Building industry grapples with materials disclosure

Building industry grapples with materials disclosure

Tile image by Natali Glado via Shutterstock.

The Health Product Declaration (HPD), within a year of its introduction at Greenbuild 2012, has inspired a growing array of transparency options, rivals and imitators. One thing is for sure, we have entered a new age of market transparency, and it has changed the conversation about building materials for good.

The Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI) recently joined the dialogue with a publicity blitz touting a new Product Transparency Declaration (PTD) prototype. It is modeled after the HPD, but with less stringent ingredient disclosure thresholds and absent any hazard reporting not already required by law.

One flooring manufacturer who is not an RFCI member, Forbo, has publicly opposed the RFCI approach. Another company that is a member of the RFCI, Tarkett, is introducing a different disclosure prototype, the Environmental Health Standard, developed in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Encouragement Association (EPEA). It features only partial ingredient disclosure and replaces hazard disclosure with a traffic light indicator of EPEA's risk assessment. The common feature of the RFCI and Tarkett systems is a resistance to full disclosure in favor of communicating estimated -- by the manufacturer -- risks from installed products.

Meanwhile, industry support for the HPD's approach -- full disclosure and hazard reporting -- is growing rapidly. Assa Abloy's Aaron Smith sits on the board of directors of the Health Product Declaration Collaborative, and has recruited 40 other manufacturers (so far) to serve on the collaborative's manufacturer's advisory committee. Carpet companies Mohawk and J&J Industries publicly have committed to providing customers with HPDs in 2014. Interface sees "life cycle assessment, chemical hazard assessment and supply chain transparency as part of the new normal for manufacturers in every sector." Alpar Architectural, manufacturer of wall protection for use in healthcare, commercial and institutional buildings, was the first company to complete a fully disclosed HPD and fully disclose product ingredients in HBN's Pharos Project. Pharos and several other building product information services will be showcasing support for HPDs in their product listings this month at GreenBuild.

HBN has a dog in this hunt. Our Pharos Project pioneered analysis of product health hazards based upon full disclosure of product content information. In order to help the industry standardize the disclosures needed to do this analysis, HBN conceived of the HPD, and together with BuildingGreen, convened the HPD Working Group in July 2011. We believed then and believe now that the HPD is the industry standard for communicating building product contents and related chemical hazards information. Here's why:

• The HPD is a customer-led collaboration. The architects, designers, builders and building owners who created and administer the HPD are not likely to drop it in favor of fractured offerings from individual manufacturers or trade associations. Likewise, smart manufacturers will not walk from an open collaboration at the invitation of valued customers.

• The HPD is a standard format. The multiple disclosure formats that have cropped up in the flooring industry alone typify the very problem that customers are trying to solve with a standard reporting format -- too many inconsistent, confusing and self-serving information systems.

• The HPD is comprehensive and resilient (pun intended). Manufacturers are invited to communicate additional information such as the availability of their risk-estimates prominently on the format. The HPD Collaborative is establishing a revision process that will continuously improve the HPD to optimize its accuracy and value.

• The HPD is voluntary and universal. It can be used by any manufacturer on any product at any stage of the disclosure path to describe what they do and don't know, and what they can and can't disclose. It is the ultimate market-based approach to information.

Options? Rivals? Imitators? We are now having the right conversation about how to better understand the products we build with; how to make better, more informed decisions; and how to catalyze the resources of the building industry to promote the best environmental health outcomes and societal well being for all.

You can learn more about these issues at Greenbuild 2013, Nov. 20 to 22. This article originally appeared at the Healthy Building NetworkTile image by Natali Glado via Shutterstock.