The Green Vaccine
I always take it as a quiet honor when readers contact us because they are having a problem sourcing a particular product. And I take it as a quiet victory when we are able to help, which we are able to do more times than not. But there’s one type of call I get, about once every four to six weeks, that always starts with the same sense of frustration, bordering on anger.
That’s the call from the purchasing or estimating agent who doesn’t know where to turn. You can just about hear the sense of defeat coming through the phone. The scenario has minor variations, but in general it usually goes like this:
“We are doing a ‘green’ job and the architect has spec-ed this particular type of glass. It looks like there’s only one or two plants in the whole country that make it. Both of them are half a continent away. I wonder if they realize that everything they think they are saving on energy and more is being spent to get this glass to them?”
It’s a common complaint—the green equivalent of the penny-wise, pound-foolish cliché. And it manifests itself in other forms as well. Which is greener—the window system with excellent R- and U-values that can’t ever be recycled, or the one with slightly lower ratings but better re-purposing possibilities? Which uses more energy—the manufacture of glass or the HVAC systems?
That’s where life cycle assessments (LCAs) come in and that’s why they are important. Most industries involved with construction are in the process of developing ways to compare the environmental impact of different building products.
To me the LCA is the equivalent of an industry-wide vaccination against energy claims that are dubious at best and fraudulent at worse. And like a vaccination, it will protect us for years to come while attacking those industries without it.
In fact, all the “big gun” industry groups—GANA, IGMA and AAMA—are working together to develop a systemized way of providing the environmental impact of building products through a consensus. We would all do well to follow the efforts of this joint endeavor and to get involved in how our industry’s products are defined environmentally for decades to come.