For the past several years’ manufacturers, marketers, and various organizations have been using eco-labels to promote their offerings. While eco-labels are intended to present some level of proof of the environmental claims the business wishes to convey, there are over 400 different types of labels, seals, and certificates in the global marketplace today, creating a great deal of confusion in the sustainability product manufacturing domain. This especially affects the green building industry, architects, designers, building component manufacturers, and others in the construction space.
Eco-labels have an appeal to increasing consumer segments and many agree that a seal or certificate indicating a product is environmentally friendly may increase the likelihood of purchasing. In a recent Greenbiz.com webinar, Joel Makower, executive editor of Greener World Media, engaged architects and designers in a discussion on eco-labels and how can manufacturers and the construction industry use them.
To acquire seals and labels manufacturers need to go through a certification process that validates environmental sustainable claims. At the forefront, the main question at stake is the value that such an eco-label may bring to the customer. When looking at customers’ motivation for ‘green’ products and what may influence purchasing decisions, people are looking for safer and healthier products and services that do not harm their environment. Stating clearly the value advantage of using an eco-product and the impact it may have on the customer are key.
How can an architect or designer evaluate the ‘greenness’ of materials and products? What differentiates some labels and certificates from others?
The building design professionals shared insights on how they address the green noise in the marketplace, when facing more than 400 eco-labels. The manufacturers who deliver transparency of the product environmental impact, as well as the company ‘green’ values and practices, make it easier to evaluate the environmental soundness of their business in the green space. By articulating competition and educating the public, manufacturers can make it more palpable for people to be able to make choices.
On the other hand, consumers need to dig deeper to find what is truly a green product or an eco conscious business. Furthermore, if the product or the brand has a green label, then the consumer today needs to research and understand them – an unrealistic task.
So what a designer or an architect to do, when selecting building products and materials for their customers?
Today building designers in the industry carry the search and verification process burden. Educating the marketplace of the certification and claim validation is important. Many architects and designers find that they carry the load to search, educate their customers and validate the materials and products they select. The panelists emphasized that the focus of professionals should be on the project goals, not just the ‘greenness’ of materials or building products. Instead of focusing on the carbon footprint specifications, professionals are advised to look for products that meet the requirements of the project. For example, instead of approaching products with the notion of having a certain level of post consumer recycled material, designers shouldn’t get sidetracked. However, designers and architects would greatly benefit from a consolidated repository database of products, materials and their certifications. Then, to be accountable to customers who demand sustainable design, building designers still need to verify the claims.
Education and transparency are tri-fold:
- Educate manufacturers on the labeling and certificates, so they know what to use;
- Educate designers and architects and professionals involved in green sustainable buildings of what is available, the content, the claims, etc.;
- Educate the public.
Read more about Sustainable building design and greenwashing.
How can a manufacturer acquire certification?
Some corporations have the personnel and capacity to perform the process toward certification in-house. But, Sometimes, third party accreditation and support is needed. Companies should become familiar with Lifecycle Assessment (LCA), Environmental Product Declaration (EPD), International Organization for Standardization (ISO) rules, and more.
On the consumer side, awareness and understanding are still lacking and there is much washing in consumer markets. Gradually, consumers are becoming increasingly savvy about toxins and choices.
Transparency and accuracy provide huge benefits to manufacturers, as it enables product comparison and scaling among the competition, articulation of the ‘eco’ criteria and where the product falls in the scheme. This seems like wishful thinking, however is it doable to normalize a common scale where products can be comparable? Well, it did work to some degree in some industries such as consumer electronics. Time will tell if it’ll be implemented in the construction landscape.