Transparency today

October 03, 2016

Fall 2016

By Liz Switzer

Transparency is taking the flooring industry in innovative directions and in the process changing the way business is done. The secretive silos of proprietary information that dominated the manufacturing landscape a decade ago are giving way to practices of inclusivity and integration, built on the foundation of collective awareness around environmental and health impacts.

In the building community, transparency is no longer just a buzzword; it is an evidence-based and successful business practice for products, services and entire building projects that seek to reach new users.

The Park from Shaw is designed to redefine boundaries.

The Park from Shaw is designed to redefine boundaries.

“We’ve changed the ways we manufacture. We have changed the ways we build. And we’ve changed the way we operate,” said John Stephens, vice president of marketing at Shaw Contract. “Today, design professionals and manufacturers are taking ownership of potential impacts by staying informed and creating products or making decisions to benefit the day-to-day users of a space.”

“By demonstrating a willingness to be open and honest about products and practices, green building experts and practitioners gain the trust of investors, tenants, policy makers and others who enter the spaces they design, construct and operate,” said Leticia McCadden, spokesperson for the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). “There is no substitute for trust in the marketplace, and the triple bottom line demands that companies and individuals continue to grow in their capacity to be transparent — from the conception and design phase of a building to the eventual deconstruction and repurposing of its composite materials.”



The materials transparency momentum took its biggest leap forward in 2013 with the development and adoption of LEED v4, the Materials and Resources (MR) Credits 1 and 3. LEED v4 provided added incentives for manufacturers to become early adopters, encouraging more products to be reviewed according to Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) and the Health Product Declarations (HPD) protocols. The declaration labels have served a dual purpose. First, helping manufacturers better understand their supply chains and make better decisions around sustainability; second, communicating that information to architects and designers. Together, the credits have raised the bar substantially and pushed the $1 trillion green building industry forward in a way that no previous iteration of LEED ever has.

As a result, transparency is finding its way into corporate sustainability selection criteria by large corporations like Google. New green building codes like IgCC/ASHRAE 189.1 are also drivers as they are adopted jurisdictionally and require much more information than the sourcing of raw materials and percent- ages of recycled content, noted Cindy Davis, director of the LEED Certification Program and Research & Information Center at global architecture, urban planning and design firm Callison RTKL.

“With most of us spending more than 90% of our time indoors, we are increasing the duration of our exposure to chemicals in products that are part of the building’s shell, interior and furnishings,” said Vickie Breemes, director of the Advanced Building Technologies Team at international architecture and design firm Little Diversified Architectural Consulting. “Having material ingredients disclosed allows designers to make better, informed decisions that impact human health and the environment.”

James Connelly, director of the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) Living Product Challenge, pointed to the fact that we’re already seeing the growth of the transparency platform, and it will only continue. “I think it will be very easy for consumers and designers to equally select the right materials and that’s what we really wanted all along,” he said. “Transparency was the key that allowed all of this to occur and is in part driving why we are going to have healthier buildings in the future.” The ILFI runs the Living Building Challenge, Declare and the Living Product Challenge — which challenges designers and manufacturers to create net positive products.

The Omega Center for Sustainability, Rhinebeck, New York.

The Omega Center for Sustainability, Rhinebeck, New York.

But material transparency is not yet commonplace, though it is now possible to find one or more products in almost every material category that have been evaluated — and this number is constantly increasing, said Sarah Hirsch, associate principal at BNIM, a Kansas City-based architecture firm recognized as an innovative leader in designing high-performance environments. Hirsch leads specifications development at BNIM, which in 2007 designed and built the Omega Center for Sustainable in Rhinebeck, New York, the first project in the world to achieve both Living Building status and LEED Platinum.

Organizations like the ILFI, Cradle to Cradle Innovation Institute, Health Product Declaration Collaborative, Google, Green Screen and Pharos Project have created additional resources, pushing transparency forward by evaluating product ingredients for their impact on both human and environmental health. However, transparency has meant many different things to many different people. As manufacturers turned their attention to product ingredients, the biggest challenge became finding a common language for this important conversation. So they began to embrace product labeling programs from reliable third-party organizations like the ILFI, albeit slowly.

“These programs have established a common framework and language that Mohawk and other building product manufacturers can use to communicate product ingredients and health information, which ensures accurate and consistent reporting,” said Greg Bandy, the new vice president of sustainability at Mohawk Group, recipient of the ILFI’s first ever Manufacturing Visionary award for its commitment to leadership in sustainability.

Mohawk was the first company to have Declare labels across all of its product lines. Declare was developed by the ILFI in 2012 as an ingredients initiative and labeling system for building products. Declare labels effectively function as a materials nutrition label that uses the Red List to classify products. Mohawk currently has 22 Declare labels that cover the majority of its commercial offerings — more than 500 products — the most of any company.

Mohawk Group's True rubber products boast a Declare label.

Mohawk Group’s True rubber products boast a Declare label.

“To have a Fortune 50 company that is conservative in nature be willing to be honest and transparent about its ingredients had a huge ripple effect on the industry,” ILFI’s Connelly said. “Now all of the major flooring companies are participating. Hopefully the smaller ones will come along soon.”

Interface has been another catalyst for transformation. In June, the company rolled out its bold new Climate Take Back initiative to “reverse climate change and set new standards for manufacturers to deal responsibly with carbon.” The program is the successor to Interface’s groundbreaking 1997 Mission Zero vision. Climate Take Back intends to take in waste and convert it into useful purposes, create supply chains that benefit all life and “make factories that are like forests.”

Part of being transparent for Interface is acceptance of the idea that it requires boldness, to be willing to be open about business and processes even when that causes discomfort, said Erin Meezan, vice president of sustainability. “When we set out to prove that a zero footprint company was possible, most people didn’t think that was doable at the time. Now that we have taken the leap again on our new mission Climate Take Back, aspiring to reverse cli- mate change, we have some more convincing to do. And, once again, it starts with transparency.”

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