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Which Green Building Product Criteria Should Facility Managers Use?

By Greg Zimmerman, Executive Editor - June 2013 - Green


When looking at what products are and are not acceptable for use in a facility, information such as Environmental Product Declarations and Health Product Declarations may help facility managers avoid potentially harmful chemicals. They can also look to LEED and other ratings systems or "red lists" to identify green building product criteria to use.

"Do no harm" may be the mantra of the medical community, but increasingly, it's the charge of facility managers as well. That's especially true when it comes to choosing building products.

In many organizations, facility managers must now know and understand terms like "persistent bioaccumulative toxin" and "endocrine disruptor," and be able to apply that knowledge to the end goal of creating healthy, productive environments for their occupants.

While choosing products that do no harm to occupants seems like a no-brainer, the question — and it's a tough one — becomes: How? When choosing building products, which criteria should be considered, and how should those certain criteria be weighed against others? Does a product off-gas? Are any of its ingredients part of a "red list" of banned chemicals? Will it perform at least as well as its counterparts?

"When you're looking at building products, there's really no right or wrong answer," says Steve Baer, principal consultant with PE International and Five Winds Strategic Consulting. "But to make an uninformed decision is always wrong."

Perhaps the biggest question, then, is the degree to which making an informed choice is possible. Indeed, how should facility managers go about gathering the information about building products, and once they have it, what does it all mean?

Spurred by many market factors — including rigorous rating systems and green product certification criteria — the trend towards transparency of product data is increasing.

"There's been a substantial transformation in the willingness to be more transparent," says Baer. "But it's still in its infancy." Baer, who is also the chair of the LEED Materials and Resources Technical Advisory Group, says that the industry is at a similar point now in terms of having available documentation — like Environmental Product Declarations and Health Product Declarations — as it was in the early 2000s. At that time, LEED had just been born and project teams needed to know relatively basic pieces of information like the recycled content in products and VOC emissions.

So there's still much work to be done — both for facility managers understanding what to look and ask for, and manufacturers gathering data and reporting it in standardized forms. But, because most experts say that none of this is a trend or something that's going away quickly, facility managers would be well-served to begin the process now of learning about the next level of product selection criteria.





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