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Green Guide to Green Build - Advancing Use of LCAs: Imagine the Possibilities

Creating a coalition to shape development of an LCA-based EcoLabel


Creating a coalition to shape development of an LCA-based EcoLabel

By Deborah Dunning 

Architects, engineers, and other building professionals realize they have a huge influence over whether or not our lives—and the lives of our children and grandchildren—are blessed by health and quality of life in the future. Their opportunity to contribute to a sustainable world is growing exponentially as clients and communities commit to reducing global warming, water depletion—and other environmental impacts—and sign on to meet the 2030 ºChallenge. 

Most of us in the building field recognize that products used to finish and furnish interiors are replaced five to 10 times during the average lifetime of a building—that is, 50 years. "This makes the selection of green products critically important," urges Ken Wilson of Envision Design, "as the environmental impacts of product specification and selection are far larger over time than the impacts of the building's core and shell."

All of us can be grateful to the U. S. Green Building Council for its bold leadership in creating the LEED Green Building Rating SystemTM and energetically working to improve the various LEED® products. This is a huge contribution to a sustainable world, complemented by Greenbuild, USGBC's gathering place where forward-thinking professionals learn, share and strategize about next generation resources.

"LEED has established a common language for building professionals to determine, to what extent they are reducing the environmental impacts of their structures," notes Richard Williams of HOK. "USGBC has excluded a key consideration: the evaluation of how products selected further reduce each building's footprint. When LEED encourages holistic product selection by offering credits for product selection based on information provided in verified or other third-party certified performance information, the missing piece will be in place, thankfully," adds Williams.

Given that a number of other organizations are more focused on product related tools—as compared with USGBC's focus on whole building design and materials selection—it makes sense for these other groups to step into the leadership position with this work, with all interested entities collaborating to see their respective tools work together synergistically. This will eliminate duplication of work and will expedite the process of developing an LCA-based EcoLabel that works with all whole building rating systems as well as with a range of product evaluation and certification tools.

This challenge is significant. There are at least 1,600 manufacturers of building products in the United States and a greater number of products used in building construction, fit-out and furnishing. The needs of each industry vary considerably in terms of the kinds of product criteria rules and datasets required to have a robust engine under the hood of an EcoLabel.

The marketplace is demanding product performance information that is credible, complete, and transparent—and it wants this information in user-friendly formats, offered in layers so each user can select the level needed for a particular client, project or timeline.

Architects, engineers, contractors, facility managers or purchasing agents all know their wise choice of building products today can reduce, and potentially eliminate, pollution while improving human health and productivity for future generations.

With all of us involved, exciting advances are possible. They will be best realized through the creation of a coalition of corporate, educational, governmental, non-governmental, and industry organizations committed to advancing green building and sustainable product use. 

We will need to begin with a paradigm shift—one characterized by collaboration and commitment to common rather than competitive goals. "We all need to get beyond turf considerations and go forward with a passionate commitment to collaboration. To meet the 2030 ºChallenge, NGOs, manufacturers and building designers will all have to be involved in developing and using LCA tools, which collectively support sustainability," urges Kim Nadel of NICHE Design Group.

Imagine a "green retreat center" where professionals from multiple stakeholder groups could gather to transform how building products are designed, made, evaluated, selected, used and reused.

Such a gathering might produce and integrate life-cycle resources and make them available at moderate cost. It could organize into subgroups made up of experts to tackle specific areas. And, most importantly, it would identify duplicative work efforts and untapped work areas, arriving at an understanding of where each group is to focus.

Next, members of the coalition would create an inventory of needs which might be met with an LCA-based EcoLabel. A key goal will be to avoid costly overlap of work and to ensure involvement of all stakeholder groups in shaping this resource.

Considering the strong leadership exhibited by the American Institute of Architects on meeting the 2030 Initiative, it might be encouraged to create an LCA-based EcoLabel Advisory Panel. Its contribution would be to articulate the unmet needs of the 60,000-plus members of their organization for green product evolution and selection and to provide feedback on formats and functionalities being considered.

We envision similar advisory panels of each of the following: the American Society of Interior Designers; Building Management & Owners Association; International Interior Design Association; International Facility Managers Association; Professional Engineers; Urban Land Institute; and other stakeholder groups. 

In addition to defining their general needs for life-cycle product information, the advisory panel of each of the relevant groups would provide feedback on whether the beta version of the EcoLabel meets their needs, and what improvements are desired.

Industry groups like the Business & Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA), the Carpet & Rug Institute (CRI), and other trade organizations would have a key role in educating their members about LCA methodology and the relationship between product LCAs, sustainable product standards and an LCA-based EcoLabel.  

Most importantly, the industry groups would encourage manufacturers to develop ISO-compliant product LCAs for use with product standards and with a life-cycle based EcoLabel. To be true leaders, the trade organizations must expect their members to use product LCAs that have been validated by a reliable third party, preferably a not-for-profit organization. 

Federal, state and municipal government agencies could be encouraged to contribute by testing beta versions of LCA-based tools-providing helpful information on their usefulness to government procurement agencies and processes.

Representatives of some of the states with legal mandates for "green purchasing" of building products could form advisory panels to critique the LCA-based EcoLabel for its usefulness in meeting their green purchasing directives.

A more formalized process would be time efficient for them as well as for the tool developers, and would likely result in broader use of LCA-based resources. Diverse groups of procurement professionals—the folks who purchase products and create documents differentiating sustainable products from ones that create harm—could contribute in many ways. 

The National Association of Educational Procurement (NAEP); the National Association of State Procurement Officials (NASPO); the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing (NIPG); and others could articulate the needs of their members to leaders of the coalition. They could review the EcoLabel during the development process for applicability to their needs.

What roles might the various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) assume to make a significant contribution? The USGBC might create a special advisory panel to seek out proactive LCA-based tools that could result in LEED credits as, reportedly, it is doing now with increasing vigor.

NGOs could form a steering committee to plan and discuss next generation resources that specific entities would commit to develop. The coalition might possibly apply for large collective grants to bring funding to member groups to support their development of different yet related resources to support green purchasing. The Green is offering to organize this initiative and provide administrative support.

We're all responsible, we're all needed, and we all have a contribution to make to solve this challenge. The time is now. If each and every one of us is going to contribute significantly to meeting the 2030 ºChallenge, we must have access to a life-cycle based EcoLabel, created by a broad group of stakeholders, and shaped to complement product LCAs, sustainable product standards, and environmental product declarations.

We invite you to join us in being part of a coalition to shape an LCA-based EcoLabel, one with the capability of transforming the ways products are evaluated. We will all be creating hope for coming generations
and creating comfort for ourselves that we've made a significant contribution to a sustainable planet.

 Deborah Dunning, President
The Green  (formerly IDCE)