We live, we’re told, in an age of transparency.
I can point my iPhone at a box of cereal in the grocery store and GoodGuide will tell me how healthy it is for my family. Wikileaks has infamously bared the inner workings of the U.S. government for all to see. Twitter and Facebook have made it harder for companies to bury bad products and decisions.
Yet our homes and office buildings remain black boxes. Are there toxins in the wallboard? Were those hardwood floors sustainably produced? Can any of the building materials be recycled? Your guess is as good as mine.
That’s about to change, however. Perkins+Will, an international design firm, and Construction Specialties, an architectural products supplier, have teamed up to create what is apparently the first green label for building materials. It is first being applied, literally, to a commercial flooring product called the PediTred G4 made by Construction Specialties.
The label and a companion website details the components and recycled content of the flooring used in commercial building entrances, as well as where the components were manufactured and whether it meets indoor air quality standards.
“We spend about 90% of our time indoors so think of this a nutrition label for building products,” says Curt Fessler, a marketing and product development manager for Construction Specialties, also known as C/S.
Peter Syrett is an associate principal with Perkins+Will who worked on the label as a way to promote green building practices that minimize energy and water consumption and the use of toxic materials.
“Architects like myself often don’t know what they’re getting from their vendors or subvendors,” he notes. “In an age of information, the opacity is ironic.”
The construction industry, to put it mildly, is not known for embracing change or altering the way it has done business for decades. Getting the “product transparency label” to become an industry standard will be a challenge and some manufacturers will surely balk at disclosing product information they consider proprietary.
But Fessler and Syrett argue that the growing emphasis on green building techniques and a new generation of architects and designers will push demand for such transparency. If nothing else, providing such information could be a competitive advantage for building materials companies catering to those markets.
“I believe there’s a lot of architects and designers out there who value what products are made of,” says Syrett. “C/S has overcome the biggest hurdle already and that is just doing it.”