The Transparency Movement Sets a New Standard

Think about it, metrics for sustainability provide fact based defenses for faith based decisions. A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) on an individual product is an example of a fact based defense for choosing a specific material.

For example, say that you set a criterion of global warming potential as your decision making criteri0n. How could you compare vastly different types of material to learn which has a greater impact? Now you can because the LCA provides that level of information. 

Now, if you look at sustainable buildings as opposed to sustainable materials the LCA is the natural way of taking the information and expanding it to the building level. Setting the correct discrete limits up front creates a potential for the limitless. We can take this same measurable – global warming potential – and expand it across the whole building assembly.  Can we say that this building is more sustainable than another?  Absolutely we can – the metrics are in place. Simply pick what is important to you.  After all, sustainability means different things to different people.

There are a whole range of important metrics that people can use in their consideration process. All the information is available and there are systems in place to be able to expand across the building such as the LCA.

So it is now possible to defend your faith in sustainability with facts; as long as you understand the systems like LCA and the information that is available.  Maybe faith is making a comeback.

What do you think?


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.

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.

The Accountability in Sustainability

Lucas Hamilton

CertainTeed recently released its first Corporate Sustainability Report.  What people don’t realize is that behind these efforts to produce and publish Sustainability Reports you have to do a great deal of homework. Some of that homework can include life cycle assessments (LCA) for products. LCA’s are similar to creating a personal inventory as you might do when facing a life event. You come up with a large amount of information that needs to be evaluated and acted upon, but if it is not acted on you are living in denial. Having these LCA’s provides companies with data that can be viewed in many different and valuable ways. LCA’s capture the holistic impact of a product from the energy involved in the extraction of the raw materials, to the manufacturing, to the transportation, to the installation, to the impact it will have on the building and the disposal or recycling after its useful life.

LCA’s represent a new way of evaluating building materials and building techniques which is why this is part of building knowledge. As we go forward, all building professionals will need to be conversant in LCA language and understand how to evaluate an LCA which will help you  compare things you couldn’t compare before.

For example, take a brick masonry wall, it is so basic, the materials are so earthy. It lasts so long that it must be a very green structure.  But when you do an LCA on the brick masonry cladding and compare it to a material that people traditionally view as un-green, like vinyl siding, you find that the vinyl siding actually has lower impacts and is more green than brick.

By using data from the LCA’s you can actually evaluate products and apply a metric to each life cycle phase rather than going on gut feeling. You can choose to accept or deny the results but the fact is it is a real metric.  The problem is that LCA’s are complex which makes them difficult to perform and requires users of the data to be educated on how to use an LCA to understand life cycle impacts of products and materials.

To address this, the U.S Government has started a program that hopes to make these LCA’s more accessible so consumers can use them to select building materials. It’s called BEES (Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability). This BEES program will publish the LCA’s so consumers can compare brick masonry verses vinyl verses stucco verses natural wood – you can actually make a comparison about everything that goes into the creation of these materials.

I have talked about labeling in a previous blog with regard to energy efficiency of buildings.  Labels essentially provide transparency and lead to better informed purchasing decisions. LCA’s do the same for building materials, not just for energy-efficiency, but for a variety of sustainability factors.

I see the publication of LCA’s in BEES as a way of allowing consumers and professionals in the building industry to evaluate things on a level playing field based on a set metric that is definable, quantifiable and repeatable.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation