The president of our company, David W. Boyer, has penned this unvarnished look at the role of product manufacturers — including PROSOCO — in the journey toward ever-more sustainable design and construction.
It seems an appropriate post to commemorate today’s one-year anniversary of the “Green Journey” blog.
Thanks for visiting!
The role of manufacturers in sustainable design and construction
by David W. Boyer
Anyone who reads an industry magazine or visits a construction trade show these days is easily overwhelmed by the green wave of marketing messages. Advertisements that proclaim the sustainability of virtually any product-type consumed in new construction and building repairs are no longer the exception – they are the norm.
Manufacturers supplying construction products to contractors for use in buildings may embrace the concept of sustainability for any number of reasons, including market appeal, cost-savings, competition, and product performance.
Over the past several years many construction product manufacturers have sought to differentiate themselves by proclaiming their products to be “greener,” more “environmentally friendly” than those offered by competitors. Absent a common understanding of just what constitutes a “green” or “environmentally friendly” product, such claims are easily lost in a sea of similar marketing messages.
Environmentally conscious consumers and construction professionals on the receiving end of such marketing messages often succumb to the belief that use of “green” products when constructing new (or repairing existing) buildings will result in structures which are more environmentally friendly and “sustainable.”
Unfortunately the message which many manufacturers adopt places more emphasis on the environmental friendliness of how their product was harvested, produced or packaged, than on how well and how long it will perform in complex building assemblies.
As a result, many “green” products are shorter-lived when added to a building assembly than more traditional materials they are intended to replace.
Construction professionals seeking to differentiate themselves by embracing environmental design initiatives often play into the manufacturer’s hand. Many initiatives place more emphasis on amassing design points or energy credits than on studying the real-world performance of the completed building.
Such a superficial approach to “sustainability” places more emphasis on christening newly built or retrofitted structures with an environmental status plaque than on erecting truly high-performing, durable structures.
Most American cities now promote the growing number of buildings that incorporate vegetative roofs, solar panels, porous paving, air and vapor barriers or other “green” technologies as proof of their civic commitment to “sustainability.” Unfortunately, many such buildings underperform or require elaborate and expensive repairs soon after they are occupied.
Truly sustainable buildings should survive their intended service life with nothing more than routine maintenance. The overall construction industry bears responsibility for the growing inventory of “sustainable” buildings that fail prematurely. Industry-sanctioned performance standards and computer-aided design programs test or model building components in ways that fail to consider a building component’s performance as part of a larger assembly.
Those that do evaluate assemblies often test to arbitrarily low exposure conditions – conditions that do not simulate the moderate to severe weathering influences that the building will be subjected to once completed.
Until emphasis on durability increases, and performance expectations reflect more realistic weathering conditions, truly “sustainable” buildings will be difficult to achieve.
Beyond the “green” appeal they seek to impart to a product offering, there are several measures that construction product manufacturers may take to improve the sustainability of their own operations. The greatest long-term impact is derived from practices that reduce costs and improve operating efficiencies of the manufacturing process itself.
Whether dealing with process water, raw material packaging or other waste products generated by the manufacturing process, systematic recycling programs save money and instill an environmental consciousness in the manufacturing workforce.
Many believe the positive impact created by a corporate culture that embraces sustainable practices extends beyond the workplace into the home life of every employee.
Competing in a Sea of Green
Efforts to improve market appeal by incorporating more environmentally responsible ingredients or packaging must be taken seriously. Personnel charged with product development and quality control are constantly challenged by overreaching “green” claims made by their own raw material suppliers.
In complex formulations or assemblies, it’s common for “performance equal,” “environmentally responsible” replacement components to alter the handling and performance characteristics of a finished product. This presents a challenge to sales and marketing personnel tasked with communicating such changes to a customer base resistant to change.
Rushing “green” products to the marketplace without investing sufficient time in developing and testing that product’s relative performance, AND communicating any differences in how that product can be expected to perform, may significantly compromise market appeal.
Finally, in the supply chain that links “green” products to the sustainable building industry, few players are in a better position to judge the realistic, long term performance of products being consumed than the building-product manufacturer.
Manufacturers must recognize and acknowledge the shortcomings of many industry sanctioned installation practices, or performance standards required in building codes and construction documents. While compliance with such benchmarks may be the “table stakes” needed to sell construction products in a competitive marketplace, such test data is not enough.
Test data that recites performance numbers for a building component must be complemented by data that reflects performance of that component in the finished structure. Realistic installation instructions must be provided to ensure that design details can be replicated on all job sites. Just because a detail can be committed to paper does not mean it is practical to build in the real world.
The completed assemblies must then be subjected to exposure conditions that accurately replicate conditions that the actual structure will be exposed to when erected on its building site.
For many manufacturers, such measures are above and beyond what is required to profit in a highly competitive industry. Those measures, however, are necessary if we are ever to achieve the goal of truly “sustainable” construction.
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