building material?The Washington Toxics Coalition just released a new study in which they tested nine pregnant women, from Washington, Oregon, and California, for a range of toxic chemicals commonly found in building materials.Specific findings of the study include:Every woman tested was exposed to bisphenol A, the hormone disrupting chemical used to make polycarbonate plastic, the lining for food cans, and epoxy resins used in many high performance paints and coatings.Each woman had at least two and as many as four perfluorinated compounds in her blood. These are chemicals used to create stain-protection products and non-stick cookware.Every woman was exposed to at least four phthalates, the plasticizers and fragrance carriers found in consumer products and flexible vinyl products.These chemicals are identified as hazardous on multiple levels by the 21 governmen...

Greenbuild, Greenwash and Pharos

Paul Bogart - November 16, 2009

If anyone doubted the need for a tool that cuts through the fog of labels, manufacturer claims and private certification schemes that dominate the building materials market, a short stroll through the aisles of the GreenBuild exhibition hall would erase that.Perhaps it was the aftershock of a trip though the Greenbuild exhibition hall that prompted Al Gore to exhort Greenbuild attendees this way at Chase Field on Wednesday night: "I urge the green building movement to pay attention to keeping the environmental standards high, and when you find greenwashing going on, speak out against it. Don't put up with that because they undercut the legitimate folks who are here, who are doing the right thing."Al is right. The trouble is, it's not always that easy. Greenwashing is by definition clever, sophisticated and disingenuous, making it difficult to distinguish from legitimate green marketing. The other limitation is that individual voices rarely break through the din of Greenwash. ...

Pharos Online: Beacon of Transparency for the Green Building Movement

Bill Walsh - November 6, 2009

Join us. Join with leading architecture and design firms, construction firms and health care systems that have already subscribed to Pharos. Use the system to research green building materials, and align your purchasing power with your values and your commitment to transparency. Support manufacturers who share that commitment.Today's public opening of the Pharos system as an authoritative, affordable and user friendly materials evaluation tool is a major milestone in a project that began over three years ago. Following a long tradition of project development, it began with a drawing on a cocktail napkin. That's how Jason McLennan - then a principal at BNIM Architects, now CEO of the Cascadia Regional Green Building Council - first presented his vision of how to communicate a multi-attribute evaluation of building materials with in an elegant lens graphic. It seemed to us the perfect way to convey our best information and analysis to the green building community, and to accelerate marke...