There’s increasing pressure on manufacturers to disclose the environmental impact of a product from cradle to grave, from extraction of the raw material through disposal, says Jeff Inks, vice president of code and regulatory affairs for the Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA) in Washington, D.C. Inks made a presentation about life cycle analysis (LCA) during WDMA’s annual legislative meeting held recently in Washington, D.C.

“The manner in which the information on the environmental impact of a product is disclosed is becoming more regimented as well,” Inks says. “The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has several standards in place for how LCAs are to be performed and how the information is to be reported or declared. They currently are considered the most appropriate standards for that purpose.”

Standards are important to ensure that two different manufacturers, that make the same type of product, perform the environmental impact analysis and report it the same way, Inks says. LCA is becoming more commonplace, though it is still evolving.

“The pressure for determining and reporting environmental impacts of products is coming from green building codes and standards, such as ASHRAE 189.1, International Green Construction Code (IgCC), the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating systems and the ICC 700 National Green Building Standard,” Inks says. “The federal government also is beefing up [its] guidelines for the products and services that [federal] agencies purchase. They want to become more sustainable and green in their operations, they are expected to more aggressively encourage, or in some cases, require the disclosure of products they purchase. We can expect to see more specific guidelines on those. We could see draft guidelines by the end of this month.”

The pressure to disclose environmental impact of products also is evident in the revisions to the LEED rating systems and the National Green Building Standard; in the first edition of the IgCC slated to be published this month; and in the ASTM working on such standards, Inks says. In the short term, the codes above are the drivers of LCA; in the long term, this could likely be expected from the federal government, market and communities

“Even without codes, standards or rating systems requiring LCAs and environmental impact declarations, the market could still make them ‘mandatory’ by default, particularly if, for instance, federal agencies start requiring this type of information on the products they purchase,” Inks says.

In addition to LCA, “there also is an increasing focus on specific chemical compounds, such as Phthalates, used in PVC vinyl products, in weatherstripping, weather-sealing” Inks says. “So, there’s focus on the bigger picture, or the LCA, and the smaller picture, or specific chemicals. There are many chemicals used in products that will get the same attention that formaldehyde has.”

All of this is still evolving, and the way we’ll look at it in five years will be different than how we’re looking at it right now, Inks says. “Many building material industries such as steel, wood, plastics, insulation, carpeting, roofing, and others are all working on it,” he says. “Some glass manufacturers may already be doing it.”

The Glass Association of North America (GANA), the Insulating Glass Manufacturers Alliance (IGMA), the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA), and the WDMA are working together on this issue.

“There’s an opinion that Europe and Japan are ahead of us [in the LCA issue, but it’s subjective,” Inks says. “The bottom line approach is to understand the environmental impact of a product.”

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