Returning from the Greenbuild 2008 conference in Boston, you can’t help but to feel inspired. The green message was everywhere but that also creates another set of challenges.
“The sheer number of products and services presented at Greenbuild was overwhelming,” said David Whitney, a Principal and Architect at Reel Grobman & Associates. A 15-year industry veteran with a BA in Environmental Studies, Whitney is hardly new to the scene. “That’s why I attended this year. I think it’s so important to educate our clients and help them filter out some of the green noise. We want to help them make wise decisions.”
More than 28,000 attendees came to Boston to partake in the Greenbuild conference – a 25% attendance increase from last year. Even though times are tough, Greenbuild 2008 was not only a testament to this industry's commitment to going green, but a nod to the green marketing effort rising from it. As thousands of both big and small manufacturers introduce environmental improvements and innovations into their product lines, it’s clear that the green message is a powerful marketing tool as climate change concerns have entered the mainstream.
Understanding the issues is a daunting task. Everyone connected this industry should ask themselves: How do I choose the right product and whom do I trust?
“Knowing some basics can really help make informed decisions,” says Whitney. “We look out for our clients and help to explain product claims and determine the true impact.” While third-party organizations (such as SCS, CRI’s Greenlabel and Greenguard) are a key part of the certification process, understanding their role and asking life-cycle questions are your best bet.
Grilling Green: Asking Good Questions
A few questions can help navigate through the green fog:
- Where is the product manufactured? Favor regional manufacturing when considering otherwise equal products in flooring, furniture and lighting products, for example. Whitney recommends looking for products and companies who do their manufacturing within 500 miles of the project site, which can help with LEED certification. “We have some great manufacturers in California: Finelight light fixtures from Union City, and both Bentley Prince Street carpet and Martin Brattrud furniture are in Southern California.”
- What happens at the end of its life? Can the products be recycled or will they end up as just another landfill layer? Ask about the down-cycling and up-cycling of products. “Steelcase’s Think chair can be easily separated into recyclable components in a few minutes should it ever wear out. And Interface is one of the few carpet manufacturers who will recycle any commercial carpet back into carpet.”
- What’s in it? Differences in product content and maintenance can improve or degrade air quality. Ask if your new flooring system is certified by CRI Greenlabel or Greenguard. “Certain brands are forward-thinking and present a lighter footprint,” advises Whitney. “Ask what’s green about a product in its standard configuration. With some products, the green marketing claim only applies to their premium lines.”
- When it gets damaged, can you fix it? Can the product be repaired like hardwood, patched like carpet, or must it be replaced like vinyl or laminate flooring? “I just had an 80-year-old oak floor refinished to look like new,” says Whitney. “A few damaged boards were also replaced, but had it been laminate flooring or some types of bamboo, the whole lot would have had to be thrown out since it cannot be reliably repaired.”
- How long will it last? Because durable and well-made products last longer, over time, you’ll spend less and waste less. “Buying the best nylon fiber and backing you can afford for your carpet will add years to its useful life and keep it looking new longer,” says Whitney. “Carpet typically doesn’t wear out–it uglies out. A well crafted product will stay looking sharp longer.”
And that’s just the beginning,” said Whitney. “Great strides are being made in sustainable design, manufacturing and construction. These green products and practices can help to lower operations and maintenance costs, while improving productivity and employee well-being. One of our most important roles is to help our clients better understand and most effectively navigate the ways to achieve their sustainability goals. In the end it makes good business sense to do well by doing good.”