Defining Sustainability

There is a growing awareness that the Earth and its fragile climate is being stressed due to the unintended consequences of rapid population growth, economic growth, and consumption of natural resources. It is no surprise that the concept of sustainability in building materials and green alternatives has become one of the most talked about topics.

Sustainability is defined in many ways, but four core principles remain throughout all definitions: 1) protect the environment, 2) promote human health, 3) conserve resources, and 4) assure social and economic well-being to the global population.

PVC resin has intrinsic properties that allow finished products to achieve all four of these objectives and compare favorably to competing materials in life cycle assessments.

Promoting Sustainability in the Built Environment

In the built environment, sustainability is about energy use, land use, site and resource utilization, air quality, and daylight. It is also about building materials, where they come from, how they are made, and their end-of-life disposition.

In the United States, PVC is derived from two abundant natural resources: salt and natural gas. PVC is unique from other polymers because it is 57 percent chlorine, making it inherently flame-retardant for building materials.

The following attributes of PVC lend the material to promoting sustainability in building products:

  • Environmental Protection. For PVC resin producers, a focus continues to be on continuous improvement to reduce air and water emissions. Energy conserving characteristics of PVC also help reduce environmental burdens and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Resource Conservation. PVC is lightweight, which reduces fuel consumption needs for transportation. Its low maintenance requirements save energy and costs on cleaning and resurfacing. In addition, the ability to recycle PVC into different products at its end-of-life conserves resources and maximizes its material use.
  • Human Health Protection. The inherent fire resistance and low heat release of PVC minimizes loss in accidental fires. The inert cleanable products help control the spread of biohazards such as fungus and bacteria, maintaining a healthy environment for humans. PVC also meets indoor air quality limits.
  • Economic Well Being. Efficient large-scale manufacturing, high product yield with little waste, widespread availability, overall job creation, and long service life make PVC beneficial for the economy. For example, vinyl windows have a service life of 20 to 40 years, making it a sustainable investment.

Sustainability Characteristics of Vinyl Products

Material science has made new products available that are durable and perform well. It is hard to imagine a return to purely natural materials when today’s synthetic components can support green design and construction with added durability. Therefore, for vinyl manufacturers, the goal is to choose materials that perform well for their intended applications with the lowest environmental impact.

Consider that three-fourths of PVC resin produced is used in building products that last for decades. The long lifespan of vinyl products and their recyclability improve the sustainable nature of these products.

Environmental and health impacts can be determined through a lifecycle assessment. The typical categories include global climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion, photochemical smog, natural resource depletion, acidification, eutrophication, ecotoxicity, and human toxicity. Selecting products that extend lifecycles and limit impacts on environment and health, such as those made of vinyl, improves the sustainability of the design.

Making the Choice

Over time, society has learned that all human activity carries an environmental impact. As we become more informed about the economic, social, and environmental systems of the world, sustainability must be considered to build a solid foundation for designs.

Buildings have a significant impact on the environment. The goals of sustainability demand that this impact be reduced, partly through design and partly through material choices. Choosing vinyl products in the design phase of a construction project can deliver ongoing benefits for the structure, its occupants, and the environment at large.

+Vantage Vinyl® Verification from the Vinyl Sustainability Council is leading the industry with a framework to track, verify, and advance a company’s operations that contribute to environmental, social, and governance efforts. The +Vantage Vinyl Verified mark signals to customers that buying from your business is a sustainable choice for vinyl and plastic materials. Learn more about Earning the Mark at https://earnthemark.com/.

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