I had the opportunity to speak with Ori Sivan, the founder and general manager of Greenmaker Industries.   Green Depot carries a range of products made by Greenmaker, including the well-reviewed Ivy Coatings VOC-free paint, our Plybam bamboo plywood, and Foundations bamboo flooring.

Green Depot: Mr. Sivan, I was just wondering if you could tell me about your position at Greenmaker.
Ori Sivan: I’m the general manager for Greenmaker Industries.

GD: And could you tell me a little more about what Greenmaker does?
OS: Greenmaker industries is a green building materials manufacturer, so we have several lines of green materials from commercial cleaning products to bamboo floors and bamboo plywood.  We really provide a one-stop shop for green dealers, and any sort of reseller, who wants to carry green products.  People choose to go through us to get those products because we provide them with a range of products that are all environmentally-friendly and priced really well.  They’re very high quality products with very competitive pricing.

GD: It sounds like you have a strong emphasis on quality and affordability in green products.
OS: Well, one, I came from a retail background before I got into wholesale business, so we really have a good idea of what the customer needs.  Let me say that the most important thing that we do is that we search far and wide for the best products and provide them at what we feel is  a very competitive price.  In the case of our bamboo flooring – Foundations – you’re getting an extremely good product that is as good as any conventional flooring, but is sustainably produced.

We make things affordable by keeping our overhead low.  We don’t invest in advertising.  Instead we invest in our dealers.  We trust Green Depot to pass on the message that this is a good product and talk about the different installations that they’ve seen done. In other words, we count on our dealer base for the end user to get a quality product with a good end-value.

GD: Which products would you say are the best received by the customer?
OS: Well, definitely, the two most popular products are Foundations Flooring, and then Ivy Paints.

GD: We’ve actually spoken to Kevin Stasi before about the benefits of Ivy Coatings.  Could you tell me about some of the benefits of using bamboo flooring and plywood over conventional wood products?
OS: When comparing bamboo to conventional wood, the two things that are outstanding are one, from an environmental aspect they are extremely renewable.  Bamboo takes five to seven years to grow, and when you cut it down, more bamboo grows back in its place, like grass.  This is so much more renewable compared to another wood, which would typically be a hardwood like oak or maple.

It’s also much much more sustainable than a tropical hardwood.  Tropical hardwoods and bamboo are both dimensionally stable, so they don’t expand and contract.  Tropical hardwood and bamboo are hard, so they don’t bend.  But topical hardwoods take up to 300 years to mature – compared to bamboo’s six years – so bamboo is much more sustainable.  It’s also a very beautiful, appealing product in a variety of different shades.  We apply a number of different stains to create beautiful bamboo products.  We also provide a product that can be custom stained for designers and architects.

GD: Could you tell me a bit about the cleaners that Greenmaker Industries produces?
OS: A lot of the cleaners we make are Green Seal and Design for the Environment certified.  They’re extremely cost-effective because they’re extremely effective at cleaning.  We’re now seeing a lot more interest in green cleaning not only in homes, but in commercial settings – universities, hotels, restaurants, businesses.  We are being approached by the commercial sector to provide this.

GD: So the focus was on home cleaning before but there’s been a recent growth in commercial interest?
OS: Yes, definitely.

GD: You mentioned that the cleaners are Green Seal or Design for the Environment certified.  What does it take to get that certification?
OS: It’s an involved process.  We basically had to open the formula to the reviewer to check for toxins and other things like that.  It was a lot of paperwork and money, but if you’re doing a product right – making it environmentally-sensitive – from the beginning there’s not a lot of trouble to get it done, just time and effort to get all of the documentation in order.  When you’re doing things right, and start with the right materials, it’s not that hard to.  But it still can take several months – three to six months.

GD: Thanks so much for taking the time out today to talk with us!

Greenmaker offers a wide range of products, each of which has a website.  Check out www.foundationsflooring.com, www.ivycoatings.com, www.greenmakercleaners.com, or www.plybam.com for more information.  You can see which green products that Green Depot carries by visiting our website.

More On Greenwashing

October 26th, 2010 | Posted by cramcharran in Environment | Green Products - (0 Comments)

We wrote a couple weeks ago about greenwashing (the troublesome practice of marketing a product as “green,” when it may not be, to burnish its image)  here.

You can read more about greenwashing, and the troubling results of a market survey carried out by TerraChoice, an independent reviewer of green claims, in this highly informative article from Gwendolyn Bounds in today’s Wall Street Journal.

In 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established the Design for the Environment (DfE) partnership program.  The program was created to achieve an end: to develop partnerships in the private sector and industry, with environmental groups, and with academia to reduce environmental and health risks associated with chemical pollutants found in common household products and commercial and industrial practices.

