OTTAWA—As most building professionals in Canada now know, demand for green products and materials (particularly those that have been certified or approved through third party verification) is growing—and there appears to be no end in sight.
Where manufacturers can stand to benefit, is by adapting to the trend now and getting ahead of the curve.
The shift toward greener buildings is being driven in part by rating system programs like Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) and its most recent version called LEED v4, which is putting greater emphasis on reducing the environmental and health impacts of materials. This is where third-party verification comes in, as it is a natural requirement for such programs. The building construction industry is also taking notice and turning to safer, more sustainable options.
In fact, before LEED v4 was even released in late 2013, the industry was already recognizing the potential. In a 2014 Canada Green Building Council’s (CaGBC) and McGraw Hill Construction joint report, for instance, researchers found 29 per cent of contractors considered the lack of products or solutions available in their market to be one of their top three obstacles to building green. The same survey found that Canadian firms were expecting to grow their green practices by 50 per cent by 2017. This paints a pretty clear picture of why manufacturers and product specifiers would be wise to pay attention now.
Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs)
Of the tools LEED v4 raises for consideration, EPDs are perhaps gaining the most attention. This might be because EPDs have been in use for some time in other parts of the world, or because they provide a comprehensive overview of the environmental impacts of products. In any case, EPDs are considered the ‘gold standard’ in transparency. They are created according to an agreed-upon set of international standards and are third-party verified—ensuring results are legitimate, and making comparisons between products more feasible (though not necessarily easy—EPDs are also maturing).
The current EPD process usually involves industry trade groups that help develop a Product Category Rule (PCR) that provides instructions on how to conduct the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) in order to produce EPDs that are consistent across a product category. However, to date, only a few industries have developed the requisite PCRs or published reliable life cycle data. While this could be seen as a challenge, the CaGBC, for one, sees it as a big opportunity.
The time to act is now. However, as more and more manufacturers seek this differentiation, the window of opportunity to demonstrate leadership is already closing.
Health Product Declarations (HPDs)
Some manufacturers are choosing to start down their path towards greater transparency and performance by better understanding the chemicals within their products and the hazards associated with them. HPDs provide a format for reporting these in a standardized manner, although manufacturers can also choose to create their own documentation.
While generally a simpler undertaking than an EPD, for manufacturers of products with numerous components sourced from many suppliers, the effort can still be significant. As with an EPD, the more you already know about your products, the easier it is.
Many architects and designers appreciate the importance of better understanding the potential health impacts of the products they specify and are actively pushing manufacturers forward.
Early adoption provides many benefits to both manufactures and project teams
Canadian manufacturers have a big role to play in the evolution of green building, and stand to gain a great deal by being at the forefront of the trend towards greater transparency and safer, more sustainable materials. By acting quickly to consider how their products can meet or be adapted to meet LEED v4 rating system requirements, they’ll be offering the industry something it needs and providing it ahead of the competition.
Owners, designers, architects and builders also stand to gain a great deal through early adoption. By more fully understanding the environmental and health impacts of the products and materials being used, they’ll be able to create the best possible spaces for occupants and benefit from being recognized as industry leaders.
The path ahead
The entire industry has a role to play in ensuring that the greenest products and materials are created and used going forward. However, there is a great deal of education and support required to make this happen.
At CaGBC we have expanded our education offerings to include easily accessible and affordable one-hour webinars, as well as other education, that covers a variety of topics related to materials. There are also yearly Materials Summits, held in conjunction with our annual Building Lasting Change national conference, which offer the industry an intensive, one-day series of mini-workshops about materials and how they can contribute to healthier, more sustainable buildings.
CaGBC is committed to being a source of ongoing updates about LEED v4 and its product/material requirements. We are also working with organizations like CSA Group to provide discounts and education to our members.
It is an exciting time to be in the construction industry, and together we will ensure that we can continue to lead the world’s green building movement—providing products and knowledge that meet heightened requirements for transparency and performance.
Mark Hutchinson is vice-president of Green Building Programs at Canada Green Building Council.