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Green Building | Concrete

March 9, 2005

RAIC Corner

By Chris Fillingham

OAA, FRAIC

President, Royal Architectural Institute of Canada

Reading label relieves complexity of green building

Part two:

Given the complexity and importance of Green Labeling Systems for Building Products, this topic is the second of a two-part series that began last month. Future articles will review: Construction Waste; and, improvements that could be included in LEEDtm Canada.

As I mentioned last month, designing, constructing and operating environmentally friendly buildings can be complex, especially when it comes to materials selection.

A variety of tools exist in the form of labeling systems to help us better understand the broader life-cycle impacts of a building product.

Last month we looked at ISO Standards and Environmental Choice, Canada. As promised, this month details three more North American systems.

Special thanks to Wayne Trusty of the Athena Institute for the information he supplied to the RAIC and, as a result, these columns.

Green Seal

ISO Type: Type I

Green Seal was the first widely accepted environmental labeling program in the U.S. The Green Seal Board establishes criteria on a category-by-category basis. The program has established product standards and product criteria. Product standards are considered more in-depth and are meant to include life-cycle considerations, whereas product criteria are a relatively shallow review of product information.

Green Seal receives fees for services provided to companies or products wishing to be certified. It also provides services to government purchasing organizations and receives foundation support. Any company or group can suggest a product category. A report is written by Green Seal after collecting data relevant to the criteria, and the report is then sent out for review. All final decisions are made by Green Seal’s CEO.

The strength of the Green Seal program is its well-established name and recognition within the purchasing community. Green Seal standards have been recognized and cited by the U.S. Green Building Council and others as ways to achieve certain credits in the LEED 2.0 Green Building Rating System.

Green Seal’s reputation has suffered with the questioning of its criteria’s rigour. In addition to the basic problems related to Type I programs, reports submitted by Green Seal that are not based on life-cycle data are of questionable value. Green Seal’s distinction between types of certification was perhaps made to increase market penetration, but has instead weakened the entire program.

Scientific Certification Systems (SCS)

ISO Type: Type I, Type III

SCS is a private scientific organization with a solid reputation for high quality work. A number of programs exist within the company, including:

— Environmental Claims Certification Program

— Eco-Profile Labeling System

— Forestry Certification Program

— Power Certification Program

— Sustainable Fisheries Management

— Organic Growers Certification

The Environmental Claims and Eco-Profile Labeling Systems have been combined to perform a variety of services. Certification services range from validating the claims of a product based on established criteria for claims verification, to cradle-to-grave assessment to achieve a certified Eco-Profile.

The Eco-Profile model grew out of the SCS “Environmental Report Card” in order to assess products on established standards for life-cycle assessment and analysis. To accomplish this work, SCS uses Life-Cycle Stressor-Effects Assessment (LCSEA) to characterize the inventory data.

Involvement in this program is expensive, largely due to the cost of collecting data (certification can range up to $50,000) but this system is the first real Type III labeling program in North America.

SCS is involved in developing ISO Type III standards and, in an attempt to harmonize with other programs, has established relationships with organizations in Chile, Finland, Sweden, Japan and Korea.

The organization collaborated with some of these international organizations to produce a version of an LCSEA practitioner’s manual for Type III labeling.

SCS is probably the strongest scientific organization in North America involved with certification and environmental labeling.

Also significant is its involvement in ISO and its attempts to seek program harmonization according to ISO 14025.

With a strong reputation for high-quality and thorough work, SCS is also experienced at effectively collating and communicating data.

Perhaps the main weakness of the SCS program is the cost involved with collection of data.

Energy Star

ISO Type: Type 1

In 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced ENERGY STAR as a voluntary labeling program designed to identify and promote energy-efficient products to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Computers and monitors were the first labeled products. Through 1995, EPA expanded the label to additional office equipment products and residential heating and cooling equipment.

In 1996, EPA partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy for particular product categories.

The ENERGY STAR label is now on major appliances, office equipment, lighting, home electronics, and more.

EPA has also extended the label to cover new homes and commercial and industrial buildings.

ENERGY STAR is more “product-based” than “system-based” as is LEED or other green building rating systems.

With these labeling systems as tools, the design construction industry can begin to break down the complexity of green building.

The RAIC is encouraging all architects to become familiar with the different green labeling systems and understand their strengths and weaknesses; and to specify only products including appliances, furnishings, and building equipment with a recognized green label.

It is important that everyone urge the federal government to develop and maintain a holistic database system for inventories of all building materials, products and processes and their full life-cycle assessments.

Together we can all encourage our leaders to set the tone and pace of environmentally friendly buildings and ensure Canada’s future built-environment is truly green.

Next month: Construction Waste Management

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