In September, our industry set a milestone that many did not notice. The milestone was the publishing of the environmental product declaration rules for windows. This publishing effort was demanding and time consuming. (Full disclosure — I was on the group for 90 percent of the effort.) There’s no doubt that this event is an historic stake-in-the-ground moment for innovation in our industry. Why?

First, let’s imagine that we are 10 years in the future — 2025 to be exact — and the buying decisions for many of your products are made by today’s college students. Their buying perspective is focused on value, low-impact products, organic foods, air quality and similar performance attributes . They also have many buying aids through the web to evaluate these properties. In fact, one was announced this month for construction products — the Quartz Project.

One important perspective is to consider today’s nutritional labels brought about by legislation in 1990. We take it for granted that this info is on every food item we buy . Many predict your homes, cars and clothing will be labeled in the same way in the near future.

To be ready for this emphasis on transparency, it’s important to understand where your products are today and where to focus your innovation to prepare. This is not a short-term innovation project. The recommended roadmap for your company:

A. Materials review
1. Review all your Bill of Materials(BOM) records. If they’re more than 24 months old, they’re probably wrong. Each product you make should have its own BOM, and ensure all the vendor details are documented for each component.

2. Review all your engineering drawings and specs to ensure you are explicit in the types, strengths and composition of all your materials making up 99.9 percent of the mass of your products. Most companies need extensive work to complete this task considering most window assemblies have 80-130 individual components. Each component may have multiple materials that quickly add up. For instance, how many materials are in only your IG spacer?

3. Ensure that you and your buyers have clear instructional documents in place for hazardous chemicals in all your materials, especially items listed in EPA hazards listing. Also note that EPA manages a SaferChoice program advising consumers of alternatives to harsh chemicals. Once this work is done, you will have a good understanding of your current materials. This will be a roadmap for innovation for your materials. Some questions to consider: Are there better materials for this job? Are there vendors who would be better partners to reduce impact? Are there ways to reduce the quantities of parts?

B. Materials Sourcing
The next activity is to understand where the materials come from. You need to know where the raw materials come from that are used by vendors to make components.This is also an extensive exercise that will require detailed discussion with your vendors. You will encounter some resistance to these info requests since the vendor is concerned that you are going to use the data to press for cost cuts. This is why you need very good vendor partners to complete your understanding of the transport impacts of all your materials. When this info is available you can ask innovative questions about closer sources, alternatives, make vs buy, and quantity reduction.

C. Factory Impacts
The last activity is to track all your factory inputs of water, power, gas and fuels. Also track your waste outputs to recycling, landfills and donations. These are good to measure for other reasons of efficiency, but you will need this data for the impact of your factory.

After these activities, you are ready for a consultant to conduct an official LCA (life cycle assessment) using your data and the new window PCR.

Your company must decide when to proceed to the LCA analysis part of your transparency project since your market will determine the need. LCA studies vary greatly in cost, and it’s best to quote multiple sources. The LCA consultant will use standard software to fill in the rest of the blanks in your analysis to enable your labeling of the following performance measures:

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Consider these benefits to owning your own environmental product declaration:

  1. Brand equity — a brand promoting sustainability will last;
  2. Competitive advantage — One key window manufacturer has already done an EPD;
  3. LEED points — EPDs qualify for extra points for your customers project;
  4. Increased profitability — through streamlined sources, and more value;
  5. Happier employees — everyone wants to work for an environmentally responsible company, and;
  6. Innovation — this process drives many ideas for improvement.

This data and this label will become a key component of your communications to future customers. This process may now seem daunting and unnecessary, and it may have little value to your current customers, but they will not be your customers forever. The advantages will be evident in the near future — and become the price of admission much sooner than we think.

Please let me know how your Innovation is going by emailing me at raygarries@gmail.com and see new and innovative ideas at the Fenestration Innovation network on LinkedIn.

2 Comments

  1. Ray,
    Thank you for sharing this article! You did a great job! I really like how it sets out the steps to be taken in a simple and clear manner. I think many companies in the construction have put off learning about these issues, and the steps outlined gives them clear direction.
    Cheryl

  2. Cheryl,
    Thanks for your input. I also believe that a Sustainability initiative should reflect good and normal business practices for efficiency. In the future true efficiency will include these sustainability practices…

    Ray

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