I promised participants at my GreenBuild session (Nutrition Labels for Products: Taking control of deciding what is green for you
) a list of the efforts to bring clarity - through summaries, comparison tables, databases, whatnot - to the plethora of green building product certifications out there. I should have done this in the session, but here it is now:
Building Products only:
A lot of different areas:
- Ecolabeling's wiki-like database of now 301 labels across the board. It's a bit clunky, and not made for comparison, but it exists, and they're open to suggestions
- Consumer Reports Eco-labels center from their greenerchoices.org website provides a consumer reports take on things, but they don't really cover building products (other than wood). I haven't made up my mind whether we should try to convince them they should – or not.
In the session Q&A I said what we really needed was a coordination of these independent efforts to bring clarity – to save everyone's energy and so there really was one place for building professionals and consumers to go for clarity. One other way out of the mess, is a real game changer where a couple of big players define THE overarching label to cover all product areas and eliminate consumer confusion... like what USDA organic was meant to do, or the model in many countries where one organization is contracted by the government to set standards, verify, and label. That's tricky though, because these different certifications and standards do have different niches in the ecosystem of environmental labeling... some aim for a really high aspirational bar that only a few products meet but can inspire companies to creative genius in the direction we really need to go, while others aim to certify the top 25% of products to incrementally pull along the majority, etc., etc.... I'd love to see something happen that eliminates the greenwash, but puts the others in context somehow without eliminating the range of aspirations – so people don't see the midlevel stepping stone as the end goal.
There is hope for coordination of some sort – in the variety of collaborations (or at least the intellectual/political mating dance that proceeds collaboration) that are cropping up here and there around the need to address this issue in a comprehensive way. I'm looking forward to seeing what the next year or so brings.
PS: The session was actually about product information systems, which give you real information to make up your own mind – not just a checkmark. I'm excited about these, and again, there are stepping stones here today – but the other game changer is when we really get a environmental & sustainability information on a product over its lifecycle in a form that can be aggregated up to the building level and integrated into BIM tools (note to the LCA folks - I mean adding carbon + carbon, not necessarily creating a single score for carbon + IAQ). The foundation is there, and people are working on it, but it still seems like a LOT of work to collect, verify, understand, and use all that info. My hope is someday soon, all these efforts will make it so, as with financial information, collecting and using data on sustainability implications of processes, products, companies, households, policies, societies is just standard operating procedure, and we base decisions on those indicators just like we do now with cost, profitability, GDP.