Greenpeace Founder Sees Environmental Extremists Hampering Progress

By John Swanson
October 25, 2006
Meetings & Events

Las Vegas—By opposing the use of PVC and lumber in buildings, environmental extremists are hampering green building efforts and the drive for real sustainability, according to one of Greenpeace’s founders, speaking at the fall meeting of the American Architectural Manufacturers Association in October. The event also saw an update on AAMA’s plans to expand its certification program and a look at trends among the nation’s big builders. 

Patrick Moore, who now works as a consultant on environmental issues, left Greenpeace many years ago because he was “tired of being ‘against things,’ and wanted to be ‘for something.’” Turning to the idea of sustainability and consensus-building to find solutions, he began to question many of the arguments and science of environmental “extremists” regarding global warming, PVC and forestry, he recalls, suggesting now that they are actually hampering efforts to improve the environment. 

Discussing the environmental movement in general, Moore said it was very successful early on, gathering widespread public acceptance. Unfortunately, some elements of the movement liked to be confrontational, and the only way they could continue to do so was to take more extreme positions. Adding to the extremist movement was the end of the Cold War, which led previous “peaceniks” to look for a new cause. “They are against globalism, they are anti-technology, they are even anti-people,” he noted. 

Regarding global warming, he said, there’s no denying that the temperatures have increased in recent years, and so have CO2 levels in the atmosphere, but there is no way to know whether higher levels of carbon dioxide are contributing to warmer temperatures.  He reviewed available temperature data spanning billions of years and specifically the past 100 years, noting there have always been fluctuations. 

While there is no proof the use of fossil fuels is contributing to global warming, Moore did say there were good reasons to reduce use of fossil fuels, as they are a finite resource. Unfortunately, environmentalists are opposed to most of the alternatives, he noted—including hydroelectric, nuclear and even wind power—a situation that means continued reliance on oil, coal and natural gas.

Focusing on the opposition to PVC, Moore reviewed how Greenpeace became obsessed with all chlorine-based materials when it first turned its attention to dioxin many years ago.  The environmentalists now ignore the fact that PVC has been found to be a minimal contributor to dioxin levels in the world, and their opposition to it now potentially limits demand of an energy efficient (both in production and use), cost-effective and durable material. The anti-PVC bias of environmentalists, he suggested, is the reason the U.S. Green Building Council is sitting on a draft report that says PVC is no worse than any other material based on life cycle analysis.

A big supporter of sustainability and green building, Moore argued that environmental extremists are also hurting the cause with their view of forestry and the use of wood. Pointing out that within North America, there is about the same amount of forestland today as there was 100 years ago—“Forests don’t disappear when forestry is practiced.” Deforestation in the world has occurred primarily to make room for cities or other agriculture. When trees can be harvested and sold, forests become valuable assets and are kept as forests, Moore explained. “Lumber is the most environmentally friendly building material,” and its use should be encouraged if the world wants to encourage real sustainability.

Updating AAMA’s product certification program has been a big focus of strategic planning activity in recent months, Rich Walker, AAMA executive director, told attendees in Las Vegas. The overall goals are refining it to make it easier to promote and providing electronic upgrades that will differentiate the program from competing certification programs in the marketplace, he said. 

Another change, Walker noted, would be to make fees service-based rather than label-based and the elimination of requirements for participating manufacturers to label products even when that label might not be required by the buyer or code jurisdiction.

Dave Moyer of Architectural Testing Inc., who serves on the committee focusing on the certification program, reported that the working plan now is to incorporate rating and listing flexibility that allows participants to include other product information that may not be part of AAMA’s certification program. “The goal is to use AAMA’s certification program as a clearinghouse for all the information related to their products,” he noted. The goal would be to create a program that could satisfy all jurisdictions. AAMA has been developing standalone programs for manufacturers to demonstrate quality assurance in their processes and for registered test reports, he said. Designed primarily to meet the needs of commercial and architectural product manufacturers, these are now being considered as new optional components of the new certification program.

Moyer emphasized that while the new program may have more options and levels, AAMA is working to keep its current, or “legacy,” program the same.

Rich Biscoe, also of Architectural Testing, followed up with a brief discussion of the “fenestration information portal” AAMA is looking to create on the Web. The idea is to create one place where all interested parties, ranging from code officials to consumers, could easily extract both AAMA and non-AAMA information. Manufacturers too, could use the site, he continued, to produce one temporary label that would incorporate all the legally required information required for a specific product. In addition to air, water and structural information covered by AAMA, the label might incorporate the NFRC label, impact-resistance data and certifications or any other information necessary for a particular application.

Development and implementation of such a site would probably take at least 18 months, he noted. As far as an overall timeline, Walker noted that the AAMA board plans to create a final plan and vote on it by next summer.

In other business, AAMA’s Southeast Region group is looking to address an issue that has emerged with the wave of hurricanes that hit Florida over the past year or two. While impact-resistant products are doing the job to mitigate damage from windborne debris, it turns out that home and building owners are also expecting these windows and doors to resist water penetration under actual hurricane conditions—something they are not designed to do, manufacturers note. To address this situation, AAMA is looking to develop a test to measure a product’s ability to resist the strong combination of water and wind that comes with these storms.  

It is hoped that such a test will help manufacturers better clarify how their products are designed to perform under hurricane conditions, and if the market demand is there, develop products for those customers seeking greater water resistance capabilities. “We can build them, but I don’t know whether anyone will want to pay for them,” noted one attendee.

In another session, Julie Ruth, AAMA’s code consultant, updated attendees on the recent International Code Council hearings. Noteworthy proposals approved at the hearings were requirements for window and door manufacturers to provide both installation and flashing instructions. There are also new U-value and SHGC requirements for skylights, a change that may hurt plastic skylight manufacturers, she advised.

This summer, AAMA introduced a new rating and certification program for blast-resistant products, which is being administered now by Architectural Testing. As part of the security hazard mitigation for fenestration products task group meeting, the company’s Dave Moyer updated attendees on the new program’s progress. One applicant is currently going through the certification and rating process with its products, he said, noting that the program also offers the option to provide ratings and certification for a specific project. 

The blast mitigation program is also receiving good reviews from potential customers, most notably the government, Moyer reported. Raj Goyal of Graham Architectural Products urged manufacturers targeting this business to participate in the program so it can gain some momentum. The group also discussed preliminary efforts to start development of a similar rating program for resistance to ballistic attack.

AAMA’s next event is scheduled for February 11-14, 2007. The group will celebrate its 70th annual meeting in Marco Island, FL. More information is available at