Social Justice

Black History Month and Construction

4,000 people attended a 1969 rally in Chicago to call for an end to discrimination in construction trades.

4,000 people attended a 1969 rally in Chicago to call for an end to discrimination in construction trades.

"We wanted to demand that if they were going to build where we live, we should have the trade skills to build. If there were public contracts, we should have the right to have a part of those contracts.
"It’s not understood. The same people who call us lazy lock us out of trade unions. We’ve had to fight to get the right to skills to work. Many young men are hopeless and jobless — they don’t have the same trade skills their white counterparts had.
"In the fight to rebuild where we live, there are countless jobs. There are probably more jobs than people. People ask how can you police poverty. You can’t police poverty. But you can develop people where you live so there’s less need for police."

Rev. Jesse Jackson quoted in The New York Times

Photo by Gary Settle/The New York Times

Cardborgami - Innovation in Temporary Shelter

OK, I don't know if this actually relates to building product marketing, but it's too cool not to share.

Seen at Alt Build 2012:

Cardborgami ( is a fold-up temporary shelter made of plain ordinary corrugated cardboard.  It was invented by Tina Hovsepian, a native of Los Angeles (where there are more than 30,000 homeless people who do not have access to shelter) while she was an architecture student at the University of Southern California.  

Cardborgami is portable (it can be folded open or closed in less than a minute), it's treated to be waterproof and flame retardant, and it's fully recyclable.

Hovsepian, in addition to designing sustainable homes at Duvivier Architects in Santa Monica, CA, has also founded a non-profit to distribute Cardborgami shelters.  Her program includes volunteers who teach their homeless clients how to build the shelters (once built, it folds and unfolds without additional assembly).  She also wants recipients of the shelters to bring in recyclable cardboard to the same centers where they receive their shelters.

This kind of thinking should be encouraged and applauded.   Loudly.  This kind of action should be supported, too, so let me repeat:

Greenwash of Week - Cement Industry

As an architect, I was trained that my first responsibility is to be a good steward of the environment. I believe this should also be the first responsibility of everyone involved in the construction industry.

I feel shocked and saddened, then, when I read a news story like the following:
N.Y. cement factory plans to fight new EPA regulations
A New York-based cement plant, LaFarge, along with other companies, opposes new EPA regulations that require mercury-emissions reductions at cement plants. Portland Cement Association, an industry trade group, says the emissions limits are too low and it will be difficult to meet the requirements. However, environmental groups say that noncompliance will lead to more toxic pollution. Public News Service (11/09/2010)
LaFarge's website proclaims that the company "is convinced that sustained economic growth cannot occur without social progress, environmental protection and respect for local communities." Too bad the marketing and operations departments in the company don't communicate with each other.

PCA's website posits that the cement industry. "is not content to simply have a green end product." This leaves open for interpretation whether "green" is a synonym for the environment or for profit.


I offer a strategy, however, that will solve cement plant pollution without requiring the EPA to place caps on mercury emissions. All we have to do is require the executives of cement manufacturing companies and associations -- and their spouses and children -- to live within a mile downwind of their plants.

Certainly, their tune about the cost/benefit of emissions will change as a result.
For more on this controversy, see my previous post on Cement Emissions and Social Justice.

Safety - Always

Construction is one of the most dangerous industries. Too frequently, however, building product sales literature inadvertently promotes unsafe practices.

This is especially a problem with photographs. Art directors and graphic designers that are unfamiliar with the hazards of construction are often attracted to images that show reckless practices. For example:
  • A model is posed in a heroic stance, high on a scaffold or exposed structure... without a safety harness.
  • A power tool operator shows a smile and steady, confident eyes... but is not  equiped with goggles or dust mask.
  • A video shows an inspector closely examining a product rolling down an assembly line... but does not wear a hair net to prevent his or her long tresses from getting tangled in the conveyor belt.
  • People are installing a product at the bottom of a trench... that is not shored.
Marketing communications can help to establish a culture of safety in construction. Sales literature should not show dangerous practices.

Keep your customers alive!

Cement Emissions and Social Justice

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is issuing final rules that will protect Americans' health by cutting emissions of mercury, particle pollution and other harmful pollutants from Portland cement manufacturing, the third-largest source of mercury air emissions in the United States. The rules are expected to yield $7 to $19 in public health benefits for every dollar in costs. Mercury can damage children's developing brains, and particle pollution is linked to a wide variety of serious health effects, including aggravated asthma, irregular heartbeat, heart attacks, and premature death in people with heart and lung disease.
I have a personal connection to this news item:

A friend of mine did her Ph.D. dissertation monitoring emissions from cement plants to document their pollution. Plant operators were not cooperative with her research. They would ban her from access to their sites and, if they discovered her setting up monitoring stations downwind, would temporarily modify production to artificially reduce emissions.

Understanding and reducing pollution was only one aspect of her research. Social justice was another. Cement plants, she explained, are usually located in "economically disadvantaged" neighborhoods that lacked the resources to oppose the pollution. The children with the least access to medical care, she observed, were the ones bearing the brunt of the toxic emissions from cement plants.

