Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Recycling Paint From Old To New

When you think of using recycled paint, you get the picture of the last time you mixed paint together and got a really muddy gray. Recycled paint? you say. No way.

Recycled paint is now on the radar and shows just how times have changed. So, take a deep breath and remain open minded as you will soon see that the muddy gray you remember is no longer the only outcome, not at all.

The reason recycled paint has come to the front is because more than 74 million gallons of paint are sold in California alone, each year. That is a lot of paint, but the problem comes in because not all of it is used.

Paint is considered a hazardous waste and the leftover paint from your project either sits in your garage or you bring it to the HHW facilities (household hazardous waste) set up by your local government.

Because this collection program only receives a small amount of the leftover paint, it becomes very expensive to run. So a program that has proven to be successful in Oregon is being adopted for California.

Paint Care will take “architectural paint” which is defined as interior and exterior architectural coatings sold in 5 gallon containers or less for commercial and residential use. It does not include aerosols or paint purchased for industrial or equipment manufacturer use. http://www.usgbc-ncc.org/

Starting in July, the number of collection sites will increase with a goal in mind that you, the consumer can bring back your leftover paint to the store where you bought it.

That means no more stored leftover paint in your garage and gives the retailer a chance to become good product stewards by closing the loop.

Purchasing recycled paint

As manufacturers of recycled paint, Amazon and Visions Paint Recycling carefully inspect and sort the leftover paint that they receive before processing it. They are able to create a pretty stunning result of beautiful recycled paints available for purchase.

It’s a far cry from our failed efforts of muddled gray.  It’s really quite remarkable and about 25 percent less expensive, too!  Click here to see color charts.

Oh, and the leftover paint that they can’t recycle into new paint is put towards making a cement additive. The additive is used in place of shale, clay, limestone and other materials that would have otherwise been mined.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Empty Light Filled Rooms

We hear a lot about energy use and how we can become more energy efficient, but really, how conscious are we when we use energy? Going into a room, we turn on the lights. Going out, unfortunately, is all to often a different story.

I know because I seem to find empty light-filled rooms all the time, whether I’m visiting others or at home.

Want to bake, we turn on the oven, first thing, and pre-heat for as long as it takes us to read the recipe and mix all the ingredients. Never mind that the oven was preheated long ago. Why we may even accept a phone call in the middle of our work while the oven just keeps pumping out heat. The cake isn’t the only thing rising.

David B. Goldstein has written an easy read of a book, “Invisible Energy Strategies to Rescue the Economy and Save the Planet”. This book will bowl you over with amazing factoids, as well as, well-thought out conclusions from studies that have been done.

David Goldstein is the Energy Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council and a MacArthur “genius award” Fellow and has worked closely with California Energy Commission. California, by the way, is leading in the United States for its energy efficiency standards.

For instance, it might surprise you to learn that “investments in energy efficiency typically earn several times more than any other kind of investment”.

Goldstein also points out that “conservation alone...(like me turning off the lights as I walk down the hall)...without energy efficiency has a limited capacity to make a noticeable difference.

Now, don’t get him wrong. Energy conservation is still very important, and so is buying those energy-saving devices, but, we need much more.

Mr. Goldstein suggests that we need policies of continual support from legislaturers to promote research and development of energy efficiency innovations and technology.

He also states that “Energy efficiency is one of the strongest tools we have at our disposal to recover from the recession”, he posted on Wednesday, May 26, 2010.
There are many interesting things that Mr. Goldstein brings up. Here are a few that particularly grabbed my attention.

The book discusses several ways that energy efficiency goals can promote economic growth, employment and competitiveness.

For example, take markets competing to produce energy efficient products. Awhile back, the gaunlet was thrown down demanding more energy efficiency in refrigerators. Refrigerators were were growing larger and larger and were enormous energy hogs.

The result was that refrigerators have improved their efficiency at a rate of 4 to 5 percent annually. Over the last 30 years, that rate of improvement translates to an energy savings of 70 percent.

So, energy efficiency products do not translate to higher costs or less performance. Refrigerators are a shining example of how painless and rewarding energy efficiency has been for consumers.

Television manufacturers have found that reduction in energy use does not cost consumers more money, nor does it cut back on the performance of televisions. The LED flat screen televisions are a good example of that.

To see how energy efficiency promotes economic growth requires a short glance back in time. I grew up in a time when the next generation was able to climb on the shoulders of those that came before.

We were able to boost ourselves up to a more economical prosperous level. That the next generation would succeed further than the last was a mantra everyone knew.

As of the 1970s, that mantra has been pushed aside and over the decades since, we have come woefully short of a prosperous generation. In fact, our median household income has only increased 15 percent since the 1970s. Most of that increase was in 2007 and attributed to the households having two breadwinners.

Goldstein states that the prosperity growth trend abruptly stopped with the energy crises in 1973. A similar stage was set in 1979 when energy prices spiked and caused serious economic problems. Again, in 2008, we see another energy crises at the bottom of an economic turndown.

How we had addressed these crises caused household incomes to stall, unemployment to increase and the gross domestic product to suffer. In simple terms, the 1980s had 10 percent unemployment, more than we see now in this economic turndown, with interest rates as high as 18 percent.

Mr. Goldstein goes on to show how energy efficiency policies could be put to work quickly and effectively to prevent similar and perhaps larger economic blow outs, foster greater economic growth and drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This book is a must read. One more point that should wake up some curiosity at least.

The mantra for real estate of location, location, location has a slightly different meaning when Mr. Goldstein equates it with the mortgage crises.

From studies, it seems the highest rates of default in the mortgage crises were located in the “remote fringes of major metropolitan areas where the need to drive and the associated costs of transportation are the greatest”.

Places that have the higher location efficiency, that is, how much is saved in transportation costs, had the lowest number of defaults.

Mr. Goldstein proposes a pretty easy solution for this, but I’ll let you read the book to find out.

On the other hand, if you just want to know more about energy efficiency in your kitchen, click here.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Create Eco Friendly Eco Living Holiday Delight

Creating eco-friendly eco-living holiday delight is an opportunity to have a wonderful and memorable holidays that lives well beyond the season.

Designing our holidays to be eco-friendly is not a restrictive guideline, but rather, gives us a chance to open up our creativity channel and let the ideas flow.

Eco-thinking our holiday regime offers us an opportunity to share a deeper level of appreciation for our friends, family and other living things.

So, how do we create eco-friendly, eco-living holiday delight? By understanding what questions to ask and learning what to look for in making choices.

Instead of ringing in the environmental disaster we now create throughout our holiday season, we need to rethink how to create delight.

Your Decorating Fashion: Things to consider before buy

Here are some questions I always encourage people to think about before they buy anything.  Decorating for an eco friendly holidays is a good place to start.

Where 'stuff' comes from? How is it made? Where does it go when we’re done with it?

Do we cut down mountains, forests or dig deep into the earth for the resource? Do we make a lot of pollution manufacturing the product? Does it go to landfill and take thousands of years to decompose, if at all? Does it pollute our air and waterways?

Just as businesses have life cycles, materials and products have life cycles. For instance, in business, there’s the introduction stage, the growth stage, the maturity stage and the decline stage.

For materials and products, the introduction stage would be getting the raw materials or natural resources. The growth stage would be the manufacturing or processing of these materials. The growth stage could be the distribution. The maturity stage could be the use and repair of these materials. And, finally, the disposal would be the decline stage.

We can ask these questions of our retailer or supplier. They often know or they often offer to find out and are willing to get back to you as part of their customer service.

If we just ask those questions and evaluate what we are buying, we can make an enormous impact on the environment, on our wallet, on the amount of stuff in our garages.

Cradle to Cradle

Cradle to Cradle, often referred to as C2C, promotes designing things in such a way that we don’t have to manage waste. Before Cradle to Cradle, we manufactured materials on a one-way path: from producer to consumer to landfill.

Currently, our systems intervene in this process but what we end up doing is making less bad materials and slowing down the process of these things going into landfill.

Cradle to Cradle is a design manifesto to create materials that actually become nutrients themselves to the earth, and therefore, there is not waste.

Materials would cycle through either a biological metabolism or a technical metabolism.

The biological cycle would support the earth, i.e., growth, decay and rebirth. There would be no waste. Waste would equal food or nourishment for the earth.

The technical cycle is a closed-loop system where the high-tech ingredients would continuously circulate, i.e., production, recovery, reuse.

This idea totally changes how we look at things.

William McDonough says, and I’m quoting, “Instead of asking, “How do I meet today’s environmental standards, designers are asking “How might I create more habitat, more health, more clean water, more prosperity, more delight?”

For Eco Friendly Holiday Decorating Tips, check out my BlogTalkRadio interview.  You will enjoy listening to it because we had a great time doing it!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Going Green For Schools

Going green for schools has just become easier. A green school kit is the first of its kind. It is a comprehensive guide that works to improve the health, productivity, efficiency and fiscal status of schools.

This green school kit comes from the USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council) and has put forward the notion that healthy, high-performing schools mean healthy, high-performing kids. While this may be a no brainer to you and me, some have yet to receive the memo.

I remember seeing a documentary about the state of schools where it compared schools to prisons. One image stands out above the others.

Buckets were strategically placed on the floor to catch the rain leaking through the roofs of the school and into the classrooms. Prisons were state of the art and narry a bucket in sight.  Seems like we may be in desparate need for such things as the 50 for 50 Green School Caucus Initiative.

This school is catching rain but in a way that is instructive and sustainable.  Watch this video now.

Schools are beginning to realize that greening their school can save them enough money to hire more teachers. The school kit provides a menu of options, as well as, advancing green school agendas.

In addition to boosting the district’s bottom line, green schools have also been able to show higher test scores and cheer up the staff.

See some green schools in action.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

8 Ways To Celebrate Green Lifestyles

I just read a wonderful article in one of my favorite industry trade rags. Where I get emotional, they stay calm and perfectly articulate my feelings that are bubbling under the lid I’m desparately trying to keep on and level.

Adding a bit of humor allows the smile to break through which turns into a pretty good gaffaw and before you know it, I’m on the floor rolling. And, of course, I have to share. For instance, take a look at this.

“It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment; it’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.” None other than Dan Quayle.

Okay, maybe you’re not rolling. I guess you had to be there, but I do know you’re shaking your head in disbelief. My belief is that we will have a lot of those moments to come in the next couple of years.

The article goes on to give some really encouraging statistics of just how much earth we truly are saving. For those bent on wholesale destruction, a look at these tidbits and one can see that this ship is waaaaaay too big to turn around now.

Some day, we will be thanked for that.

Now, on to share these encouraging bits of news with you. Below are excerpts taken from Keri Luly’s article for Interiors Sources. You can read the full article by following this Wonderfully Positively Green link.

• The Congo Basin Forest Partnership—made up of heads of state, conservation organizations, local citizens, and donor organizations— recently celebrated 10 years of hard work against difficult obstacles, such as war and illegal poaching. The Basin's 3.7 million square kilometers contains 400 mammal species and more than 10,000 plant species (one-third of which are found nowhere else). Additionally, the forest stores an estimated 46 billion metric tons of carbon. The Partnership's accomplishments include:

o 34 protected areas; 61 community-based natural resource management areas; and 34 extractive resource areas zoned for conservation management, covering 126 million acres (more than one-third of the Basin forests).

o More than 11.5 million acres of forest certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

o More than 5,000 local people trained in conservation, land use planning and related conservation capacities.

o An overall rate of deforestation estimated to be a relatively low 0.17 percent (one-third of Brazil's rate and one-tenth of Indonesia's).

o Improving survival rates of some endangered species, in spite of illegal poaching. E.g., the population of mountain gorillas is up 17 percent over a census taken 20 years ago.

In addition, as of September 2010, there are 134.34 million hectares of FSC-certified forests in the world, and in May 2010, Canada's Boreal Forest pledged to certify 72 million hectares (75 percent of Canada's forestland).


When fully implemented, the two principles of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act are successful in restoring the fish stocks that Americans depend on for food and economic well-being. The principles seem basic—don't overfish and rebuild populations that are depleted—but there are constant efforts to weaken them. Successes include several popular, but vanishing fish3.

• Recovered: the Atlantic Scallop, the Mid-Atlantic Bluefish, and the Pacific Lingcod.

• Recovering: the Mid-Atlantic Summer Flounder (expected to recover fully before 2013) and the Gulf Red Snapper.

Work underway could triple the economic value of many U.S. fisheries by adding 500,000 jobs and generating $31 billion in sales.


In April of this year, the Goldman Environmental Prize, the world's largest prize for grassroots environmentalists, honored six new recipients. The $150,000 prize recognizes individuals for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment—often at great personal risk. In many places, such activism can result in imprisonment and even death. The prize was launched 20 years ago on philanthropist Richard Goldman's 70th birthday, and each year, six new recipients are announced (representing the six inhabited continental regions of the world).

The recognition has led to other successes for the recipients. E.g., one later became the first environmentalist to win a Nobel Peace Prize and another, a former rubber tapper, became his country's Minister of the Environment. Reading their stories, and those of their predecessors, will give you renewed hope in humankind.


Estuaries are areas where freshwater from rivers mixes with saltwater from oceans, and they are among the most biologically productive places on Earth. They provide fish and wildlife habitat and sustain billions of dollars' worth of commercial fisheries, recreational fisheries, and tourism. Estuaries are threatened largely because they are considered desirable places to live.

The National Estuaries Partnership6 has created 28 long-term partnerships of government, businesses, local citizens, and academia, using consensus building and educational outreach to build solutions. These groups have protected and restored more than 1 million acres of habitat (approximately the size of the state of Rhode Island) since 2000.


The most plentiful, positive green news must surely be in our built environment. A brownfield site in a poor Boston neighborhood is being redeveloped as a LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) pilot project; while on the opposite coast, a car-oriented San Francisco commercial site is using LEED-ND to transform into a mixed-use, pedestrian focused infill.

Looking indoors, consider the abundance of lower VOC products in the market. It is now, finally, possible to go to home improvement stores in small towns and find low VOC paints, adhesives, and other materials. And consider lighting. LED light bulbs (if Energy Star qualified) use 75 percent less energy and last 35-50 times longer than incandescent bulbs. Pretty amazing, but the side effect could be the elimination of a small source of green humor: How many life-cycle assessors does it take to change a light bulb? Two—one to change it and one to change it back after more data comes in.

Speaking of consumer goods, even small town grocery stores are featuring organic food. Excessive, non-recyclable packaging is still a big problem with our food supply, but I'm happy to report that some French champagne makers have redesigned their bottles to make them lighter, reducing the CO2 from transporting them by 200,000 metric tons per year.

Thank you, Keri. I always learn something new from your articles.

Want to know how your personal point of view can become an oasis of unique style and comfort?  Click Here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Green Wisers Read The Label

How do you know what you are buying?  We look to labels to help us out.  With companies pushing back on what the label can contain, it becomes difficult to really know the content or the processes that were used to manufacture a product.

Reading the labels on food packages has become a common and important practice for us.   It is the result of efforts from many experts who know the importance of good nutrition. 

‘You are what you eat’ may have been a slogan scoffed at by some as something belonging to those hippies.  Even then, as those words reverberated and bounced around in our brains, it was hard to deny.  

While much is still left out of food labels, we are becoming wiser and continue to demand more transparency.  

The same is true with products we purchase for our homes and work places.  Being green isn’t just a trend, it is a way of life whose effort is to get us closer to a healthy and abundant lifestyle.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to breathe in tons of toxins and then have to spend tons of money on health care to fix the problems that arise, assuming those problems can even be identified.

Best choice?  Learn to read the labels.  Just like what has been done for our food knowledge in helping us to make better choices for fuel for our bodies, we can do the same for our homes.   So what we breathe in, rub against, put on and kick up won’t make us sick.

Here are reasons why labels are important to consider for your home.

People spend a large amount of time in their homes, and the air they breathe is 2 to 5 times worse and more pollutant than the air outdoors.  Hard to believe, but true.

The primary source of the pollutants comes from furnishings, building materials and cleaning processes and products we use every day.

These products release potentially harmful toxins and particulates that you breathe in and have been linked to a number of health problems like asthma, heart disease, learning disabilities, reproductive disorders and some types of cancer.  Yikes!

Take a look at kitchens, for example.  Cabinets and countertops (yes, even stone) can contain adhesives, finishes and sealants that release or offgas chemicals into the air, for a long time, that you and your family breathe in. 

Because flooring is in every room, the amount of chemicals and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that are released in the home can potentially be very high.  This is one area you really want to consider products that are low in the chemicals emission. 

Paint is another product that covers lots of surfaces in the home.  Paint is a bit quirkie.  Even when it says low VOC or no VOC, applied paint to your walls can still offgas for years to come.  It is in the make up of the paint itself, its ingredients that do the releasing of chemicals.

In looking for labels you can trust to be reliable, look for those that are supported by research, testing, analysis, and professional evidence.  It is important to look for third-party certification whose interests is in health and who is independent from the product, manufacturer and industry.
Because these are times of mass misinformation distribution, greenwashing has also raised its ugly head by misleading consumers regarding the environmental standards or practices of a company and product.  

So, an important piece to evaluating a certification is to make sure the certification body stands behind its claims and evaluations.

At Eco Living Design, we do the heavy lifting for you!  We work to improve the indoor air quality in your home and work place.  Sustainable solutions can absolutely be integrated with your aesthetics to make beautiful spaces to be, that are healthy, more comfortable, add greater value and last longer.

Being green may be easier than you think!

Monday, October 11, 2010

See Your Kitchen Countertop Everywhere You Go?

Do you get tired of seeing the same material used for kitchen countertops everywhere you go?  Oh, it may be a different color or have a larger vein running through or even be the most unique of its type.  It's still the same material. 
Granite Quarry
Countertops used to be lengthy discussions with my clients when I am designing a kitchen.  Most often, their first choice is for what they have seen everywhere, granite.  I am sure this initial reaction is partly the result of a “social proof” characteristic that we humans have and why we follow trends such as this one.

Countertops are trendsetters.  Why, even the type of kitchen countertop used in a home is becomes a selling feature and part of its description  when selling a home.  Imagine, a countertop determining a house sale.  Does that strike you as odd?

After all, when you buy a house, is the countertop the indicator of how well, let’s say, the house is insulated, or what the R-value of the windows are, or how well it is built, for that matter. 

I don't know about you, but I want to know a bit more about a house that I'm going to invest in and live in for some time than what kind of countertop it has.

These days, as the green revolution begins to take hold, I see more hesitation in my clients when we begin discussing countertops.  This is a good thing. 

To me, it means they are becoming aware of the many choices out there and more aware of environmental damage some choices may or may not cause. 

Here are a few tips that might be helpful next time you’re looking for a countertop, or any surface covering for that matter.

Since granite is a trendsetter for many, let’s start there.

Granite and other natural stone is a quarried material.  That means mountains are taken apart to get the stone.  It is not renewable, and it is a finite resource.  A lot of energy is used to transport it unless you find some that is quarried locally. 

The mining of natural stone impacts the land and water quality.  These stones are durable but do require sealant against staining.

Terrazzo is an aggregate of glass, stone chips, mirror, etc.  Introduced by the Italians, it is a mix of leftovers, and makes beautiful surfaces, countertops and flooring alike.  There are various amounts of recycled content in terrazzo but it can take lots of energy to transport it, so look for locally manufactured products.  Terrazzo resists stains is durable and easy to clean.

Butcher block (wood) does not take much to process, but it’s important to look for FSC certification (Forest Stewardship Council) along with a Chain of Custody certification to make sure it has been managed correctly.  Wood, managed correctly, is a renewable resource.

Sometimes butcher block is pieces of wood laminated together.  Make sure there aren’t any added formaldehydes in the glue.  For sealers and cleaners, look for products that are benign or are low in VOCs.  Butcher block can be recycled.

Paper Composites are also a good choice.  There are many brands available.  This product is made from paper that is held together with a resin binder.  It has a high content of recycled paper, is easy to clean, very durable (after all, skate board ramps were intially made from the stuff) and, it is renewable. 

If you just have to have that granite, look for a salvaged piece and use it as a highlight or focal point in the room.

Want to find out more about how to green your home and lifestyle?  Sign up now for DIY Greenstyle Tips. 

Have questions or don’t know where to begin?  Contact Me at EcoLivingDesign.  Look forward to hearing from you!