Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Will you LABEL me please?

Will you LABEL me please?
By Brett Marlo DeSantis

So by now you may have gathered that I am a bit “green.”

I am actually OK with being labeled. I have an identity and defining characteristics. My label might read: sourced in the U.S.A…. re-use organs before recycling.

While labeling a person is an extreme example, we recognize this system and apply it with ease.

Sometimes, labels are a good thing. We find this to be true with food. So, why has it taken us so long to apply the same system to our building materials?

Simply stated, a label is a tool.

A battle is raging in the building industry. We call the subject “material transparency.” It is the fight for disclosure of the defining characteristics of a building product. Currently there are no regulations that require this disclosure.

If it confuses, or even aggravates you that there is no basis for comparison of building products, you are not alone.

As a professional in the industry, I know how difficult it is to specify products in an informed matter. I hear the rumblings from fellow professionals as we try our best to select products that are in the best interest of our client.

We all seek the answers that a mere label may provide.

The subject of material transparency has been simmering for years. This year will be the year it will come to a head. Yes, this hot topic is about to bust out into the general population. And why shouldn’t it?

Our population does initiate and makes great change. In fact, the “buy local” movement worked because of you, so THANK YOU! Let’s combine our consumer power by buying informed and locally.

Transparency, plain and simple, is awareness. This awareness allows us to assert our rights to information accessibility, usability and accountability.

OK…decision made: bring on the labels!

Will these labels be consistent? What information will they provide? Where should I look for them?

Currently, manufacturers make claims in terms of their human and/or environmental impact. These labels, sometimes called eco-labels, may say they are less damaging to you and the earth. Fantastic! Oh wait, what is their basis of comparison?

Other products are being touted as PVC or BPA free. Wonderful, what is really in them?

According to international design firm Perkins+Will, the new on-product label will contain the following elements:

It will begin with general product information, such as product name, manufacturer’s contact information, product warranty and websites on that product.

The second section of the label is product content. This section will look the most familiar as the content is listed in order from highest quantity to least. The label will contain a health summary with suspected health impacts listed AND will let you know if any of the contents are on a governmental watch list.

You will clearly see what all the components are, where they are sourced and final location of manufacturing. They will receive a check mark if they are rapidly renewable, FSC-certified or meet Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) requirements.

Ecological benchmarks are assessed such as water, energy and carbon use. Packaging content, whether the product was designed for reutilization, and its recyclability is included.

Last but not least is the best care and maintenance for this specific product (as well as availability of replacement components) to ensure and extend the lifecycle of the product. This information is key to protecting your monetary investment.

You may be wondering why I am explaining a label that does not exist yet. No worries, it will, and you will be prepared!

In the meanwhile, use the new label system as your guideline to ask these questions at your local hardware store, to your contractor, designer or architect as you specify materials for your indoor environment.

Now that you are in “The Know”…did you want to know? Asking the right questions WILL ignite change.