Building With the Future in Mind Since 1955


A self-appraisal of our ecological footprint using the NATURAL STEP as our compass.

The Natural Step (TNS) is a sustainability framework that was birthed in Sweden and has spread throughout the world. The backbone of TNS is four system conditions, described below, that help point any decision maker in the appropriate direction to achieve a sustainable future. We have categorized each aspect of our Journey Towards Sustainability within one of The Natural Step’s four System Conditions.

Many items fall within more than one of the four System Conditions. For example, giving away used building materials not only respects human needs by helping others (Condition #4), but it also reduces harvesting a productive part of nature (Condition #3). So, in order to simplify this self-appraisal, we have selected the most dominant System Condition under which to list each particular component in our journey


Substances from the Earth’s crust must not systematically increase in the ecosphere.

Which means: that fossil fuels, metals and other minerals must not be extracted at a faster pace than their slow redeposit and reintegration into the Earth’s crust.

The reason: otherwise the concentration of substances in the ecosphere will increase and eventually reach limits- often unknown- beyond which irreversible changes occur.

Questions to ask: do we systematically decrease our economic dependence on underground metals, fuels and other minerals?

  1. Our Chevy swap-loader’s interchangeable debris boxes reduce trips to solid waste facilities, thereby saving gas, vehicle wear and air pollution. This also allows us to support numerous projects with only a single large vehicle.
  2. We use Kryton International’s “Breakaway” form oil (a vegetable oil; non-toxic; biodegradable) for our concrete work instead of standard form oil which is made with diesel oil. “
  3. We converted our office building to an on-demand, continuous, natural gas water heater to replace the rarely used, 50 gallon electric water tank.
  4. Earth Day 2000: purchased Honda’s Insight hybrid gas/electric vehicle for bidding and site visits. This vehicle gets 3 times the gas mileage as the Ford Explorer it replaced.
  5. Oct. 2000 we began additional debris sorting and recycling of film plastic (visqueen and tarps), virgin drywall, re-bond carpet pad, chipping wood, solid styrofoam and metal.
  6. We specify resource efficient appliances and plumbing fixtures (i.e. energy, water, etc.).
  7. We use vehicle lubrication firms that use re-refined motor oil and recycle the used oil filters.
  8. We maximize use of fluorescent and LED lighting throughout the building and keep nearly all showroom lights off unless we have clients in the building.



Substances produced by society must not systematically increase in the ecosphere.

Which means: substances must not be produced at a faster pace than they can be broken down and integrated into the cycles of nature or deposited into the Earth’s crust.

The reason: otherwise the concentration of substances in the ecosphere will increase and eventually reach limits- often unknown- beyond which irreversible changes occur.

Questions to ask: do we systematically decrease our economic dependence on persistent unnatural substances?

  1. Xeriscaping (drought resistant landscaping) surrounds our office property. All lawn was eliminated. This minimizes watering, pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides, as well as eliminates all mowing.
  2. In 2005 EnviroStars awarded us its highest rating: 5 Stars. A-1 Builders is not only the first builder to receive the highest EnviroStars 5-star rating in Whatcom County, we were the second builder in the entire state to be certified as a 5-star EnviroStar!
  3. We recycle clean sheet plastic, scrap metal and cardboard; we collect spent batteries (nickel-cadmium, rechargeable and lithium) to be sure they go to a hazmat facility, and not to a landfill.
  4. Our showroom remodel in 1999 sought to showcase numerous examples of environmental sensitivity: Image Carpet (recycled pop bottles); Interface Carpet (recycled content & recyclable carpet); low VOC/low toxic coatings; formaldehyde-free cabinets; energy efficient lighting; Smith and Vallee’s local, custom cabinetry, using FSC lumber and low/no VOC finishes; cork and bamboo flooring; countertops w/ reclaimed madrona; etc.
  5. Promote blown cellulose insulation in ceilings (better insulator; recycled material versus virgin fiberglass) and BIB (blown-in-blanket) cellulose or fiberglass wall insulation (far superior thermal performance).
Fence and gate

Fence and gate we designed and built in 2009 at one of our permaculture projects. The fence and gate are attached to a Rastra home we also designed and built (Rastra is made from 85% post-consumer polystyrene — coffee cups!). Note the near-zero-maintenance cobble and gravel along the building perimeter.

“In addition to the fine technical work done by your crew, I wanted to let you know that I can’t imagine a more pleasant group of young men to have working outside my windows this summer.

“I don’t know if they’re always so good-humored and avoid the naughty words or if they were being respectful to the Grey Panthers on the other side of the glass, but I would like them to know that the environment they created was much appreciated.

“Please tell your crew that they’re very special to us and both professionally and personally they have exceeded our expectations.  And hats off to you, Rick, because we all know it starts at the top.” –  Catherine Ouweneel


The physical basis for productivity and diversity of nature must not be systematically diminished.

Which means: we cannot harvest or manipulate ecosystems in such a way that productive capacity and diversity diminish.

The reason: our health and prosperity depend on the capacity of nature to re-concentrate and restructure wastes into new resources.

Questions to ask: do we systematically decrease our economic dependence on activities that encroach on productive parts of nature? (i.e. over-cutting of trees)

  1. 2000: began using SmartWood certified wood (sustainably harvested) for framing and sheathing; was available at Builders Alliance for years as a result of our lobbying; inventory there is sporadic though, especially during the post-2008 economic downturn and depressed housing market.
  2. Office-wide use of 100% post-consumer recycled, unbleached toilet paper, paper towels, tissues, copier paper and plastic kitchen can garbage bags.
  3. We utilize Advanced Framing as our standard, which substitutes insulation for structurally unnecessary framing; uses approximately 20% less framing materials than standard framing with no threat to structural integrity.
  4. Promote components that avoid mature (older than 80 years) and old growth lumber (i.e. glue-lam beams; engineered wood, etc.).
  5. Our first meeting after a client approves a construction project includes planning for the types and quantity of debris before project commencement (i.e. how many debris boxes; other sorting ideas) in order to optimize reuse and recycling.
  6. Offer options to our clients so that ‘green’ items (i.e. 50 year or lifetime roofing; hi-efficiency furnace, etc.) may have a lower-than-normal markup, thereby promoting value (i.e. longer life expectancies; lower operating cost; etc.), not price.
  7. Promote space planning to optimize the use of existing space before designing additional square footage.
  8. Promote the repair and improvement of existing homes, which may eliminate the need to build a new structure.
  9. ‘Build it right the first time’ mentality saves resources now and in the future; maximum life expectancy minimizes future use of resources and the generation of waste.
  10. Use GOOS paper (“Good-On-One-Side”; copier paper used on one side) for printing in-house documents and for creating pads of scrap paper.
  11. Measure twice/cut once’ thinking minimizes the waste of resources.
  12. Earth Day 2000: began program w/ Trees for the Future to plant trees annually to sequester the carbon dioxide that results from our team’s vehicle emissions and our office building’s energy use.
  13. Trained one of our designers as a certified permaculturist to help clients design/build edible landscapes, vegetable gardens, fruit orchards, hardscaping and optimal site planning.
  14. We sort and then reuse wood (i.e. save for a future project; give away for free for either reuse or firewood; send to a chipper). The exception is for treated and painted/stained wood that still goes to a solid waste facility. We also sort out and then recycle cardboard, tin and aluminum cans, glass bottles, and plastic containers.




Fair and efficient use of resources, with respect to meeting human needs.

Which means: basic human needs must be met with the most resource-efficient methods possible, and their satisfaction must take precedence over provision of luxuries.

The reason: Humanity must prosper with a resource metabolism meeting system conditions 1-3. This is necessary in order to get the social stability and cooperation for achieving the changes in time.

Questions to ask: do we systematically decrease our economic dependence on using an unnecessarily large amount of resources in relation to added human value?

Well-signed and accessible ‘absolutely free’ area at our office/showroom to give away you-haul used building materials.

  1. Rick became Master Home Environmentalist with American Lung Association in ‘98; able to help property owners achieve better indoor air quality.
  2. Rick sustains a high public profile in promoting community and environmental health, via print, radio, public speaking, video and his use of the readerboard.
  3. Rick and Cindi were co-founders of Sustainable Connections, a business alliance to promote ‘green’ commerce and a local, living economy. Rick became Board member in Dec. 2002 and Board President in 2003; remained on the Board until February of 2008.
  4. Rick has been VP or Board President of RE Sources (regional environmental education group; operates the 2 RE Stores) from ‘98 until ’07; instrumental in decision to proceed w/ 2nd RE Store in the Seattle area. Left the Board due to term limits in 2011.
  5. Readerboard quotations stress environmental health, reason and science.
  6. We presented A-1 Builders as the first local business for a Sustainable Connection’s workshop (Jan. ‘99) to ‘dissect’ our ecological footprint using The Natural Step framework; we required our entire staff to attend the TNS training and self-examination.
  7. Offer energy audits and condition evaluations as a portion of pre-remodel design consultations to optimize the energy efficiency and longevity of the existing structure.
  8. Eliminate conducive conditions that promote rot, insect infestation or other deterioration (eliminate earth/wood contact; provide adequate ventilation, etc.) to maximize the life expectancy of existing resources – this is the repair component of ‘reduce/reuse/recycle/redesign/repair’
  9. Aggressive, on-site debris separation optimizes the reuse of materials.
  10. Aggressive, on-going reduction of unwanted junk mail.

“I have been using the services of Rick Dubrow and A-1 Builders for twenty years now.  They have helped me build two very complex dental offices.  Design, construction, interior furnishings, coordination of sub-contractors – everything was handled well.   Both offices have been praised by my colleagues and my patients as being “beautiful”.  Even the most complex aspects of the commercial remodel of a historic building were dealt with quickly and without hassle.   A-1 Builders keeps up on the technology, is very in tune with protecting the environment and our historic character, but most impressively, they are dependable.  I can always count on a first class, quality job.” – Robert L Knudson, DDS

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