Material Matters: Labeling Products

If you’ve ever tried to determine what’s actually in a product you’re putting in your new space you know just how hard it is to get that information. Now, there’s a movement gaining speed to ask for the same level of transparency and accountability in our building products as in our food products.

Remember when we had no nutrition labels on food products? The labels we know now have been around since 1990 when the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act passed. While food labeling, in fact, dates back to the 13th century when the king of England proclaimed the first food regulatory law, “the Assize of Bread,” mainstream guidance has just recently become common practice. The FDA labels have enlightened many of us and given us the power to choose what we eat. They’ve made us better consumers and they’ve increased accountability among providers as well.

The latest green guidelines, LEED v4, now open to public comment, include three new proposed credits: Building Product Disclosure and Optimization; Environmental Product Declarations, Sourcing and Material Ingredients. All three ask for information that has, to date, been very difficult to obtain.

In some cases, the manufacturer doesn’t even know what a product’s made of or how its materials have been processed, and the time involved in pursuing this information is simply not supportable on an profit basis. And yet, the more we learn about the health, societal and environmental impacts of the materials we use, the more urgent it becomes to know what we’re buying.

All three new credits reward two things: disclosure and performance. We think it’s great to shift the focus in this area and include a reward for simply disclosing information. It’s risky for manufacturers, because we may choose not to use their products if we don’t like the ingredients or the impact. On the other hand, it can reward those manufacturers who currently have or can reformulate to provide a safer product, and it gives consumers a chance to ask for change. Rewarding manufacturers for disclosure AND performance is a new idea in our industry, but one that has market transformation potential. Better consumers and more accountable manufacturers-–a force for good.