Reducing a Building’s Appetite for Energy, Water and Materials

Reducing a Building’s Appetite for Energy, Water and Materials

Product certification programs like Cradle to Cradle are to building products as LEED is to buildings.


December 2, 2013

Sustainable architecture is our industry’s declaration that tomorrow shall have a voice in what we do today. The extent to which we value and attend to that voice not only sets our course, but that of future generations as well. It’s not so much that this heightens our responsibility—for certainly it does—but rather it raises our opportunity. As we answer the voice of tomorrow, opportunity extends from product manufacturers to building sites and into every community.

Sustainability is an essential structural element in the framework of a dynamic and necessary paradigm. It is the base of Maslow’s pyramid—ensuring the global population has access to essentials while higher order elements remain available and attainable. Our future relies on this worldview.

We know that the application of sustainable practices can effectively reduce a building’s appetite for energy, water and materials. The resulting economic benefits can persuade companies to commit to sustainability and the added community benefits brought by earning a “green stamp of approval.” But how can the industry surpass the notion that they’re being admonished to act because “eat your peas, they’re good for you”? Is there another way to see this as an opportunity?

Several years ago, former U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Chairman Sandy Wiggins authored an executive briefing highlighting our most pressing environmental issues, each a result of our collective failure to adopt sustainable solutions. Some of his points included:

The global flow of natural resources (not including water) required to sustain the world’s economy today is 1,000,000,000,000,000 pounds per year. Less than 2 percent of this material stream is ever reused or recycled.

  • The ratio (by weight) of waste generated to durable goods manufactured in our economy is 100:1.
  • The energy efficiency of our economy (the percentage of consumed energy that actually does the useful work it is intended to do) is 2 percent.
  • 15,000 of the 20,000 landfills in the U.S. are closed or over capacity.
  • Humanity is pumping 15,000,000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every day. Global warming is affecting crop yields.
  • World population is increasing at the rate of 10,000 people per hour, or 87,000,000 per year (more than 10 times the population of New York City).

Wiggins says, “…for the past two-and-a-half centuries, society has been liquidating its principal and calling it income.”

In response, the USGBC created a path for the building industry to ease these challenges. Mitigating cures, directly or indirectly, have each found a way to be expressed through the LEED system’s sustainability measures. As LEED evolves, it gets better. LEED v4 is not the end of the road for sustainability efforts. It continues to push the building industry forward in designing solutions that achieve a healthier standard within the built environment.

At Construction Specialties, we share an iterative path toward doing better by our customers and our community. Our first steps toward manufacturing, with regard to human and environmental health, were taken in the early 90s. By 1995, we knew we wanted to operate from a base of sustainability. We developed landfill avoidance programs, tracked results and set ever-increasing goals. We began reducing and eliminating certain process chemicals; repurposed an old 40,000-square-foot building, saving it from demolition; and joined the USGBC in 1999. We had arrived at the starting line. We have been “sustain-abling” (new verb) for more than 20 years and are advocates for the journey, knowing the destination will come in time.

By adding Cradle to Cradle certifications to the Materials & Resources Credits, LEED v4 encourages building product manufacturers to aspire to attain third-party certification for sustainable behaviors. Cradle to Cradle certification is to manufacturers and their products as LEED v4 is to architects and their buildings.

There are five primary components of sustainability under which dozens of subsets drive numerous initiatives, and all five are common to LEED v4 and the Cradle to Cradle Certified program.

I had first heard William McDonough and Michael Braungart speak at EnviroDesign in New York City in 2004, and was inspired to read their book, Cradle to Cradle. Shortly after, the USGBC offered an innovation credit for the certification, and we began the Cradle to Cradle certification process. It was a process that yielded a better understanding of a comprehensive and effective base of sustainability. Today, we have eight product lines and more than 100 variations of Cradle to Cradle Certified products at v2/v3 Silver and v2 Gold certifications.

We have become advocates for sustainability as previously defined and have found no better statement of purpose than that given by President Eisenhower in his Farewell Address in 1961.

“As we peer into society’s future, we—you and I, and our government—must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without asking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage.”

With the newly released LEED v4, which now includes a focus on chemicals of concern and third-party validation through certifiers like the Cradle to Cradle Certified program, our invitation is to begin to identify the opportunities that green building provides: the ones that highlight the benefits of designing in response to global challenges; improve human health; seek greater energy and operational efficiency; and minimize impact and waste. At the same time, we gain the opportunity to serve as an example to customers and the public what impact and true principle is available by building with sustainably minded principles.

Cradle to Cradle is a registered trademark of MBDC.

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