The Three Tiers of Green Product Selection

  July 8, 2011

Today's tip is about a different way to think about how to write product standards with green criteria in mind.

Of course, cost and performance will always be the top-tier criteria when selecting products, but if facility managers want to include sustainability into their standards, consider starting with relatively simple criteria like recycled content, whether a product is rapidly renewable, VOC emissions, certified wood, and, of course, durability.

Next consider whether these claims have been certified by a third-party. These single-attribute certifications are a good way to ensure that manufacturers are telling the truth. That's also the case for multi-attribute green certifications. These look at a product holistically, often including performance criteria and how the product is manufactured. The latter is becoming a much more important criterion for facility managers - after all, you can’t buy a green product from a brown manufacturer.

And manufacturers are starting to understand that end users need data not just on how the product is manufactured, but also on their own environmental performance. More and more manufacturers are performing cradle-to-gate assessments on their products - this means all the raw materials, and water and energy required to create a product. Facility managers can then take that information and perform their own holistic environmental life-cycle assessment. This could include everything in the manufacturers LCA, with added performance criteria, like durability and end-of-life considerations (i.e, whether the product is put in a landfill or recycled).

While the holistic life-cycle assessment is not exactly mainstream practice at this point, if there’s one area that's becoming much more common, it's carbon footprint. These days, facility managers are more frequently asking manufacturers for data on their own carbon emissions. That's because as more facility managers are tasked with calculating their organizations’ carbon footprints, they need data on the products that are used in the facilities to calculate their Scope 3 emissions. Most manufacturers have carbon footprint data readily available, so facility managers can use that both as a tool to calculate their own and also as a criteria in product selection - facility managers may be less willing to buy products from a manufacturer with a high carbon footprint relative to its competitors, for instance.


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