For some manufacturers, the commitment to environmental stewardship came from company employees. In the mid-1980s, associates at flooring manufacturer Mannington’s southern New Jersey facility—located in the midst of the Salem County wetlands—implemented a birdhouse program as an alternative to chemical pest control. Ten years later to the north, a grassroots movement to ban a hazardous waste incinerator near Construction Specialties in Pennsylvania spawned a greater effort for social justice, according to the company’s marketing and product development manager, Curt Fessler. “After working with local activists, we realized that the incinerator would just go to someone else’s backyard, which begged the question, ‘Why do we have these hazardous materials in the first place?’”
For many, transparency efforts hit the proverbial wall when a vendor’s chemical and material suppliers are unwilling to disclose their “secret sauce.” “It’s really hard to get down your supply chain and have people identify things,” Fessler told AN. Assessment programs like Cradle to Cradle Product Certification have been useful in breaking down that barrier, as developers and property owners push for buildings that generate tax refunds and lower operating costs. Similarly, the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association’s (BIFMA) level certification, which uses third party assessments to consider a company’s social actions, energy usage, useful lifecycle, and human and ecosystem impacts, is also affected by the chemicals used in production.
For HNI Corp.’s group of companies (HBF, Hon, Allsteel, Gunlocke), level compliance, in conjunction with a host of internal sustainability initiatives, has “kept us ahead of the curve,” said Roy Green, director of stewardship and sustainability for HBF and Gunlocke brands. FSC-certified timber and careful watch for CARB and Prop 65 developments are also on Green’s list of moving targets. This forward motion has also led to a pilot project for Health Product Declarations, an open standard that accommodates variations in accessibility to product content and health information.
In fact, the trend toward material health has burgeoned since the C2C Products Innovation Institute published its precautionary list of chemicals. “Surprisingly, many manufacturers—due to complicated supply chain issues—are not fully aware of all of the chemicals in their products,” wrote Stacy Glass, executive in residence for the built environment at the C2C Products Innovation Institute, in a statement. The design community reinforced this trend with its embrace of Perkins + Will’s transparency list in 2010.
The USGBC is rewarding architects for following the healthy building products trend with the latest standards revision. As with previous versions of LEED, the revised New Construction in Materials & Resources Credit 4—Building Disclosure and Optimization, Material Ingredients—provides graduated levels of compliance. For example, Option 1 rewards projects that use products with chemical ingredients inventoried by an accepted methodology, whereas Option 2 rewards project teams for selecting products that minimize the use and generation of harmful substances. However, across both, C2C certified products will contribute up to 2 LEED credits.
Additionally, vendors that provide an Environmental Product Declaration/Health Product Declaration, will automatically comply with program requirements for points, having already unearthed product ingredients. “From a materials standpoint, it is a positive step forward since there is greater emphasis and potential reward for understanding a material’s full composition,” said Cliff Goldman, president of Carnegie Fabrics. “New credits for building product disclosure and optimization are more serious evaluations of a product’s environmental soundness than previous versions of LEED."