Social justice is fundamental to sustainable construction.  The Hannover Principles, a set of succinct guideposts to sustainable construction puts "human rights" at the top of its list of criteria for green construction.

I am sure the EPA's new guidelines do not satisfy my friend. Still, I salute her work for helping make the EPA's efforts possible.

Her research is published in the following (emphasis added):

"Wet deposition of mercury within the vicinity of a cement plant before and during cement plant maintenance, Atmospheric Environment (March 2010)

Abstract: Hg species (total mercury, methylmercury, reactive mercury) in precipitation were investigated in the vicinity of the Lehigh Hanson Permanente Cement Plant in the San Francisco Bay Area, CA., USA. Precipitation was collected weekly between November 29, 2007 and March 20, 2008, which included the period in February and March 2008 when cement production was minimized during annual plant maintenance. When the cement plant was operational, the volume weighted mean (VWM) and wet depositional flux for total Hg (HgT) were 6.7 and 5.8 times higher, respectively, compared to a control site located 3.5 km east of the cement plant. In February and March, when cement plant operations were minimized, levels were approximately equal at both sites (the ratio for both parameters was 1.1). Due to the close proximity between the two sites, meteorological conditions (e.g., precipitation levels, wind direction) were similar, and therefore higher VWM HgT levels and HgT deposition likely reflected increased Hg emissions from the cement plant. Methylmercury (MeHg) and reactive Hg (Hg(II)) were also measured; compared to the control site, the VWM for MeHg was lower at the cement plant (the ratio ¼ 0.75) and the VWM for Hg(II) was slightly higher (ratio ¼ 1.2), which indicated the cement plant was not likely a significant source of these Hg species to the watershed.

"Evidence for short-range transport of atmospheric mercury to a rural, inland site," Atmospheric Environment (March 2010)

Abstract: Atmospheric mercury (Hg) species, including gaseous elemental mercury (GEM), reactive gaseous mercury (RGM) and particulate-bound mercury (Hgp), were monitored near three sites, including a cement plant (monitored in 2007 and 2008), an urban site and a rural site (both monitored in 2005 and 2008). Although the cement plant was a significant source of Hg emissions (for 2008, GEM: 2.20 =/- 1.39 ng m-3, RGM: 25.2 =/- 52.8 pg m-3, Hgp 80.8 =/- 283 pg m-3), average GEM levels and daytime average dry depositional RGM flux were highest at the rural site, when all three sites were monitored sequentially in 2008 (rural site, GEM: 2.37 =/- 1.26 ng m-3, daytime RGM flux: 29 =/- 40 ng m-2 day-1). Photochemical conversion of GEM was not the primary RGM source, as highest net RGM gains (75.9 pg m-3, 99.0 pg m-3, 149 m-3) occurred within 3.0-5.3 h, while the theoretical time required was 14e23 h. Instead, simultaneous peaks in RGM, Hgp, ozone (O3), nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide in the late afternoon suggested short-range transport of RGM from the urban center to the rural site. The rural site was located more inland, where the average water vapor mixing ratio was lower compared to the other two sites (in 2008, rural: 5.6 =/- 1.4 g kg-1, urban: 9.0 =/- 1.1 g kg-1, cement plant: 8.3 =/- 2.2 g kg-1). Together, these findings suggested short-range transport of O3 from an urban area contributed to higher RGM deposition at the rural site, while drier conditions helped sustain elevated RGM levels. Results suggested less urbanized environments may be equally or perhaps more impacted by industrial atmospheric Hg emissions, compared to the urban areas from where Hg emissions originated.

"Be The One" uses QR codes to promote Gulf clean-up

As both an important environmental story and a creative use of social media technology, the "Be The One" effort deserves your attention. From their website:
In light of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster, Women of the Storm is rallying to restore America’s Gulf coast now and for future generations. The “Be the One” effort intends to galvanize the nation around the cause of coastal restoration in order to demand that government leaders address this critical issue.
Considering one of their sponsors is YouTube I'm not surprised they're using social media well, but I was impressed by their use of QR codes to encourage people to sign their petition. Note the simple, but effective, customization.

In addition to QR codes on signs and billboards, they are offering a scannable t-shirt, taking the usual benefit of branded clothing a step farther. Now instead of just a passive, but mobile, poster, the shirt becomes a portable hyperlink to the site. Presumably, people who wear this shirt will wear it around similarly-minded groups, who would be highly likely to also sign the petition. In other words, imagine a couple of people show up wearing this at the next USGBC meeting. Talk about highly targeted marketing!

This is a great example of what's possible with QR codes: create a highly targeted landing page, put the code where it will have the most impact, and use some outside-the-box creativity. This could have a huge impact at trade shows, with your whole staff wearing scannable shirts as they're out networking. I want to see these in the product demo area at World of Concrete and the Concrete Decor Show; put one on the concrete artist your company is sponsoring, with the message, "Want to know more about the products I'm using? Scan my shirt!"

Please take a minute to check out the "Be The One" page and sign their petition. The Gulf oil spill is one of the environmental disasters of our age, and to be true to our ideals of sustainable design we must also clean the world outside our buildings.