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Transparency and Green Labels for The Home

Product Life CycleWhile I was waiting for my coffee to brew this morning in the office, I started reading the ingredients on the back of the sweetener I planned to use. There was one ingredient that I didn’t recognize. Being a scientist, I am naturally curious so I looked it up. I was shocked to find out that the sweetener contained an ingredient that emits formaldehyde above 92 degrees Fahrenheit. So I chose a different sweetener.

How fortunate am I that I caught that and had the resources to understand what it was telling me. But how many people have no idea what some of this means? It made me think about the benefit and value of the emerging forms of transparency about the products that we buy and use in our homes. This information is very insightful and when we make it available in a form that people can digest and employ it has real value to customers and consumers.  An informed consumer is a better consumer and manufacturers are beginning to embrace the concept of transparency through Life Cycle Assessments, Environmental Product Declarations and Health Product Declarations. If you are interested in learning more about transparency in the building materials industry, I addressed this issue in a blog post.

For a more in depth and current discussion of the topic, please consider attending the webinar I am conducting on Tuesday, February 18 from 12:00 – 1:00 pm EST titled Publications for Product Life Cycle Assessment.  This course is accredited with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI).

 

Can We Pick Our Future Rather Than Repeating Our Past?

The U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Version 4 (V4) has been approved and will be become official at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in November 2013.  But even after the new version comes out in November, you can register and begin LEED 2009 projects up until the summer of 2015.  This means that for the next two years we will have LEED 2009 projects coexisting beside LEED V4 projects.

These programs are very different especially with regard to transparency issues.  For example, Health Product Declarations (HPD’s), Environmental Product Declarations (EPD’s) and Life Cycle Assessments (LCA’s) are moved in V4 from where they were in LEED 2009. In LEED 2009 they are classified as pilot libraries but now have been moved to materials and resources, credits two, three, and four. This represents a significant change to the materials and resources credits.

The co-existence of two different programs could, potentially, cloud the issues for the end users.  But making incremental steps can help to keep people focused on a sustainable future without feeling that they have to start all over. But does the potential exist for the momentum of LEED to stall because we are not looking far enough into the future?

Consider the Living Building Challenge which is the gold standard for what some advocates envision for the sustainable future. Have they thrown the target so far down the field that it doesn’t need to be continually updated because the goals are not highly achievable today? It sets the bar very high but it does give us a long range goal for future development.

If you want to change the future you can’t do it based upon the past.  Psychologists tell us that our default reaction to a challenge is based on our experience and history. When presented with a situation we tend to lean on the past.  This causes us to repeat the past and impedes our ability to get to a desired better future.

If you want to get to a future that is different than the past, you have to imagine a future not based on the past.  You have to set your target not based on incremental changes because that just builds on the past.  Let’s start by saying “in 10 years, I want to be over there”- now work back from there until now and NOT forward from now until then. I think you’ll find that you end up much closer to where you want to be this new way than you did with the old way.

I, for one, would not want to see our efforts to move toward energy efficient, sustainable buildings stalled or worse, abandoned, because we failed to see a clear path to that future. If we get too caught up in the process, we could lose sight of the purpose.

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.

Keeping Things in Perspective

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Recently we have seen a growth in the number of organizations that are asking for reporting of the raw materials which go into the products used to construct our buildings. While I believe that clear and accurate information is critical for evidence based decisions, I’m not sure we are always prepared to evaluate all of the information we are bombarded with in the appropriate perspective.

An example of this is a recent conversation I had with a designer friend on the West Coast who stated that he felt that lead exposure or more accurately over-exposure continued to be a critical health issue and he wished to specify a building constructed of entirely lead free products. This meant going well beyond the traditional concerns for coatings like paints and looking at everything in the building.

I asked if he had good data for the base-line lead levels of the soil where the job would be constructed. I pointed out that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sites lead contaminated dust and lead contaminated residential soil as two of the top three most common sources of lead poisoning (http://epa.gov/lead/index.html ).