Design for the Environment’s work is significant.  Its mission is to test the safety of both traditional and alternative chemicals in a whole range of processes, industries, and products.  And, according to the DfE’s website, the program has been something of a huge success – reducing the use of “chemicals of concern” by hundreds of millions of pounds every year.

To obtain a Design for the Environment seal of approval, the EPA must first vet products according to relatively stringent guidelines and an arduous scientific review.   These guidelines take into consideration human health concerns, environmental impacts, and the performance and cost of traditional and alternative technologies.  Determining whether or not a chemical used for a product is safe(er) for people and the earth is a long process, conducted by the EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT), and organization that has been testing an analyzing chemicals for more than 30 years – so their expertise is substantial.

The OPPT first uncovers masked chemicals of concern – that is, scientists determine if environmentally-hazardous chemicals appear less harmful because they are diluted with water or other less-toxic chemicals.  If the chemical’s effects on the environment and people is not known, they study the chemical structure of the compound to understand its potential effects.  The DfE program then searches for negative interactions between chemical combinations – individual substances on their own may not be toxic, but in combination can be deadly.  Fragrances and dyes are then screened to ensure they will not pose any adverse health effects, including carcinogenic and environmentally-toxic compounds.  Lastly, the product is screened to see if any safer substitutes are commercially available, and economically-feasible for mass production.

There are over 2,000 Design for the Environment-approved products available on the market, with an easy-to-identify seal in place to allow the consumer to quickly and easily identify which products are safest for their health and the environment.  Considering that there are over 60,000 commerically-used chemicals, many of which have not passed the guidelines set forth by the Design for the Environment, seeing a DfE seal on a product really means something – not only that the product is safe, but that the company that produced the product put time, energy, and resources into making it the safest it could be.  This, of course, speaks to the ethical philosophy of the company producing the product.

Green Depot Solutions: Any green product with the EPA’s Design for the Environment seal is sure to be a sound and safe product, and Green Depot in particular produces an in-house line of DfE-approved cleaners and detergents produced locally in the New York City metropolitan area, and with a refilling station located at our flagship store on the Bowery, along with a full range of other green products and sustainable building materials.

safecoat, a toxin-free caulk

A lot of the same harmful VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that we’ve written about being present in paints and household cleaners, are also present in home caulking.

Weatherizing your home is an important way to conserve energy, reduce heating and cooling costs, and staying warm.  Using caulk to plug up cracks and holes is an important part of weatherizing – but using conventional caulk that contains VOCs can be harmful to your health.  Those chemicals offgas into the home environment, and have been linked to neurological disorders and kidney failure.

As an alternative, one can use green, or toxin-free, caulking.  But how do you caulk your home – where should you use caulking?

Most people are already aware of drafts under their doors, but there are less-obvious gaps that deserve attention.

Places where different building materials meet – like between brick and wood siding, between the concrete foundation of a home and its walls, and around chimneys and fireplaces – are good places to find drafts.

Also make sure to check for gaps and cracks around window frames, doorways, and mail chutes.  Check for places where utility lines come in – by the gas line, electricity lines, and cable TV and phone lines.  Often, utility companies leave large holes where these lines come in where enormous amounts of heated or cooled air can escape the home.  Outlet plates are good places to check as well.

Feel around window panes, which are spots that might seem sealed but could have significant gaps.  Vents of all kinds deserve special attention: dryer vents, air conditioner vents, and fan vents can lack a proper seal with the surrounding materials.  Window unit air conditioners are also a good place to find drafts,  although there are more green products than just caulk available to close these up.

For the very ambitious caulker, there are ways to check for gaps beyond feeling with the hand.  Depressurizing the home by turning off all heating and cooling, closing all windows and doors, and then moving an incense stick around common leak gaps can help determine where there are drafts getting in.

Shining a light from the inside of a house, and having a partner see if any light can get through is a good way to find leaks, too.  And, if you can pull a piece of paper out from between the seams of a closed door or window without it tearing, you are likely losing energy through that gap.

Weatherizing a home – toxin free – can be an incredibly useful way to reduce energy costs, especially as we move into cold winter months!

Radiant heat flooring warms a room by allowing warming tubes just under the floor’s surface to send heat upwards from the floor itself. At this point, it’s one of the most energy-efficient ways to heat a building, standing far ahead of conventional forced-air central heating and radiators. In fact, it so efficient that it’s recommended by the Passive House Institute, which we wrote about recently here.

With traditional forced-air central heating, warm air is blown into the room and immediately rises to the ceiling—making for a lovely warm ceiling (which nobody needs), but cold floors. Radiant heat, on the other hand, takes advantage of heat’s natural tendency to rise, making the best use of its journey upward by starting at the lowest point in the room. This process is generally far more efficient than any other form of heating, heating the room faster, keeping it warm longer, and allowing the thermostat to be set to up to 8 degrees lower than usual to obtain the same level of warmth. This results in not only lower energy bills, but less fossil-fuel consumption to provide the power that most heating systems require.

