Transparency in Building Products is Here to Stay

Building product manufacturers, take note. As the demand for delivering healthier buildings grows, there is a greater need for transparency in building products and materials. We spend about 90% of our time inside and building owners are looking for ways to make buildings healthier for occupants. Architects and specifiers need to be able to identify building products that are healthy, sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Based on the sheer number of available and ever-growing transparency tools, building product declarations and certifications available, it’s clear that building product transparency is here to stay which is a good thing for all parties involved in the construction industry. Architects can make informed decisions when specifying products and materials, manufacturers will be able to better market their products and owners and occupants will know how healthy and environmentally friendly their buildings are. It will also push manufacturers to innovate and develop healthier products.

The two most well-known and widely used building product declarations are environmental product declarations (EPDs) and health product declarations (HPDs). An HPD is an open standard format developed by the Health Product Declaration Collaboration (HPDC) for transparent disclosure. HPDs focus on disclosing a building product’s list of ingredients and their health effects. HPDs are not certified by the HPDC, however, they are working on creating a certification process for third party providers.

HPDs are emerging as the de facto standard for the construction industry in the United States due in large part to a letter writing campaign from major AEC firms requesting manufacturers to create HPDs in order for their products to be considered when selecting and specifying building materials.

Environmental product declarations focus on the environmental impacts of a building product throughout its lifecycle. EPDs provide a building product’s environmental data based on its lifecycle assessment. The standards for creating an EPD were developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and manufacturers must adhere to specific Product Category Rules (PCRs) based on what category their product belongs to. An LCA focuses on a building product’s environmental impact beginning with the extraction of raw materials to processing and manufacturing to distribution and use to maintenance and repair and finally ending with disposal and recycling.

The Cradle to Cradle Certified Products Standard (C2C) is a certification tool used to rate the green profile of manufactured products covering everything from building materials to clothing to office supplies. The C2C verification focuses on a product’s toxicology, recyclability and manufacturing processes. To get certified, a product must satisfy material health, material reutilization, renewable energy, water stewardship and social fairness benchmarks.

Another building product declaration is the product transparency declaration (PTD) which was developed by the Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI), a non-profit trade association. PTDs are focused on an exposure-based analysis of material ingredients to both installers and building occupants and whether or not warning labels are required based on human exposure for the final product.

Building rating systems are also acknowledging the importance of building product transparency. The latest version of Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, LEED v4, has credit points available for building product disclosure and optimization. One of the requirements for the Living Building Challenge, which is administered by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), is that projects cannot contain any of their Red List materials or chemicals with some exceptions based on limitations of availability. In order to help identify Red List Free and Red List Compliant products, the ILFI has established their own building products transparency label program called Declare.

Google has gotten into the game recently by partnering with the Healthy Buildings Network to release Portico, an online tool and database to aid in selecting and specifying healthy building products and materials. Portico grew out of the Healthy Building Networks’ Pharos Project, an online database for identifying health hazards associated with building products.

Portico’s database of products allows architects to search to see which products have HPDs or have gone through a certification process like Cradle to Cradle. They can also use the system to identify healthy products when trying to achieve certification through LEED, the Living Building Challenge or the WELL Building Standard. Portico also allows architects to request additional information from building product manufacturers and they can respond directly through the platform. Manufacturers can also upload information on their products and share it with all Portico users.

Regardless of how it all plays out building product transparency is quickly transforming from a movement to a requirement in the construction industry where creating building product declarations will soon become standard operating procedures for all building material manufacturers and suppliers.

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