Green Building Movement Enters the Mainstream

Emphasis on energy efficiency provides opportunity for windows and doors, but other green demands on industry remain uncertain
Christina Lewellen
March 15, 2005
FEATURE ARTICLE | Energy Efficiency, Segments

Gone are the days when “green building” was a topic of conversation among only the wealthy or environmentally conscious. Mainstream America is beginning to demand green building practices in both the commercial and residential arenas, and builders are stepping up to fill that need. Most green building experts agree that the burst of activity surrounding green building and sustainability is not likely to recede in coming years.

“Is green a fad? If you look at how much it’s grown in the last few years, it’s showing it’s definitely not a fad,” says Brian Robbins, Pella Corp.’s leader for green building.

“Given the choice, I believe that most consumers would like to be more eco-friendly and would be open, even receptive, to purchasing a green product,” says Amy Zimmerman, vice president of marketing for Republic Windows & Doors, Chicago.

The U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification program has taken the commercial market by storm since the late ‘90s, with builders and architects pulling green aspects of site and building planning into their projects to become certified. There are even mandates across the country at different government levels requiring all new commercial buildings to be LEED certified. On the residential front, the National Association of Home Builders recently released its Model Green Home Building Guidelines, which aim to encourage builders—not just niche builders—to integrate sustainability into new homes of all price ranges.

For those in the window and door industry who have been waiting to see if green building is indeed a fad, experts suggest that it’s time to start finding ways to integrate their product lines into the sustainable building market. Arlene Z. Stewart, a Florida-based energy efficiency and sustainability consultant to the window and door industry, says manufacturers should have a clear idea of how they fit into the growing number of sustainable building initiatives.

“Manufacturers may have a lot of aspects of their products that would appeal to the green building industry; they’re just not telling people about them. Every manufacturer has to evaluate—take stock of what their product has and what their company has to offer.”

Zimmerman agrees that the growing popularity of the green movement presents manufacturers with a new way of differentiating their product lines. “Would a homeowner think that a green product could be anything but the responsible choice? Green instantly adds family-friendly cachet. Perhaps a product formulation has not changed since 1950, but the marketing team realizes they have a potential green story to tell. A green product has all the warm fuzzies of a baby food ad.”

What is green, besides a color?
Green building is not just about using recycled materials to create a new structure. It’s a holistic approach, which, according to USGBC, reduces or eliminates the negative impact of buildings on the environment and occupants in five areas: sustainable site planning, safeguarding water, energy efficiency, conservation of resources and indoor air quality.

The same broad-stroke approach should be used when considering what makes an individual product green. “It’s really about finding the right balance between price, energy efficiency and an environmentally conscious product,” Zimmerman says. “There’s more to consider than just the product itself.” Among the broader considerations, she notes, could be how the raw materials are extracted from the earth, how much energy is needed to manufacture the product, what the resulting waste is from the process, how materials are transported to job sites and the expected lifetime of the product.

With all these variables, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact definition of green. “Eventually, the term ‘green’ has to be defined in order for it to actually mean something,” Zimmerman notes.

In commercial building, USGBC’s LEED program has gained enough momentum in recent years to be considered by most in the industry as the primary definition of “green” for hospitals, schools, office buildings and other commercial structures. USGBC doesn’t recognize specific products as green, but provides credits for building developers in such categories as sustainable site design, water and energy conservation, and indoor air quality. Planners can earn points towards certification of a project, or go for extra credit to attain silver, gold or platinum LEED ratings.

“Increasingly, federal, state and local governments are encouraging the use of green building practices through adoption of these kinds of programs and, in some cases, through tax incentives for private construction,” notes Keith Christman, director of industry affairs for the Vinyl Institute, Arlington, VA.

High-performance fenestration products are helping architects and project managers earn points in the current LEED program for energy efficiency and internal daylighting.

Stewart notes that green building’s nod for reducing the amount of artificial lighting used, especially in the center of a building, may have a noticeable impact on the number of fenestration products incorporated into a green project plan. “The use of windows in daylighting is going to be very interesting, especially in skylights too. I want to say we’re going to see more and more of that.”

On the residential side, green building and product certification is still in its infancy. USGBC is in the development stages of a LEED program for residential use, called LEED for Homes. “We expect to have a pilot program ready in the next few months,” reports Taryn M. Holowka, communications manager for USGBC. “The LEED-Homes program will pilot for about six months and then, pending any changes, will be launched in the early part of 2006.”

The NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines were introduced in January to give builders an educational tool to follow for sustainable home building. “What these green building guidelines are intending to do for these builders is to get them credit for the things they’re already doing,” according to Ward Hubbell, executive director of the Green Building Initiative, the marketing arm for NAHB’s guidelines.

In fact, GBI reports that while the common misperception is that green building has to be expensive, focus group research conducted early this year indicates that builders consider green building both inevitable and good for the industry. Further, builders predict that, given enough education, homeowners would pay more for green options, research says.

“Developing locally-based green building programs has usually been the most successful way to achieve residential green building goals,” says Richard Dooley, environmental analyst at the NAHB Research Center. “The [NAHB] guidelines are an excellent tool to give local home builder associations a jump on the program development process.”

Still, NAHB was certainly not the first to get into the game of residential green certification. A multitude of project and product certification guidelines voicing different opinions on what constitutes “green” or “sustainable” makes it difficult for window and door manufacturers to decide which guidelines to follow in developing and marketing products.

Stewart points out that residential green building will have more bite if there’s an industry-accepted set of guidelines or certification program. “It’s hard to say which one will float to the top. There’s inherently more competition among residential green building programs. It’s hard to say how they’re all going to work together or if they will.”

