Sustainability has become an important market driver in the commercial building industry. Building owners and facility managers understand that the benefits of using sustainable products extend beyond cutting energy costs and supporting a healthy environment for building tenants.
While energy efficient products are important, they’re not the only component of sustainable building design. Sustainably sourced and designed products can support the health of building occupants, can contribute to green building certifications, and are socially responsible by helping to safeguard the environment for the future.
Transparency is the new sustainability. Accounting for the total environmental impact is vital when designing and manufacturing sustainable products. Manufacturers must take into account where all materials are sourced, how they’re handled, treated and transported prior to manufacturing and distribution, and whether they have any qualities that can impact human health. Declare Labels, Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and Health Product Declarations (HPDs) help building designers by creating a standardized methods to disclose all materials used and their environmental or health impact.
EPDs, HPDs and Declare Labels
Declare Labels and HPDs can be either third-party verified or self-declared by manufacturers, but EPDs are required to be issued by a third party. Third-party certifications demonstrate the validity of a manufacturer’s reporting and helps to maintain standardization across the entire industry.
A Declare Label is a complete list of all materials and ingredients used in the making of a product. Manufacturers must report every material down to 100 parts per million, and must break down components to their smallest possible form. Declare Labels inform end users which materials are used and whether or not red-list chemicals are present in a product. This information allows for intelligent product selection during the design of a building, especially the Living Building Challenge.
An EPD is a standardized way to communicate information about a product’s environmental impact throughout its entire lifecycle. The product’s footprint during extraction of raw material, transportation, manufacturing, packaging, use and end of life is included in the Life Cycle Assessment within the EPD, so architects and end users have all pertinent information before selecting a product.
HPDs like Declare labels provide a standardized way for manufacturers to report the material composition associated with the product material. Much like consumers use ingredient labels to make decisions about the food they purchase and consume, these labels help to list out ingredients for commercial and institutional products.
Green Building Certifications
Products with Declare Labels, EPDs and HPDs, can be used to earn points toward green building certification programs. LEEDÒ, WELLÔ, and the Living Building Challenge℠ are very attractive to end users, and can offer a competitive edge. For example, some universities have used earning a green building certification as marketing material to potential new students because it demonstrated the university’s commitments to the environment and their students’ personal health, elements that are growing in relevance to that generation and beyond.
Oftentimes, the type of certification that a building receives, and to which level, is driven by the end users. Whether a building is Net Zero CertifiedÔ, a Living Building Challenge project or LEED certified is often determined by the people who own or occupy the building because they’re the ones who could be exposed to any harmful chemicals. Once the end users identify the requirements, then integrators and architects can help them earn the right certification through the project bid and specification process.
Though many sustainable products are available at similar price points to the traditional alternatives in the market, there can be a price premium for sustainably sourced products. When designing traditional buildings, architects can use whichever building materials get the desired results while being cost effective. However, when designing a building for sustainable certifications, there are potentially fewer choices of which materials can be used.
As the sustainability market grows, so does the need to look at sustainability from a holistic viewpoint. It is no longer acceptable to only consider energy efficiency; designers must keep an eye on the environmental impact and health effects of the materials used in their buildings. With Declare Labels, EPDs and HPDs, manufacturers can offer transparent data about the impact of each certified product, and support facilities on their own path toward sustainability. These documents help with the research process for customers and also encourage manufacturers to utilize the data for product optimization – a win for all involved in the journey toward progressive built environments.