Greenwashing and How to Avoid It

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With the increased focus worldwide on taking better care of our planet and preserving our natural resources, marketing campaigns have started to focus on sustainability as a selling point in many fields. This is an awesome move if the company really is an active advocate for preserving water, energy and the like; however, many times companies toss a green marketing claim to consumers based on little to no actual action. Customers who fall for these claims and purchase advertised products from companies who aren't actually green are doing little to help save our planet and, in reality, may be unwillingly doing more harm than good. We call this "greenwashing."

Fortunately, greenwashing is a villain that can be stopped relatively easily if consumers are careful and pay close attention to products they purchase. The most accurate way to avoid being greenwashed is to properly research "green" products before purchasing. If your favorite detergent company has just launched a green cleaner, take the time to check facts about what exactly makes this new detergent qualify as green.

On this same note, avoiding greenwashing is about more than just ensuring that you buy holistic products. The idea behind going green requires that we do everything in our power to reduce the carbon footprint each of us leaves on the world. In this way, we can directly save many of the non-renewable resources we're currently flying through. That said, even if a product really is "green" on the consumer side, if the company is required to use more energy and produce more waste in order to create the product, perhaps promoting its production isn't the best thing for our planet. Just like you research your products, research the companies who make them. Are they really following a green initiative or just trying to make a buck off the good efforts of others?

I'm very happy to see the overwhelming number of new environmentally friendly options on the market, but remember the reason for these products. If we aren't actually conserving the earth's resources, perhaps these campaigns are less "green" and more "greenwash."

by Anjie Cho


Non-Toxic Cleaning Products

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No doubt the reasons for purchasing highly advertised and recommended cleaning products are almost all, if not entirely, based on the goal of keeping your home clean so that your family can live a long, healthy life. Unfortunately, purchasing these chemical agents most often accomplishes exactly the opposite effect, filling households with tainted air supply and ultimately resulting in a plethora of health issues including, but certainly not limited to, asthma, allergies, eye irritation and nausea.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has noted that indoor air quality (IAQ) can be anywhere from two to five times as polluted as the air we breathe outside. This is due to a range of factors including chemicals in decorating materials (like paint) and highly toxic cleaning agents. Store-bought cleaning products come with a laundry list of hard-to-pronounce chemicals, all of which you repeatedly release into your family’s internal atmosphere every time you use them to provide a “clean” environment. Fortunately, it’s perfectly possible to do away with these cleaning materials once and for all and still rest easy in a clean, non-toxic home

Switching to homemade, non-toxic cleaning supplies is as easy as looking up time-tested recipes online or in books and committing to using these substances in place of toxic agents. The best part? A healthier family isn’t the only positive outcome to making this change. Eliminating toxic cleaning supplies from your home is also a great way to ensure that children don’t accidentally come into contact with these harmful materials, whether snooping around in cabinets or lovingly offering “help” during cleaning times.

Aside from creating an all-around healthier living environment for you and your family, going green and non-toxic in the area of cleaning can save money by a long shot. Rather than paying per bottle for toxic concoctions, there are numerous ways to combine safe, cheap, regular household chemicals to create non-toxic cleaning supplies for your home, and many of these substances can be purchased for pennies on the dollar, especially in bulk. Not to mention many of these products also have other uses in the home, from laundry detergent to cooking to more.

On a global scale, reducing the use of toxic chemicals in your home also increases the quality of the outdoor environment as well as the amount of safe drinking water available to our population. When you use toxic cleaners, chemicals are released into the air, and though they most immediately pollute indoor air, they eventually make their way outdoors and, ultimately, into the ozone. Pouring chemicals into drains and washing them away results directly in pollution of the water supply we use for safe use and consumption, thereby reducing the already tiny 1% we have for use.

by Anjie Cho


Why Save Water?

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If you live in this century, and let’s face it, you do, you’ve undoubtedly been encouraged to save water in any way possible to you. One obvious reason for preserving our water supply is that, contrary to popular belief, water is not a renewable resource. Our planet has a finite amount of water, and only 1% of this resource is even available for human consumption. In addition to this very obvious reason to be wary of water use, there are numerous other factors influencing the mission to reduce our nation’s, and our planet’s, use of this precious resource.

As previously mentioned, of the finite amount of water available to us on Earth, only a stunning 1% is potable, and this number is rapidly decreasing due to excessive pollutants and litter being dumped into our clean water supply almost daily. We absolutely cannot live without clean drinking water, and neither can any other species supported by Earth. Every living creature needs water, which means that even if we redirect our pollution into water sources that humans do not currently use, we are still actively killing various species of the animal kingdom, many of which are already endangered. Even for advocates of animal consumption, this is an issue. What will you eat if we eradicate all existing species? Inability to conserve our water for later use ultimately means extinction of all life on our planet.

Aside from keeping the entire planet alive, conservation of water is beneficial for that other green substance we love: money. Taking care to monitor your water usage and preserve as much as possible directly influences the amount of money we spend each month, each year on utility bills. These equations are simple. Many of us are charged based on water consumption, as we are with any other energy source. The fewer gallons we utilize, the less money we pay. As a side note, popular methods for conserving water can save thousands of gallons of water annually. Conserving water doesn’t just decrease water utility bills, though. It also directly affects the cost of other energy bills including gas. The fewer gallons of water you heat for various reasons, from showering to washing clothes to washing dishes, the less gas you use to heat this water, which results in immediately lower gas bills.

Other reasons for conserving water include reducing state and national funds (to which we contribute) spent on public structure aimed at keeping our water supply flowing and fresh, reducing expenditures on sewage and wastewater processes and even reduction of the occurrence of sinkholes in some states.

by Anjie Cho


Smaller Tubs, Bigger Windows: Tracking the Trends for Your Bathroom

featured this week in Chicago Tribune, by Barbara Ballinger

image credit:  Shadowlight Group

image credit: Shadowlight Group

Years ago, home design professionals borrowed the spa concept from swank hotels and resorts to give the bathroom a soothing ambience, even if its occupants couldn't steal away. Now, another metamorphosis is underway. New York architect and designer, Anjie Cho, has found that some clients who travel frequently no longer want to be reminded of a hotel at home. They seek more personalized style, she says. Carolyn DiCarlo, also a New York architect and designer, agrees and says more homeowners view the room's purpose as a place to shut the door and enjoy their own personalized daily rituals. And though some may equate this space with excessive energy and water consumption, Los Angeles designer Sarah Barnard thinks the room has become more environmentally sensitive, particularly in California where stricter guidelines already are in place. "The bathroom can still offer a luxurious experience, but in a much more responsible way," she says. Here's what else our trends spotters are saying, along with what's now passe:

Bring in natural lightBig windows allow more light and even fresh air when space permits, says developer Jean Francois Roy, whose new luxe AquaVita Florida condominiums make that a priority. But place them strategically when possible, near a vanity where someone applies makeup, says Florida-based Cheryl Kees Clendenon, owner of In Detail Interiors.

Integrate room functions. Barriers between different spaces in the master bedroom are disappearing (again) with bedrooms often open to bathrooms and walk-in closets for another take on the loft look, says Stephanie Pierce, senior design studio manager at manufacturer MasterBrand Cabinets.

Don't toss the bathwater, yet. Big whirlpools that require being encased along perimeter walls are fading from popularity since many homeowners find them a maintenance headache, noisemaker and space guzzler. But not everyone wants only a shower if there is adequate square footage. The free-standing tub, often curved, has taken off when there's sufficient space all around, though it's impractical for some seniors. Another possibility, says Cho — deep soak tubs for total immersion.

Expand the shower but not too much. The notion of two-person showers generated buzz years ago, but the reality is that many simply want a large enough shower for one — and not too large, says DiCarlo. She finds that larger than 4 feet by 5 feet eliminates the warm, nestling feeling of a shower. The panoply of jets and sprays has also been scaled back with emphasis on a big rain head for a more functional luxuriating experience, says Barnard. Cho prefers hand-held shower heads, sometimes on a bar. She also likes to include a built-in bench and a niche for bathing products. And shower door hardware is being scaled back or removed, with some only installing a single fixed panel, says Clendenon. "It cuts cleaning, though it also cuts warmth, and you can't do a steam shower with it," she says.

Float the vanity. Creating a sleeker look, which also makes any size room look larger and pares maintenance, has spurred the popularity of wall-mounted, floating vanities rather than floor-to-counter cabinetry. This style offers another plus: For baby boomers beginning to think about aging in place, it permits greater accessibility with room underneath to accommodate a wheelchair, says Barnard. She favors wood or faux wood materials in a light maple, birch, alder or white oak. Caveat: A floating vanity requires good bracing; otherwise, countertops may sag, says Clendenon.

Introduce color and texture, but judiciously. While white still ranks as the No. 1 palette choice, including for tile grout, more designers are suggesting variations in creams and grays. The exception — a new trend — is a touch of bolder color for a personalized touch. Barnard suggests blue and purple to bring in the outdoors but says to limit the application. "Pick one dominant element in the room for the addition of color such as one tiled wall," she says. Luxury textured finishes are gaining a following. DiCarlo suggests rich mahogany or walnut cabinetry; resin for tubs and sinks instead of cast iron or enamel; and bronze, gold and tinted glass accents. Clendenon prefers impervious materials like natural quartz Silestone from Cosentino. 

On the way out:

1. Big, high-maintenance whirlpool tubs.
2. Dozens of shower jets and sprays, some of which rarely get used.
3. Small-size glass and mosaic tiles.
4. Harsh minimalism that doesn't feel nurturing.
5. Mirrored walls that lack interest and have a cookie-cutter look.
6. Vessel sinks that look great but aren't practical. 

...read full article

by Anjie Cho


Sustainable Building: Closed Loop Advisors

Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing, Courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing, Courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

JD Capuano is Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Closed Loop Advisors, a sustainability management consultancy. He is super passionate about sustainability and helping businesses truly incorporate sustainable green practices. Holistic Spaces interviewed JD about his business, the Living Building Challenge, and sustainability.

Be sure to check in on the next blog post, to read JD speak about Renewable Energy Certificates

AC: Tell us about your mission at Closed Loop Advisors.

JC: Closed Loop Advisors is a sustainability management consultancy focused on helping organizations with two things: environmental sustainability strategy, measurement, and analytics; and green building fit-outs and certifications. Our mission is to change business as usual by integrating commerce and deep green environmental sustainability.

AC: What is the Living Building Challenge and how have you incorporated it into your consulting? 

JC: The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is the most inspiring and stringent green building standard in the world. It imagines that we design and construct buildings to function as elegantly and efficiently as a flower. LBC has three certifications – the full challenge (7 PETALs, or areas of certification), PETAL Certification (3 PETALs, one of which has to be Energy, Water or Materials), and Net Zero Energy Building Certification. Our involvement with LBC started with my colleague, Eileen Quigley. Eileen was project-managing the Chicago office fit-out for our client, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and posed the idea of pursuing LBC PETAL Certification in their Chicago office. Once we realized there was a chance of doing it, they were all for it, and we were off and running.

Tell us more about PETAL certification and at zero-toxicity materials -- what does that mean and what can we learn from it?

We spend most of our time indoors, and we're surrounded by many human-made materials that are off-gassing toxics. You know the smell of new carpeting or fresh paint? When you smell that, you're inhaling the toxic gasses seeping out from those materials. The Materials PETAL places emphasis on all of the inputs to a building's structure and finishes with very specific requirements, such as a certain amount of material reuse for a renovation, forestry requirements and a definition of local for wood, and most important their Red List of materials and chemicals products cannot contain. By following this PETAL we learn to create an indoor environment where residents or employees can be healthier and more productive. 

Tell us about the Chicago Natural Resources Defense Council project, where you were able to create a notable innovation and really make a difference.

The Natural Resources Defense Council project was innovative because it was the first time anyone suggested that an office could go for the LBC certification. Every project before ours was residential or an entire building. We saw the chance to do something on a smaller scale while still having an impact. We didn't know about the PETAL Certification until we researched it. We got excited once we realized we didn't have to worry about net zero water or energy, which are really difficult to do for a project that is 1% of the building square footage. We pursued the materials PETAL. I think it has just as much if not more, of an impact than water or energy, because it's causing ripples in a huge industry of materials manufacturers and making them re-think their processes. It's also making us re-think what's healthy for people to be in the presence of, especially considering how much time people spend at work.

What are three tips that the readers can do to make their work spaces more sustainable?

It depends. Are you staying in the same space, or moving? Where are you geographically? What have you already done? Sorry, force of habit as a consultant to make sure I'm answering the right questions!

Assuming you're staying in the same space:

  1. Track and analyze your data over time to look for areas of improvement. You can get electricity, maybe heating and water. Start tracking your waste and see how you can reduce it.  
  2. Focus on reducing electricity use by changing set-points, upgrade lighting or de-lamp if your space is over-lit, install sensors (daylight and movement), maximize use of daylighting, make sure lights and equipment turn off when no one is around.  
  3. Look at what you're purchasing and consuming. What can you reduce? Are you purchasing eco-friendly, reusable or recyclable (preferring the former) and non-toxic products (from the little things to furniture)?

by Anjie Cho


Closed Loop Advisors is changing business as usual. We are passionate about integrating sustainability and business. From addressing specific environmental problems to organization-wide sustainability planning, we help our clients become more efficient, responsible and adaptive. Our work focuses on each client’s desired outcomes that we align with their unique combination of priorities, values and budget.

Our services fall into two categories. The first is Strategy, Measurement and Analytics, with projects ranging from environmental target setting to carbon foot-printing to GRI reporting. The second is Buildings and Certifications, where we manage office fit-outs and certify projects to LEED or Living Building Challenge standards. Founded in 2011, we are based in NYC and manage projects in Europe, China, and across the US. We are a Certified B Corporation