A 'Nutritional Label' for Building Materials & Other Tools for Transparency

A 'Nutritional Label' for Building Materials & Other Tools for Transparency

Architectural products company Construction Specialities and design firm Perkins + Will have a simple but ambitious goal: They want a label they created for building materials to do what nutritional labels did for food.

Unlike breakfast cereal, for example, it's hard tell what precisely goes into the making of building products, said Curt Fessler of C/S and Peter Syrett of Perkins and Will. Sometimes, if the information about content is available, it's hard to find and even tougher to understand.

"We talked about the idea that every morning that I can look at a box of cereal and understand the nutritional implications of that cereal," said Syrett, relating the concept's development. "The cereal label is the ultimate in transparency."

That idea, illustrated below, was among the many measures introduced in the name of greater transparency at the Greenbuild conference.

Transparency and better building performance were twin mantras at the U.S. Green Building Council's tenth annual convention. We told you about some of solutions the USGBC and companies are offering to close gaps between green building design and actual performance of some buildings (see articles here, here and here). The breach has been source of criticism of the USGBC's LEED green building certification program.

In the industry in general, questions about the content of nonstructural building materials and the extent of their actual "greenness" have also been the cause of criticism and raised concerns of greenwashing. To shed light on product content, the USGBC plans to reward use of materials that have third-party verification of environmental claims, lifecycle assessment data or third-party certified environmental product declarations.

That reward system -- in the form of a credit, or point, counted toward LEED certification -- is now being tested (it's called LEED Pilot Credit 43) and was the focal point of much of the action around transparency at the conference this year.

The label crafted by Construction Specialities and Perkins and Will isn't a certification program, but it's designed to pull together all the content information available on a product and summarize its environmental impacts.

A label like the one above can be used on a product and point purchasers to a website for further details. That's what Construction Specialities will be doing with its Cradle-to-Cradle certified PediTred G4 product. (Cradle-to-Cradle certified products are among those eligible for the LEED pilot credit.) C/S and Perkins and Will hope the label idea catches on and invite others to use the template.

Like the information on a cereal box, Syrett said, "it's a resource. It's there when you need it."

Here are highlights of other efforts to increase transparency in buildings and building materials:

• InterfaceFLOR leads the vanguard of firms that are calling for greater transparency in products. The company has said it will obtain third-party validated environmental product declarations all products by 2012. InterfaceFLOR has partnered with UL Environment to deliver on the pledge and EPDs have already been compiled by 90 percent of the company's product portfolio, the company said at Greenbuild.

• Scientific Certification Systems, a certifier of environmental and sustainability claims, showcased what it described as "next-gen" offerings. The firm introduced its "Environmental Building Declaration," an interactive platform that helps building and operators track their properties' environmental and human health impacts at every stage, starting with the selection of building materials. It also is now offering comparative environmental product declarations.  And like other established certifiers, the firm will verify EPDs to LEED Pilot Credit 43.

• NSF International brought out several new standards covering sustainability assessments for single-ply roofing membranes, graywater and water reuse treatment systems and more.

The organization, which specializes in health safe and environmental standards and certification programs, also is developing a protocol with the U.S. General Services Administration to help agency fulfill the Executive Order that calls for the greening of government. The requirements for the GSA include purchasing more sustainable goods and services. The protocol is expected to help provide guidance to any user on how to define a sustainable services operation.

The NSF also is conducting a free webinar on November 1 and 8 on the fine points of environmental product declarations, lifecycle assessments and product category rules. Information about the webinar is available at www.nsfsustainability.org and GreenBiz.com.

Photo courtesy of Construction Specialities.