KISS: Keep it Simple Sustainability! – Part 2

 
 

Aman Desouza

Aman Desouza

Aman Desouza is Director, Innovation and Sustainability for CertainTeed Corporation

When I’m making a decision, the engineer in me likes to start with the facts.  Not opinions, not beliefs, not recommendations – those are all very interesting and sometimes even entertaining, and they do have their place, but only to compensate for the absence of facts. 

But where and how do we find facts that are scientifically relevant to performance and standardized to allow comparison?

The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is one tool that generates scientifically grounded facts and is fairly comprehensive because it takes into consideration the entire life of a product.  When converted into an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD), it gives us facts that are not only science based, but also relevant to performance and standardized thanks to Product Category Rules (PCR).   LCA’s can be published to the Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability (BEES) program offered by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) that allows the comparison of various products based on the environmental and economic impacts as assessed in the LCA’s.

Great!  Now we have facts that we can use to start our decision making process and to make fair comparisons.  So why isn’t everybody using them?

Well, to be fair many are asking for them but only a few are using them because there aren’t that many to use!  The problem is that EPD’s are complex and time consuming to generate. The process begins with Product Category Rules (PCR).  A PCR is a form of guidance and rules for the collection of data and other information. A PCR is established for a specific product category and remains consistent for all products within that category that are seeking to publish an EPD. 

An LCA must be performed  and an EPD developed with guidance from the PCR to deliver a concise explanation of the environmental impacts found from the LCA. EPD’s provide us with the facts about the sustainability of a product. 

If that isn’t hard enough, there is another barrier.  For some products, there are no product category rules because they have not yet been created in the U.S.   In order to create these rules there needs to be consensus among all the “players” in a particular category. For innovative products, you may only have one player. 

As an industry we, perhaps, should consider creating a standard Product Category Rule across an entire category or large groups of categories that level the playing field for all players. Once that is in place, it removes one barrier to EPD’s coming into the marketplace.

After all, does the “Nutrition Facts” label on your bottle of milk look any different from the label on your bag of chips?   Sure the values are different, but it’s the same set of facts measured the same way.

Facts that are scientifically relevant to performance and standardized = transparency.

KISS: Keep it Simple Sustainability! – Part 1

 

Aman Desouza

Aman Desouza

Aman Desouza is Director, Innovation and Sustainability for CertainTeed Corporation

Not least among the challenges of sustainability are the challenges of recognizing and avoiding greenwashing. The market seems to want sustainability and demand greener products but it also wants to know, understandably, that the claims of sustainability are credible and have been verified. 

From a manufacturer’s standpoint, we look for ways to provide that credibility, which in turn we hope will give us a competitive edge, accelerate the adoption and sales of our products and bring value to our sustainability efforts.  We are, after all, a competitive and profit oriented bunch. So, over the last few years, most manufacturers have moved from making blanket statements about sustainability towards fact based claims and they are now moving even further towards the use of third party labels. 

This is all very good and generally positive, but does it help the customer?

The problem is that not all labels are created equal and for the most part, labels are not even comparable, which does not help the consumer much.  While there is certainly value in the 3rd party validation that a label offers, we are essentially shifting the burden of credibility from products to labels. 

I propose that what consumers need to facilitate good decisions are not verifications of a myriad claims of uncertain value in their context, but a few simple, relevant facts and the knowledge required to evaluate them in context. 

Should the facts be verified? Certainly!  That’s where third party validation would be valuable. 

 This is part one of this blog.  Watch for the second installment.