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All we want are the facts

Posted by Guest Blog - Eden Brukman at Nov 28, 2012 01:45 PM |

A guest blog posts explores the importance of transparency in the building materials marketplace.

Eden BrukmanConsumers in the building industry shouldn’t have to be detectives to access information about the products we use. The next version of the LEED® green building certification program promises to ease our investigative process. It includes a new voluntary credit, Building product disclosure and optimization – material ingredients, to reward transparency in the marketplace and help reduce our dependency on harmful substances. 

It’s a two-part process. Project teams first earn one point towards certification when they specify at least 20 products with disclosed ingredients. An additional point is granted when 25% of the products used also do not contain worst-in-class chemicals. Both representatives of U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) member and non-member organizations are encouraged to participate in the public comment period for LEED v4, open through December 10, 2012.

According to its guiding principles, the USGBC strives for “honesty, openness, and transparency”, and the Building product disclosure and optimization credit in LEED v4 is a direct embodiment of this goal. USGBC deserves our support, especially since the release of early drafts of the new credit has attracted unwarranted criticism, most notably from the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

Cal Dooley, President and CEO of the ACC, has spoken openly against LEED and the USGBC, groundlessly declaring that they negatively impact economic recovery and shouldn’t be worthy of government endorsement despite their charted positive influence on the building industry. Throughout the year, the ACC has been lobbying for the federal government to reject the use of LEED as a benchmark standard for gauging success in the “green building” realm, and has enlisted other trade associations to join them in this pursuit. In July, the ACC even went so far as to counteract LEED and the USGBC by initiating the creation of the American High-Performance Buildings Coalition (AHPBC).

Ironically, the ACC claims that LEED is an unfit vessel for creating healthy environments because it lacks “a fair and transparent process, based in science and driven by data, so that all building materials and products can compete on an even playing field”. The new Coalition uses the same rhetoric to justify its existence: “The AHPBC supports certification systems based on sound data, scientific methodology and developed using a consensus process. The coalition will advocate that position with GSA, other federal agencies and in other venues where green building certifications are under consideration.”

By all appearances, the ACC and AHPBC’s definitions of “science” and “sound data” are anything but a reflection of industry “consensus”; LEED’s Building product disclosure and optimization credit is a platform for tools like the Health Product DeclarationTM, Cradle to CradleCM Certification, DeclareTM, and the Pharos ProjectTM that a growing group of manufacturers not only use but champion to share technical characteristics of their products.

In this way, the ACC and AHPBC do not seem to favor an opportunity to be accessible or amenable to the consumers of the wide range of products they represent. Instead, the ACC—together with its partners disparaging LEED and the USGBC—is confusing their desire to control information with the greater need for responsible industry. Their actions distract from progress underway and compromise the potential for product users and manufacturers to make considered decisions and participate in effective collaboration.

Until communication channels are open, we will continue to piece together product data the way a detective plods through investigative discovery, all the time wondering about the motives and reliability of the sources. With the incentive from the USGBC and the guidance in the Building product disclosure and optimization credit, we will have the chance to improve the baseline for sustainability by working alongside manufactures to improve the wellbeing of our industry and our environment. We will get the facts.

Eden Brukman is the principal of Concenter Solutions, co-author of Living Building Challenge, and a policy advisor to the Healthy Building Network.

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