It turns out that some of the products my friend was concerned about had lead levels that were less than 1 percent compared to  the background lead levels for the geographic area for his design project. That helped put the data into perspective. Obviously keeping the lead levels in the building low is going to involve a lot more than just specifying lead free products.

As we enter the age of Life Cycle Assessments, Environmental Product Declarations and other labels for our buildings and building products, I hope we can all resist the temptation to run with a little information and take the time to truly understand how this fits into the “big picture.”

Green Product Certification – The Demise of Greenwashing

Lucas Hamilton

Over the past decade we’ve witnessed the expansive growth of the sustainable building movement. Sustainable design and building professionals are constantly raising the bar in the creation of long-lasting, healthy structures that minimize carbon footprints.  A key factor in the propagation of this trend is green product certification.

The growing emphasis on green living and sustainable building has increased green claims by companies about their products and manufacturing processes.  False green product claims have come to be known as “greenwashing” and it has far reaching consequences – it harms the credibility of manufactures who do take sustainability seriously, as well as the consumer.  When consumers lose faith in manufacturers’ green claims after too many incidents of greenwashing, they may lose faith in the entire green building movement.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) continues to fine tune the Green Guides to provide more specific requirements for the green claims that manufacturers are making today. Of course the most important element is the enforcement of the Green Guides for companies that don’t comply or those making inaccurate or unsubstantiated green claims.

In the meantime, the best way to fight greenwashing is to use only products that are certified by an impartial, independent third party, such as GREENGUARD Environmental Institute, the U.S. Department of Energy, Forest Stewardship Council and Green Circle.   

Third-party certifications examine a variety of green performance criteria that are most important to the certifying body, as well as the overall sustainability of a building.  These include energy efficiency, low VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions and other contributions to high indoor air quality, moisture resistance, and high recycled content. Some certifications will focus on one criterion and are therefore known as single-attribute certifications. Multiple-attribute certifications look at several different green product characteristics.  It is important for manufacturers, consumers, builders, architects and building owners to be education on the importance of specifics and accuracy with third-party certifications.  With product certifications, the more detail, the better.

The most extensive, reliable certifications are those that involved life cycle assessments (LCA).  These assessments examine a product’s total impact on the environment throughout its useful life.  Environmental impact factors include: raw materials used, how the product is manufactured, how it performs in a building and what happens to it after its useful life has ended.  CertainTeed recently published an LCA for our vinyl siding products and revealed the results in a blog.

Green building product certification is a vital factor in the growth and longevity of the sustainable building movement.  Until more stringent standards are developed by the FTC, it is crucial for building professionals and product distributors to be educated on which product certifications carry the most weight.  By directing customers toward green building products with reputable, third-party certification you are helping to preserve the environment for future generations.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Life Cycle Assessment Tells the True Green Vinyl Siding Story

In a previous blog, Who Says Vinyl Siding Can’t Be Green, I started to discuss the move to manufacturing vinyl siding products with recycled content making it a more sustainable product.  This began a quest to dispel the misconceptions about vinyl siding and the fact that vinyl is a more sustainable cladding solution than brick, stucco or even cedar.

Vinyl siding has long been viewed by some as a product assumed to not be environmentally friendly.  Well, I am here to tell you that following a very long and tedious process of conducting what is called a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) on CertainTeed’s vinyl siding products that vinyl siding is GREEN!  Based on all the elements that go into the LCA such as raw materials, transportation, production, and installation vinyl siding clearly leads the way in sustainability. CertainTeed’s vinyl siding LCA has been accepted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) through the Building for Economic and Environmental Sustainability (BEES) program which is a leader in the credentialing of LCAs.

The LCA provides full public transparency and ensures that manufactures are not engaging in green washing.

The LCA is an analytical tool used to quantify and interpret the flows to-and-from the environment over the entire life cycle of a product, process or service.  It is also referred to as cradle-to-grave analysis. The goal of the LCA is to compare the full range of environmental effects assignable to products and services in order to improve processes, support policy and provide a sound basis for informed decisions.

