Products: It was a Very Green Year

This past year has been an exciting one in the world of green building. Every major city across North America has prominent examples of superb green buildings under construction. The supply chain for green buildings has never been better, with new products surging onto the marketplace weekly. We’ve compiled a list of five of the most exciting green building products of 2007. Some of these options have been around for several years, and are only now gaining the market traction they deserve.

Floorprint by Floorworks – Toronto-based Floorworks has been pushing the leading edge of green flooring for the past decade. With the market becoming increasingly mature, Floorworks has continued to try to stay in front of the curve. Their latest green initiative is the Floorprint program. Under the program, every square foot of engineered wood flooring is offset with one square foot of reforestation in developing countries. The program was initiated in combination with a German-Panamanian organization called Futuro Forestal. Once the reforestation work is complete, the land is turned over to local conservation organizations.

While the reforestation offset program is laudable in its own right, it would ring hollow if the flooring products were not environmentally responsible. All of the options are Forest Stewardship Council certified, engineered to be durable, and are available with an eco oil finish. The oil finish is completely natural, VOC free, and allows for easy touch-ups.

MACH-Stat system by Reliable Controls – Building automation systems (BAS) are becoming an expected feature of large office and industrial buildings. Unfortunately, that same technology has been slow to infiltrate the residential marketplace. British Columbia-based Reliable Controls is looking to change that with their MACH-Stat system. Similar to other affordable residential monitoring tools, the MACH-Stat system tracks heat, power and water consumption. Where it differs is that it is web-integrated and provides real-data for homeowners.

The potential of the MACH-Stat system is best demonstrated at Dockside Green, the Windmill Developments project in Victoria, B.C. aiming for LEED Platinum certification. Residents of Dockside will be able to use their personal computers to access their water and energy consumption. In addition they will be able to see their carbon footprint on an ongoing basis. Informed by their carbon footprint, residents can choose to lower their home’s temperature while away on vacation or at the office.

An additional innovation is being able to compare energy and water consumption with anonymous neighbours. Showing comparisons is aimed at creating friendly competition to see who can reduce their energy and water use the most. Recent research has shown that visible metering, along with information on best practices, can reduce energy use by 20 per cent or more.

Bullfrog Power – A common question among many developers these days is “what is the best way to provide alternative energy for my building?” Building owners who get the green bug often envision a rooftop covered in photovoltaic panels or a large windmill on the lawn. While these options are becoming increasingly cost-effective, they still incur a large upfront cost premium, and may not be appropriate for all locations. Increasingly environmentally responsible building and business owners are determining that Bullfrog Power is their easiest solution.

Wal-Mart, RBC, Ivanhoe Cambridge, and Lululemon are only a handful of the businesses that have chosen to power their operations using green, carbon-free energy. Switching to Bullfrog Power is easy, and requires no building retrofits. When a building owner purchases green power they continue to receive power from the grid. Bullfrog offsets that energy with clean, EcoLogo-certified wind and micro-hydro power. Bullfrog is currently only available in Ontario and Alberta, but is growing rapidly.

Living Walls by ELT – Brantford, Ontario-based Elevated Living Technologies (ELT) has developed an innovative living wall technology that is significantly less expensive than some of their existing competitors. Living walls are vertical plant installations that are designed to help bring nature into the built environment. In addition to the stunning aesthetic benefits, there may also be air quality benefits as the plants can help filter the interior atmosphere. Research has also shown that views of plants in office space can help reduce absenteeism and increase productivity.

The ELT Living Wall system is predominantly made from 50 per cent post-consumer recycled plastic, and is fully recyclable at the end of its lifespan. It uses a simple gravity system for irrigation, meaning the system does not require any power. It is manufactured in Canada by the same company that developed the Easy Green roof panel, a lightweight and relatively inexpensive roofing solution.

Skystream Urban Turbine by Southwest Windpower – Small-scale wind power projects are a relatively common sight in rural areas for off-the-grid installations. You may have already seen them helping power weather stations along highways, or provide supplementary power for a friend’s cottage. Arizona-based Southwest Windpower has partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab to create a backyard-sized wind turbine that is basically plug and play. The Skystream includes a built-in inverter and requires no external components. Due to the curved blades on the Skysteam there is significantly less noise than a conventional small windmill.

Depending on the wind conditions, the Skystream will generate 30 to 80 per cent of the energy requirement for a typical home. It is only a matter of time before we see the Skystream also used to supplement the power requirements of small businesses.

Rodney Wilts is a founding director of Loop Initiatives. He can be reached at [email protected]

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