Specifying Sustainable Products

Specifying Sustainable Products

Specifying Sustainable Products

By Dianne Dunnell.

Does the product you use and specify provide positive eco-effectiveness?

In a recent webinar, the speaker talked about the Cradle to Cradle (C2C) Product Certification Version 3 process and how these products can satisfy certain Materials and Resources credits within the new LEED V4. We are continuing to see clients take an interest in designing sustainable buildings and interiors and for years I have heard about C2C products. The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute is a non-profit organization administering a systematic approach to the continuous improvement in the creation of products for a positive effect on society. For a product to be C2C-certified, it must go through a rigorous rating system based on 5 categories: material health, material reutilization, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness.

In 2002, I read a book entitled Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. Around the same time, I was invited to an Atlas Carpet discussion with their designers in Florida, who asked what should be considered when developing their new products. While they were more interested in our thoughts on product design, pattern and color, I inquired about the opportunities for their products to become C2C-certified. Their response, which was common at the time, was that the industry had not caught up to this new process of making and tracking products which, at the time, was not cost effective.

Fast forward to today  the book has become the quality standard for C2C Product Certification, which  has now become one of the 3rd party programs used to determine if products will quality for LEED v4 MR credits and has become a tool to help designers select better products. More and more manufacturers are seeing the benefit for creating C2C products.

But what are Cradle to Cradle products? Generally it is a product, whether a consumer or construction product, that has been audited and certified to be sustainable. The approved products are safe and healthy products. They are products that are designed to offer a positive restorative impact on the environment. They also provide positive eco-effectiveness, such as zero VOC’s & net zero waste. Plus, they are manufactured in a way to reduce energy and water. When a manufacturer submits their product for C2C certification the product is reviewed under 5 main categories:

  1. MATERIAL HEALTH. A bill of materials is created. This includes listing every ingredient that makes up the product (for example: listing the inks for the labels, glues, any plastic, etc.). This list is reviewed by an assessor and each ingredient is evaluated. One company that has undergone this process is Construction Specialties. They are a commercial supplier of wall covering, wall protection, and are a primary resource for products in the Healthcare and Education markets. One thing they have done is to eliminate PVC in their products and now offer PVC free solutions that meet C2C standards.
  2. MATERIAL REUTILIZATION. Does the product meet the goal of 100% recovery and upcycling? What is the % of recyclable or compostable + % recycled or rapid renewable content? Shaw Carpet, the largest carpet company in the world, was the first to remove PVC from their product line. They now use Nylon 6 which can be upcycled into a product of higher quality. Shaw collects 90 million pounds of carpet annually to recycle. Their Ecoworks carpet line includes recycling at the end of its useful life at no charge to the customer. They see this as a valuable raw material.   More and more companies are reaping the benefits from recovery of their products as well. Shaw has indicated 60% of their sales come from their C2C products.
  3. RENEWABLE ENERGY. Electricity is one of the largest environmental impacts caused by a company. The goal is to reduce the carbon footprint by  using 100% renewable power. Herman Miller is one example of a company that uses 100% 100% green power, primarily using wind and biomass. Steelcase has a similar commitment.
  4. WATER STEWARDSHIP. The objective is to have the water coming out of the plant be cleaner than water coming in. Designtex designs with safe dyes and now sees a positive impact on water quality. The water coming out of their factory is cleaner than water coming in from the town.
  5. SOCIAL FAIRNESS. The goal is to become a partner to all stakeholders. For example, Bark House in North Carolina locally sources and offers reclaimed bark. They train existing loggers how to use old tools to remove bark and make most of the harvest.

Once reviewed, if the product meets the specific qualifications it is awarded one of the five certification levels: Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold & Platinum. Products are then issued scorecards, viewable on the C2C website, allowing designers to view how that product performed on all five attributes. In addition to C2C certification, some companies pursue a 3rd party audit. Unlike labels for one time certification, the C2C process requires companies and their products be reviewed every two years.

It is exciting to see more construction products become C2C certified. With landfills closing, the rise of demolition and raw material costs require the industry to reevaluate the way products are created and selected. LEED v4 encourages owners to do just that! C2C products can contribute to the following LEED v4 MR credits: building life cycle impact reduction, building product disclosure, and construction and demolition waste management credits. To view what C2C products are available that meet the LEED requirements visit www.C2Ccertified.org.  But note: the kick off meeting to discuss the creation of the Cradle to Cradle (C2C) Product Certification Version 4 happened the 1st quarter of 2014. So, expect C2C V4 to be released towards the end of 2015. Happy specifying!!