A Quarter Century of Changing the World
July 6, 2016
Enough with all the eco-babble! Just give us the answers!
Those words were the most memorable of the extensive and varied feedback we received from readers after introducing Environmental Building News in 1992.
The comment arrived on a paper reader-response card we’d inserted into the printed issue on its way to the post office.
As we now begin our 25th year of publishing, we still like to give our readers plenty of context so that you can understand our recommendations and make your own decisions. And, with your help, we’d like to think we’re asking the right questions. Sometimes that’s more important than having all the answers.
In 1992, the world was different. Environmental Building News—now embedded in BuildingGreen.com—was the first North American publication devoted to the nascent field of green building, and the Internet was mostly for scientists.
In 1992, the U.S. Green Building Council didn’t exist. LEED, the program that eventually came to define green building in the U.S., wouldn’t emerge for another eight years. The only national organization in this space was the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Committee on the Environment.
Before we launched EBN, BuildingGreen (founded in 1985) was a technical writing company that split its time between freelance writing for various magazines and contracted projects for such entities as utility companies and state energy offices. The contract work kept food on the table, but the freelance writing was more satisfying—especially when we got to write about the issues that most excited us.
Our promise to you … then and now
We launched EBN to help transform the building industry—which has one of the biggest environmental footprints of any industry.
We didn’t know much about publishing when we started out, but the desktop publishing revolution and new-fangled laser printers made it a lot easier to break into the business without much capital.
And if we were publishing our own newsletter, we reasoned, we could write about whatever we and our readers were excited about—rather than having to please editors in New York City offices, or kowtow to the advertisers that are the true customers of most magazines (and now, most websites).
Our promise, in the very first issue of EBN, was this:
Environmental Building News seeks to be a voice in the transition to environmentally sustainable building practices. In the pages of EBN, we will expose the faults in our current practices, but more importantly, we will present the options we have for turning things around.
Our most disruptive articles
We’ve had that promise in mind ever since, and it’s led us to sacrifice some sacred cows in the pursuit of the truth.
In many ways, the best part of writing EBN over the years has been the opportunity it affords to call up leaders and experts in the field—people like you—and learn from them. The insights we gleaned from that wide array of smart, engaged leaders provided the basis for lots of transformative articles, including:
- Our 1997 feature article on disposal of preservative-treated wood called for a phase-out of chromated copper arsenate (CCA); that came about in 2002.
- A widely referenced 1999 piece, “Small Is Beautiful,” noted the significance of house size on environmental performance.
- Our 2004 article on brominated flame retardants in building materials first brought this concern to the attention of building professionals.
- In 2007, “Driving to Green Buildings: The Transportation Energy Intensity of Buildings” pointed out that more energy is often used getting to and from a building than in the building itself.
- Our view of a topic typically evolves as we conduct research, but rarely as dramatically as in 2009 when we were excited about the growing practice of putting wind turbines on buildings. The headline of that piece, “The Folly of Building-Integrated Wind,” shows you where we landed after we followed the data.
- We were as shocked as many others about the negative impact of common foam insulation on global warming when we researched and covered this topic in 2010.
- In one of our most-cited articles, we asked in 1994, “Should We Phase Out PVC?” Twenty years later, the conversation continues, as we chronicled in “The PVC Debate: A Fresh Look.”
There has never been a shortage of topics for us to explore and demystify for our readers. If any of our articles have affected your practice over the years, please share those stories on the attached reader-response card…oh, sorry…in the comments!
More disruption to come
We see the next 25 years as even more pivotal and disruptive than the last.
Climate change is a slow-moving crisis. As a society, we have been slow to respond, but that’s about to change. People have survived and thrived on this planet for millennia only by rising to any occasion when the stakes are high enough. Winston Churchill’s clever quip applies to people everywhere: “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else.”
The same dynamic applies to other ecological challenges: loss of habitat and biodiversity, access to clean water, and toxic releases affecting both our built and natural environments.
Eventually, there will be a response to these problems on the scale of the Manhattan project, the Marshall Plan, or the New Deal. When that happens, those organizations that have been proactive in developing and implementing climate-friendly, ecosystem-safe, low-toxicity solutions will be positioned to capitalize on their foresight.
That’s what we mean when we talk about “market transformation” in the context of green building. And you’re a big part of that change.
Our 25-year mission is all about you
Like many of you, we are committed to helping companies and institutions do the right thing—taking steps that make economic sense even in current conditions but are essential to be prepared for the future. We are doing that on the pages of BuildingGreen.com, in our curated lists of BuildingGreen Approved products, and through online help tools like LEEDuser.
We are also doing more and more of this work—informing, advising, teaching, training, and facilitating—on a custom basis to help you make an impact.
Whether it’s researching and writing an authoritative report for a professional association, helping a real estate owner implement a smart list of preferred products, or reviewing construction details in plans and specs, we’ve always leveraged the reach of our publications and websites to solve our clients’ specific problems. Consulting and other custom services were the foundation of our business before we created EBN, and they have been a core part of our offerings ever since.
We have an ambitious mission:
To bring about a healthier relationship between human society and the natural world by helping building professionals create and nurture high-performance, resilient, and inspiring buildings and communities.
We can only achieve that mission by leveraging both our publications and our direct services to help realize great buildings and communities. We can’t afford to wait another 25 years before seeing meaningful results.
How can we help you today?