That’s not to say Stewart believes manufacturers should wait around to see if one program emerges before they start thinking green. On both the commercial and residential planes, she says window and door manufacturers currently have an opportunity to market their green benefits to builders and architects. “I think the time is right for window manufacturers to really get in the game. I think we’re at a time where they can make their own place. It’s a pretty wide-open field. There are so many different green products that are already the focus of commissioning agents and builders. In some ways, windows are currently under the radar. But they won’t be for long.”

Currently, there is no dominant certification program deeming individual windows and doors “green.” Fenestration products are used to earn credits on a project-wide basis. There is, however, a directory of green product suggestions called GreenSpec, published by BuildingGreen Inc. The guide has more than 1,400 descriptive listings of green residential building products, including categories for windows and doors.

But what makes one window more green than another? Even that is a challenging question, notes Zimmerman. “Some manufacturers say their products are greener than the competition’s products because their windows or doors are made from wood, which is a natural material, and not vinyl, which comes from oil. Vinyl window manufacturers have a similar story—vinyl is a better insulator and does not require the chopping down of trees. Others say that aluminum or steel are metals and thus [there is] no need for oil.”

Not just energy efficiency
Stewart, who has worked for the Efficient Windows Collaborative—a coalition of industry representatives interested in expanding the market for energy-efficient windows and skylights—says while energy efficiency is an important component to green building, it’s not the golden ticket for window and door manufacturers to enter the market. “Energy is a large focus of green building, but it’s not the only focus. If a window manufacturer is solely focused on energy, that’s not what green building is. Green building is the whole cycle. I think there’s a lot of work that can be done to make a wholly green product.

“One of the things the industry is trying to do right now is look at life cycle assessment,” she continues. “I think that once the green building industry in itself has a good mechanism for life cycle assessment, that could be the next deciding factor besides energy. It’s going to take into account not just energy performance but also the energy needed to manufacture a product.”

Robbins says Pella Corp. was started in the ’20s with a focus on good stewardship and the company continues to takes a planet-friendly approach in many areas of the manufacturing process. In addition to obvious recyclables like paper and broken glass, the company also turns over for reuse its electronic machine components, batteries, cell phones, computers and 99 percent of its sawdust. “You can tell it goes from sawdust all the way to electronic components. There’s proof all along our processes that it’s integrated in our business in everything we do.”

Robbins says Pella’s environmentally friendly approach to manufacturing is second nature thanks to the foresight of the company founders. Coming into the green building market now would be more difficult, he states. “It’s not going to be easy for manufacturers today to just start doing it. It’s not an easy process. But if a manufacturer wants to be involved in this type of market, they’re going to have to do something.”

Because commodities are limited, more companies are tuning in to conservation efforts, observes Jeffrey Orme, brand manager for Crestline Windows & Doors. “Corporate cultures are aligning themselves with higher standards of ethics and morality, embracing the ideals of replenishing and nurturing the world we share.”

The first step, Orme says, is being sensitive to the availability of natural resources. “Manufacturers must limit waste. With the state of competition, technology and diversity now available to the industry, there is little excuse for not doing so.”

Marketing green
Fenestration companies can have a green approach without significant changes to the manufacturing process or material selection, according to Stewart. Many companies already offer energy-efficient and sustainable products that can be marketed as “green,” she says. “I’ve been working with product manufacturers on how to tap into the green market. It’s about how they can market their products to stay competitive.”

Pella’s Robbins believes that, like the energy efficiency consumer education campaigns of recent years, more homeowners will think green when buying a home as the movement gains momentum.

“People are starting to grasp that the cost of energy is not going to go down. It will most likely start to rise. Energy efficiency is becoming more of a catch phrase. The general consumer understands how that affects them. Also, people are starting to feel socially responsible, especially with bigger commercial buildings. Everyone is being more educated with green building coming on so strong.”

Zimmerman suggests that successful green marketing will come on the heels of a clear definition of what green building is to the residential market. “If there were a uniform marketing identity for green products similar to Energy Star, it would certainly add to the awareness and messaging. Energy Star has a clear definition for what is or can be labeled a qualified product. If there were similar green standards and an explanation—in simple terms—of what green means, it could be very successful.”

Green enough
As the LEED program and other residential guidelines are still in their relative infancy, there have been no hard and fast statements on what makes a “good” or “bad” material for green considerations. A LEED program task force recently determined, for example, that project planners would not be penalized for using materials such as vinyl.

Bill Thornton, president/CEO, Integrated Composite Technologies Inc., Montezuma, GA, and chairman of the American Architectural Manufacturers Association’s Wood and Cellulosic Composite Materials Council, says composite materials such as wood plastic composite decking and fenestration products may find a home in the green world as an alternative to certified lumber. “To be [LEED] certified, you have to use wood products from managed forests [to earn certain credits]. Products like ours are interesting to people who want to be involved in green or LEED because our product is 95 percent or more recycled. All of our plastic, thermal plastic, is from milk jugs, shampoo bottles, toys. Also in our company, we claim wood waste from other  manufacturers.”

Alan Campbell, president of the Window & Door Manufacturers Association, says he has not heard of any upward pressure on performance standards on window and door units as a result of the green movement. Current industry standards, he notes, already result in high performance characteristics. “If you take a look at any window and door product that is rated with Energy Star or the National Fenestration Rating Council, they’re going to satisfy basic green requirements as well.”

AAMA’s Executive Vice President Richard Walker adds that while the green building focus may not have manufacturers going back to the drawing board on their product lines, it may encourage them to get new technology out to environmentally conscious consumers and builders sooner. “I’m not sure if the green movement will spur a new generation of products, but it may accelerate research and development and faster commercialization of window and glass technology already in the pipeline.”

Contact Christina Lewellen, senior editor, at