Life Cycle Assessments and Environmental Product Declarations – Green Labels for the Home

Product Life CycleJust about everyone who shops for groceries looks at the nutritional label on the product.  I believe that we have been conditional to do so and it’s probably a good thing.  We should want to know what ingredients are going into the prepared foods that we eat. We can control the amounts of fat, sugar, salt and preservatives that go into the food we eat but only if we can easily get the data.

In a similar way, the building industry is moving toward tools such as Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) and Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) to test and validate the “greenness” of their products. These are some of the best tools available to help consumers make the right choices when selecting products to purchase.  Would you think to ask your contactor for the Life Cycle Assessment for the siding you are putting on your home?  If you care about the space you create and the world you live in then maybe you should.

Manufacturers work with third-party certifiers to test and quantify the environmental impact of all the materials used to make the product.  Companies that are undertaking these assessments are ’walking the green talk’ because it is a long process to secure LCA’s and EPD’s.

Beware of GreenwashingAs the demand in the marketplace for environmentally friendly products increased, manufacturers created a form of spin in which green marketing was used to promote the perception that an organization’s products, aims and/or policies were environmentally friendly.  This “greenwashing” is still happening today.

That is why consumers need to be aware of the “nutrition” labels for products they are using to build or renovate their homes. The life and efficiency of your home is important.

Will Homebuyers Pay More for Green?

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

This question has been popping up in builder polls.  The discussion is around the motivation on the part of consumers for buying green.  The latest trend seems to be there is a decrease in the number of people willing to pay more for green products or green construction on the premise that it is good for the planet. However, there are more people willing to pay more for sustainable products to save money or because it is better for their health.

In these times of economic difficulty, people are focusing more on the health aspects and potential energy savings related to sustainable products based on the benefits over the life of the product.  This is a significant maturing over the old “up-front cost factor” which drove so many decisions in the past. Obviously, there is a growing need to validate products through tools like Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) in order to provide the long term data needed for these types of decisions. People are looking for this information and validation as to the benefits.

For the sustainable manufacturing sector this is good news.  Since many progressive manufacturers have been performing the data collection needed to generate product LCAs and Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) it’s only a matter now of providing that data to consumers in a form they can use.

It is time to have the life cycle conversation with people rather than just showing pictures of polar bears on ice caps in an effort to pull on their heartstrings. Consumers want the facts in order to make smart, sustainable choices.

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.