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By: Kendall Jones on January 29th, 2021

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5 Tips to Get Sustainable Building Materials Specified

Manufacturing | Green & Sustainable

As a building product manufacturer, are you currently producing sustainable building products and materials? Over the past couple of decades, green and sustainable construction has slowly gone mainstream. AEC firms like Turner Construction Company, McCarthy, Clark Construction Group, and Holder Construction are just a handful of contractors committed to being more sustainable.

Market and client demand have been two of the major forces driving green construction. Big name corporations like Amazon, Alphabet (Google), Target, Starbucks, IBM, Adobe, and Disney all have made strong commitments to sustainability, reducing energy and water usage, and to reducing their carbon footprint.

State and local governments have begun adopting regulations, requirements, and initiatives focused on green and sustainable buildings. Not to mention the United States’ eventual reentry into the Paris climate agreement.

This increased focus on sustainability is benefiting BPMs that are focusing their research and development on sustainable materials due to the high-growth demand created by increasing interest for sustainable buildings. The good news is that 79% of architects (97% among Millennials) want to specify more sustainable buildings products in their projects, according to the Sustainability in the Architect’s Journey to Specification report from the American Institute of Architects.

Despite the high interest by architects to specify for sustainable building materials in their projects, barriers such as costs, lack of contractor and/or client buy-in that will require a concerted effort by both architects and BPMs to help educate and convince contractors and clients that sustainability is the way to go.

The other barriers faced by architects comes down to information, knowing what makes a product sustainable, not enough time to research sustainable alternatives, and the lack of information or inability to locate information on available sustainable products. These barriers fall directly on the BPMs to correct if they want to get their sustainable products specified.

Here are five tips on what BPMs can do to raise awareness and better market their sustainable products and how they can work with architects and designers to increase the specification rates for their greener offerings.

Third-Party Product Certifications

According to the report, 62% of architects rely on third-party or independent product certifications to determine whether a building product is sustainable or not. This type of outside testing for product certifications is the most important factor for specifying a sustainable building product with 72% stating it was very or extremely important.

While LEED is the most well-known certification program among architects, it applies to buildings, not specific products. That being said, the US Green Building Council does have a searchable LEED Credit library that manufacturers can search to see how their products can help buildings achieve LEED certification for things like material ingredient, sourcing of raw materials, and Environmental Product Declarations. Some of the other most-recognized building certification programs by architects include the WELL Building Standard, Living Building Challenge, Green Globes, and Living Building Challenge.

Third-party certifications for sustainable products most recognized by architects include Energy Star, Cradle to Cradle, Declare, and UL Greenguard. If you manufacture sustainable building materials, its important that you have your products and tested by one, or more, of these independent certification programs. There are dozens of certification, ratings, and standards programs out there, so take the time to research which ones are best for your products as well as which programs architects and specifiers trust the most in certifying products as sustainable.

Product Disclosure Documents

Product disclosure documents are the second most important criteria architects turn to when determining if a building product is sustainable. Nearly 60% of architects refer to product disclosure documents when determining a building product’s sustainability credentials.

The two most well-known and widely used building product declarations are environmental product declarations and health product declarations. 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.

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 Life Cycle Assessment. The standards for creating an EPD were developed by the International Organization for Standardization and manufacturers must adhere to specific Product Category Rules based on the product. The 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.

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 warning labels are required based on human exposure for the final product.

Optimize Your Website

The top two sources architects and specifiers are turning to when looking for sustainability information on your products is on your website (82%) and internet searches on the web (79%). These are also two of the top sources architects turn to when seeking general information on building products which is why is it’s so important that you’re optimizing your website for search engine optimization as well providing all information on your products and making your website easy to navigate and search.

Have a separate page on your website for each product you offer. These pages should include downloadable specifications, high-quality images or video of the product, product descriptions, downloadable digital models for all products, sustainable or otherwise, such as CAD and BIM and CSI formatted specifications.

Other must-haves on your product pages for your sustainable offerings include information on meeting requirements for certification programs like LEED or the Living Building Challenge, building product declarations and independent certification programs including EPDs, HPDs, Cradle to Cradle, and Energy Star.

The biggest issue architects have with website and online research is not finding the right level of detail so the more information you can provide, the better when it comes to promoting and getting your sustainable building products specified. It might be worthwhile to also list projects where your products were used on that achieved any of the sustainable building certifications.

Provide Continuing Education

Architects rank continuing education as the most useful when it comes to getting information on sustainable building products (71%), and one of the top three sources used. Architects are required to obtain a certain number of continuing education units to maintain their licenses or fulfill their American Institute of Architects (AIA) membership requirements.

Webinars, lunch and learns, and other continuing education offerings are a great way to get in front of architects and build brand awareness. These presentations should help educate architects about your product category, with an emphasis on sustainability and environmental impact, to expand their knowledge base. They should not be glorified commercials about just your specific product offerings.

Again, the goal is to establish your company as an expert and be a go-to resource of information for the sustainability aspects of materials in your product category, not just your products. This keeps you top of mind when decision makers are choosing who gets specified on a project. Make sure your continuing education offerings have been registered and approved by the AIA through their Continuing Education System (CES).

Have Knowledgeable Reps

Manufacturer reps tied with CE (63%) as the source architects turn to when specifically looking for information on the sustainability of a product or building material.

In addition to providing advice about sustainable products and whole product categories, manufacturer reps need to establish themselves as trusted advisors to gain more influence over what products architects specify, especially when it comes to sustainable building materials.

Your reps don’t have to know every technical detail about every product, but they should be knowledgeable enough to speak confidently about the sustainability credentials of your product offerings when meeting with architects and be able to provide all relevant documentation on product sustainability.

Final Thoughts on Getting Sustainable Building Products Specified

When it comes to promoting sustainability, 82% of architects feel that BPMs should bear a lot of or all the responsibility followed by the individual architect, their firm, and then the AIA. There’s definitely room for improvement because only 30% of architects feel like BPMs are meeting or exceeding that responsibility.

Architects say that only 46% of clients are increasingly concerned about sustainability and just 32% are committed to sustainability. One of the biggest barriers to specifying sustainable products is cost, so helping architects show clients long-term ROI on the additional costs for sustainable products would go a long way in increasing specification rates for sustainable products.

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About Kendall Jones

Kendall Jones is the Editor in Chief at ConstructConnect. He has been writing about the construction industry for years, covering a wide range of topics from safety and technology to industry news and operating insights.