Greenbuild 2013: Transparency, LEED are universal topics of conversation

Home Inside FCNews Greenbuild 2013: Transparency, LEED are universal topics of conversation

Health impacts take center stage

Dec. 9/16 2013; Volume 27/number 16

By Jenna Lippin

Philadelphia—No matter where you looked, no matter to whom you spoke, the primary topic of conversation at Greenbuild 2013 was transparency. Much of that could be attributed to the official, long awaited unveiling of LEED v4, where changes and updates from previous versions centered on providing greater transparency as it relates to products and processes. 

Within LEED v4, there are four rating systems—building design and construction; interior design and construction; existing buildings: operations and maintenance, and neighborhood development. Each system has its own categories based on the space being considered for LEED credits. For example, the interior design and construction rating systems apply to commercial interiors, retail and hospitality. The buildings/spaces to be considered sometimes overlap as certain areas are considered for credits using more than one rating system. Each structure or space earns LEED credits from eight different categories: integrative process; location & transportation; water efficiency; energy & atmosphere; material & resources; indoor environmental quality; innovation, and regional priority.

“A building is a set of systems,” explained Scot Horst, senior vice president, LEED, U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). “You’ve got the respiratory system up above in the air throughout the building, a circulatory system with fluids running through the building, a nervous system with electrical impulses, but we don’t tend to run buildings as a whole system. Our job with LEED v4 is to create a sophisticated way to put the building back together as a whole.”

While the changes within LEED v4 overall represent a step in the right direction for the green movement, some people believe changes still have to be made.  LEED v4 contains stringent and specific guidelines, and a number of industry members feel the credits lack explanation in terms of how to earn them. However, the human health focus that LEED v4 now represents is something most people are embracing with open arms.

“I think the method of assessing materials that’s part of LEED v4 is a major leap forward,” said John Stephens, vice president of marketing for Shaw Contract Group. “It’s not just about the building, but it’s human-centric. I think that’s one of the big changes—it’s now more about the people.”

The million-dollar word at this year’s Greenbuild was “transparency.” Manufacturers face changes in LEED v4 that require a certain amount of disclosure, making designers, architects and end users more informed about the materials that make up products. With the transparency movement comes further talks and development regarding environmental product declarations (EPDs), life cycle assessment (LCA) and, more than ever before, health product declarations (HPDs).

“Some of the biggest changes [in this version of LEED] are requirements for transparency—the EPDs, the HPDs—they’ve taken it a little out of the manufacturer’s hands and put into the independent auditors’ hands,” noted Jeremy Whipple, marketing manager, Roppe. “It’s good and bad. You’re taking some of the people out of it and making it more mechanical. It’s going to take a little while for everybody to get used to it.”

A number of company executives, like Whipple, are happy with the forward thinking of LEED v4 but are still left with questions and uncertainty about what the requirements mean for products that are on the market and those in development. Most companies have worked for many years to develop some of the top-performing environmentally friendly and sustainable products.

“We worked to achieve GreenSquared certification and having done that there’s a certain amount of work that’s already been done,” said Tim Bolby, executive technical services director for Crossville. “But we’re finding programs like GreenSquared are already sort of passé. Now we need LCAs and EPDs and HPDs. We just want to make sure that when we allocate the funds [for environmental initiatives], we allocate them appropriately.”

While Bolby does, in fact, see some positive changes with LEED v4, he, like many others in the industry, think the new guidelines mean challenges ahead. “LEED v4 embraces a broader view, but including such things as product declarations and LCAs—all very good developments—means the process has become much more complex,” he explained. “As such, a lot of people who in the past flirted with sustainability concepts will be alienated unless LEED v4 is funneled into something more easily digested.”

Diane Martel, vice president, environmental planning and strategy for Tarkett North America, also has some reservations about the new version of LEED, despite the move forward that it represents. “This year I felt that the manufacturers and USGBC and other groups have come to a much better place in terms of communication and trying to work together,” she said. “One of the things that I am struggling with right now is we don’t have any of the back-up documentation yet, so a lot of the credits aren’t really clear; some are clearer than others.”

Like Martel, John Wells, president and CEO of Interface Americas, thinks LEED v4 reflects progress in the collaboration of the parties involved in its development and review.  However, he believes it will take some time for the “perfect” version of LEED to come about.

“When the first LEED standards were introduced, we took the position that it would be LEED version 99 before we got close to getting it right,” Wells said. “But that’s the whole point—it’s a moving, progressive process that leads to a higher place. As part of that process, there’s an opportunity for a lot of input, a lot of challenge, a lot of change and so I think the good part is the progress.”

However, Wells is concerned about the clarity of LEED and making sure it’s easy to understand. “It’s a complicated conversation, so it has to be simple enough to understand for those trying to work with it.”

Like a number of flooring manufacturers that exhibited at Greenbuild, Interface supports the idea of transparency. While it was the trending term at the event, it appears that the movement is here to stay. “We’re very supportive of transparency and the third-party certification methods,” Wells continued. “If we’re working for transparency, there needs to be a process people can engage in so that if they think things need to be changed, they can be.”

While trying to stay afloat in the sea of environmental regulations, companies at Greenbuild presented their latest products with pride and confidence in their sustainability efforts. And with these top-performing and innovative products came more foot traffic than many booths have seen in recent years.

For example, Bolyü touted its PET-based carpet backing that is PVC-free. For David Vita, the company’s executive vice president, Greenbuild is the perfect arena for showing product while creating a message for a brand and illustrating what is being done from an environmental standpoint, differentiating companies and products from each other.

“About 80% of the industry today is still utilizing PVC for their carpet backings or carpet tile backings,” Vita explained. “We’ve come up with an alternative to PVC, a PET-based product using ground up clear plastic water bottles predominantly. The other component is glass, usually from computer monitors or windshields, used as a stabilizer. At the end of the day, we use about 70% post-consumer content in the backing of our material.”

Interface touted its concept of Restorative Enterprise through its Net-Works program, launched in 2012. The program uses discarded fishing nets from impoverished coastal communities to create recycled content for carpet tile. Net Effect is the collection inspired by Net-Works and the first Interface product that uses the fiber that includes material from the recycle initiative.

“We’re extending sustainability beyond the idea of ‘do no harm,’” Wells said. “How do we make a positive impact together? How do we create regeneration, a re-birth? Net-Works is a glimpse of that. It’s a stewardship-oriented movement.”

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