What products are we specifying to go in to our sustainable buildings?

Recently, one of our long time product reps came by the office with some exciting new products to show us. After presenting the first product, of course I asked “so where is the product made?” Indonesia he says, or maybe it was China. Upon hearing this, I responded uncharacteristically (and somewhat abrasively), “when are we going to stop shipping ^@#*! all around the <#*@^#! world? It is bad enough that we use fossil fuels to ship it around the world, worse yet we are often buying from countries without environmental standards thereby causing more pollution to occur during extraction and manufacturing of the product. And in some cases the workers making the product are not fairly compensated”. His response was positive, “I have American made products”.

So how do we do better?

How can we specify sustainable products with reduced embodied carbon to meet our 2030 Net Zero Building goals?

What about “Buy American”?

Government projects have Buy American requirements but is that enough? I would propose that it isn’t.

In this age of environmental activism it’s not unusual for us to research the companies we choose to do business with in our personal affairs. Who we bank with, our 401k investments, our insurance companies and what companies we choose to buy products from. And the things we judge companies on? Sustainable business practices, ethical practices such as how they treat their employees and how they treat their CEO and upper management. Is there a fair pay and bonus structure that is equitable between workers and management? Are they good stewards within their communities?

I think specifying regionally sourced products is a good first step but maybe we should elevate that approach by, examining the background of companies that are making the products we specify.

There are tools available that can assist architects in making solid decisions on products they specify.

The use of Life Cycle Assessments, a products Global Warming Potential and Environmental Product Declarations are all very relevant criteria when selecting materials and products for the buildings architects create.

Image Credit  https://www.skanska.com 

Tools and links that may be of interest:

EC3 Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator; https://www.buildingtransparency.org/en/

Cradle to Cradle; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cradle_to_Cradle:_Remaking_the_Way_We_Make_Things

Just a Thought

By Jim Houser