The term ‘life cycle’ refers to the notion that a fair, holistic assessment requires the assessment of raw material production, manufacture, distribution, use and disposal including all intervening transportation steps necessary or caused by the product’s existence.

Our first step was to create LCA’s for all of our vinyl siding lines.  In all cases, our vinyl siding outperforms alternative cladding products such as brick, stucco, Dryvit Outsulation and even cedar in all of the environmental impact calculations identified in the BEES methodology.

CertainTeed is committed to product stewardship and the LCA, as well as the entire process to complete the LCA because it provides us with information to continue to improve processes to reduce their environmental impact.

CertainTeed will continue the LCA process on all of our siding product lines as a firm commitment to our mission in sustainability.

What You Don’t Know About Vinyl Siding Could Cost You Money

Brian Kirn

When it is time to select an exterior cladding for a home, whether new construction or remodeling, having factual, objective information can help you make an informed decision.  All manufacturers have colorful brochures with glamour shots of homes but we recently found out that our customers wanted something more.

CertainTeed conducts many feedback programs with both contractors and homeowners and the number one request we consistently hear is the need for an educational brochure about vinyl siding.  Given the popularity of vinyl siding, that made perfect sense.

CertainTeed answered that request with our new Vinyl Siding Redefined brochure.  Since exterior cladding remains on a home for a long time, it’s crucial for homeowners to do their ‘homework’ before making so large an investment.  Understanding the comparisons between vinyl and other claddings with regard to cost, maintenance, warranty and aesthetics is critical to making a sound decision about your home, or, if you’re a contractor, in counseling your customers about the product that is best for them.

Today’s vinyl siding is not the same product that first emerged as a replacement for aluminum siding.  It is true that when vinyl siding first appeared in the marketplace the industry experienced some growing pains but, for the most part there were two key reasons why these occurred.  First, installers put the product on the homes using the same methods as they did for aluminum siding. This did not allow the product the needed room to expand and contract with temperature changes, and consequently product failures resulted.  Also, early versions of vinyl siding colors often experienced fading over time due to the lack of fade inhibitors that are routinely used today.   

Needless to say, these early growing pains have long been resolved and vinyl siding has, for sometime, been the number one choice among homeowners for exterior cladding. But despite this, there remain  many misconceptions about vinyl siding – it’s composition, it’s sustainability and life cycle benefits, it’s warranty coverage and it’s cost savings. That is why we produced Vinyl Siding Redefined – to set the record straight.

Brian Kirn is Marketing Manager, Siding Products Group for CertainTeed Corporation

Green Generates Green for Philadelphia Builder

Lucas Hamilton

I had the pleasure of listening to Tad Radzinski, of Sustainable Solutions, a sustainability expert in the Philadelphia area, talk about an unusual and creative project that he recently worked on using a vegetative roof. 

From the Building Science perspective, what I like about vegetative roofs is the albedo of plants, which plays a large part in the benefit of live roofs, and the fact that they are literally cool roofs that naturally increase the insulation value on your structure (the r-value of the soil bed). Live roofs also reduce the amount of storm water runoff and city’s like Philadelphia are starting to reward building owners for moving to vegetative roofs.

 A few facts:

 1.) For most of us on municipal water, when you pay for a gallon of water you are also paying for a gallon of sewage treatment.

 2.) In older municipalities, the storm water and sewage lines are co-mingled.

 3.) When there is a rain event it can cause the water/sewer to overflow system capacity and be diverted into the rivers.

 4.) When this occurs, the municipality is fined for the overflow.  However, most cities would rather pay the small fine from the occasional rain event than to upgrade the storm water and sewage system.

Philadelphia recognized this and has started to reward builders who take steps to reduce site run-off by reducing the per gallon rate paid for the water they do use. By demonstrating the volume of run-off eliminated through the implementation of vegetative roofs and the reduction of hard surfaces such as paved parking areas, builders can qualify for water rate reductions. Applying this data to a life cycle assessment, we quickly see one more way that being green can save you green.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation