Thursday, August 1, 2013

Myths About Green Building and Product Standards

Transparency Tools for Green Buildings and Products
Transparency is practically mandatory for business--and green buildings and products are no exception. Major green building and product ratings often require transparent disclosure of resources and potential hazards. However, not all transparency tools and product declarations are the same. Heather Gadonniex, in her article "Clearing Up Transparency" in EDC Magazine, explains the differences and debunks several myths surrounding green products.

There are several transparency tools available, but Gadonniex focuses on the the most common ones:
  • Life Cycle Assessment - LCAs are used to measure a product or building's impact on the environment during its life cycle. This includes manufacturing, transportation, construction, and maintenance. They are based on guidelines created by the International Organization of Standards.
  • Environmental Product Declarations - EPDs are a standardized way of quantifying the environmental impact of a product or building. They also follow International Organization of Standards guidelines. 
  • Product Category Rules - PCRs define the requirements for EPDs of a certain product category. They follow International Organization of Standards guidelines. 
  • Declare - Declare is a label that lists in the ingredients and allows transparency between producers and consumers. It was created by the International Living Future Institute. 
  • Health Product Declarations - HPDs are used mostly in North America and are a standard type of disclosure for ingredients and associated hazards. 
Although these tools seem very simple at face-value, there are several myths and misconceptions surrounding them including:
  1. MYTH 1: All of the transparency tools follow the same standards.
    These tools do not follow the same guidelines and standards. LCAs, EPDs, and PCRs, for example, follow International Organization of Standards guidelines and are recognized globally. HPDs, on the other hand, were created by Health Product Declaration Collaborative and are recognized in North America.
  2. MYTH 2: All of the tools tell us the same information.
    EPDS serve to disclose information regarding the environmental impact of a product or building. This includes the carbon footprint, indoor air quality, and impact on the ozone layer, among others.
    HPDs and Declare are used mainly to provide information on building product content and ingredients. They can also disclose information regarding hazards. Declare requires manufacturers to provide a full ingredient list. HPDs can disclose a portion of the ingredients but must report all hazards associated with the product. 
  3. MYTH 3: These transparency tools disclose how green the product is.
    While these tools can certainly tell us how sustainable, environmentally-friendly, or hazardous a product or building is, that is not their main purpose. Companies use these measurements in R&D and strategy decisions to minimize cost, environmental impact, and risk. These measurements give them insight on how to change their production, development, and distribution. These measurements also give consumers important information, allowing them to make smart, informed decisions. These product declarations are not just green marketing tools, but give both producers and consumers transparency, leading them to make better decisions. 
Understanding the differences between these product declarations and transparency tools can clear up confusion and lead businesses to make better decisions to meet project requirements.