An added benefit of radiant heat is that it doesn’t dry out the air the way radiators and forced-air central heating systems do, so there’s less need for electric-powered humidifiers. But possibly the best thing about radiant heat is that it keeps your feet warm—no more freezing tootsies when you first get up in the morning!

Among its many other green products related to keeping your home warm efficiently, Green Depot carries various components for a radiant heat flooring system. The Complete Radiant Panel is an easy-to-install, modular panel with heating tubes built in, for quick sub-floor assembly. Warmboard Radiant Heat Subflooring is plywood subflooring with grooves for heating tubes pre-cut, and Tyroc is a super-insulating overlayment for cold, damp concrete floors that you can lay your radiant heat flooring panels directly on top of. And soon to be added to the lineup is NuHeat, a system of soft mats with heating elements built in—sort of like an electric blanket for your floor. Neat, huh?

Check the back of nearly any conventional cleaning product, and you are confronted with an entire paragraph of confusing words for unknown chemicals – sometimes, hundreds of them.  It would take a huge amount of research to know which of those chemicals could be harmful to you, your family, or the environment.

Using conventional cleaning products in small amounts, and in well-ventilated areas, likely won’t cause any harm to the individual.  However, when we clean our homes we typically use a whole range of products for specific purposes – glass cleaners, countertop cleaners, floor cleaners, shower cleaners… the list goes on.  The more chemicals we use in our homes, the more exposure we receive to them, and that can add up over time, week in and week out.

Many conventional cleaners contain volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.  We’ve written before about VOCs in paint.  VOCs are the source of the headache-inducing chemical smell that is produced when using a cleaner at home.  These chemical compounds are used to cheaply improve the performance of a product, but can have serious consequences for human health – they have been linked to neurological disorders and kidney failure in laboratory animals, just to name a few consequences.  VOCs linger in the residue of cleaning products, even when they’re not visible – they continued to be inhaled even after cleaning is finished.  As Grist reports, home air fresheners contain significant amounts of VOCs and have been linked to a 25% increase in headaches and 19% more occurrences of depression in homes where they are used, versus homes where they are not.

Even smaller amounts of cleaner can have detrimental effects on the environment.  Dishwashing detergents often contain phosphates, which soften water and are a cheap way to make dish detergents more effective.   But the environmental cost is substantial.  When phosphates enter the watershed they enrich the water with nutrients that algae feed on, producing huge “blooms” of algae that consume all oxygen in the surrounding water.  Water that is depleted of oxygen – or that is hypoxic – is uninhabitable by most marine life.  The consequence is huge “dead zones” where there is no sea life, apart from algal blooms.  One of the largest and most infamous dead zone is in the Gulf of Mexico, which is fed by nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from the Mississippi River.  While that dead zone is fed largely by agricultural runoff, home fertilizers – and home cleaners – also contribute.

this graphic, from the new york times, depicts the hypoxic zone in the gulf of mexico -- a phenomenon produced, in part, by the runoff of phosphates, often found in conventional cleaners

There are more environmental consequences than hypoxia: conventional cleaners use chemicals that can disrupt the endocrine systems of marine life; some chemicals can affect the alkalinity of water, harming marine organisms; and others contain chemical compounds such as DDBSA that are corrosive to metal and organic tissue, including human tissue.  If cleaning chemicals can produce these harmful effects on marine life, are they products that the consumer wants in their home – that not only release the chemicals into the home environment when they are use (and inhaled!), but linger and offgas for indeterminate amounts of time?

For the sake of personal health and the environment, then, it becomes imperative to use green cleaning products, and other green products that are free of the kinds of pollutants and toxins which poison our bodies and land.

Fortunately, numerous alternatives are available.  Some are more effective – both in terms of cleaning power and in healthfulness – than others.  Some, in particular, are pure greenwash – while they profess to be “all-natural,” they are indeed chemical and potentially dangerous.  There are no federal criteria to regulate products advertized as “all-natural” and packaging can therefore be terrifically misleading.  Some “all-natural” cleaners are made from petroleum-derived products – all-natural because petroleum is naturally-occurring.

So, we should choose green cleaners because they are kinder on our health, our homes, and our environment.  And we should ensure we choose green products that are legitimately green, and not just greenwash.  There are, fortunately, truly ecologically-sound alternatives available to the consumer.

These products, contrasted to their conventional counterparts, are plant-derived, rather than petroleum-derived; they are biodegradable, meaning they won’t linger in waterways and contribute to hypoxia; and they are effective, meaning the consumer does not have to sacrifice performance for health and environmental benefits.

Green Depot carries a huge catalogue of green products, and produces its own line of green cleaners (locally-produced in the New York City area).  They are even refillable at our station on the Bowery – meaning you won’t even have to recycle your old bottles.

photo credit to flickr user hypoxia&eutrophication.