Recently, I had the opportunity to hear Arlene Blum speak about her work as an environmental health scientist, mountaineer and writer. Arlene discussed her research around Tris, the flame retardant that, until recently, was commonly used in children’s sleepwear and also in household furniture. Tris is a potent carcinogen. As we listened to Arlene speak, we looked around at one another, completely dumbfounded. Why had we not questioned what is in these products, and the danger they pose to our families and ourselves, sooner? What other products do we use on a daily basis that may cause harm?
These are precisely the questions many consumers are asking now, taking into consideration what is in a product, how it is made, and where it comes from. As a product manufacturer for the building materials industry, we at ASSA ABLOY are charged with answering these questions, and approach product transparency in the spirit of true innovation. Luckily, the prominence and need for Environmental Product Declarations, Health Product Declarations, and Declare labels also push and drive us in the right direction.
Businesses and nongovernmental organizations like USGBC are also helping to fill gaps in chemical regulatory policy. LEED v4 harnesses and accelerates the impact of transparency through significant changes to the materials and resources credits and marks a major move toward addressing potential toxicity of building product ingredients. In addition to addressing information disclosure on environmental and health impacts of products, these new credits also emphasize responsible sourcing of raw materials. While LEED credits are always optional, these new changes do create incentive for firms like ours to make products that meet high standards for transparency and performance.
By using these “ingredient labels,” a consumer can make better decisions about products in their buildings, and we can make better decisions about the materials that go into our products. This is a commitment to thinking about the life cycle of products and then acting to make them more sustainable. Everyone from product managers to marketing teams to engineers to supply chain team members are exploring the life cycle of their products and making them better for humans and better for the environment.
Despite the up-front time and cost challenges with digging into these materials, the positive feedback we’ve gotten is a clear indication that our efforts are worth it. We’re always happy to hear that we’ve made it easier for a designer, architect, end user or contractor to include healthy products in their buildings. We are even more thrilled to know that these products we’ve supplied take into consideration environmental health and human health elements. When we are working to future-proof buildings by making them safer, more secure and easier to use, we should also consider their sustainability and how they affect their inhabitants. We will all be better for asking the important questions Arlene Blum’s research has raised.