Codes & Standards
Editorial: A good foundation laid
The new PCR represents an opportunity for green innovation.
By Patrick Flannery
One of our news items this issue announces the publication of a new North American Product Category Rule for windows and doors by the Institute for Environmental Research and Education.
The IERE is a green building consultancy like many others out there, but the PCR was developed by, and is supported by, all of the major international window and door industry authorities in North America, including the American Architectural Manufacturers Association, the Glass Association of North America and the Insulating Glass Manufacturers Alliance. Developing this PCR was the result of two years of effort by volunteer joint committees from these organizations and others. A PCR establishes the basis for Life Cycle Assessments and ultimately Environmental Product Declarations, which are third-party-supported documents outlining the predicted environmental impact of the manufacture and use of a product from cradle to grave.
Marketing environmentally friendly products has been challenged in all industries by the difficulty in making true, apples-to-apples comparisons. Is making a product from recycled materials better or worse than making a product that saves X amount of energy? Is poisoning groundwater more or less impactful than off-gassing volatiles that produce smog? Should you cut down trees to make products, or use oil from oilsands? What contributes more to climate change: consumers heating their houses, or trucking raw materials? The answers to these questions have been hard or impossible to come by, and even changed over time as the focus of environmental awareness has changed. No one knows what “green” really is, so just about everybody can claim to be that way. Which devalues the concept and makes it almost useless as a marketing tool. Certainly companies have not found that there is much money to be made on marketing green products relative to the cost of developing them.
The new B2B PCR, and the B2C version that is promised to follow, could change some of that. If contractors, architects and consumers become aware of EPDs and start to demand them in green building designs, window and door fabricators may see some benefit to obtaining EPD documentation for their products, and even developing new products with stronger EPDs. We hear all the time, especially from architects, that environmental protection is their number-one priority. Well, here is their chance to put their money where their mouth is and specify based on an objective, internationally recognized green standard. Canadian fabricators will be only too willing to develop products that produce more energy than they take to make and that dissolve into a beneficial mulch for your garden once the warranty expires – as long as buyers show them the money.
That is how it should, and hopefully will, work. What would be unfortunate would be if, instead of the market driving uptake of EPDs, governments became impatient and started writing them into building codes and Energy Acts. Instead of interest and education you get resistance and confusion. Instead of innovation and competition you get cheating and finger-pointing. Ultimately, the whole goal of seeing more environmentally friendly products on the market gets sidelined and whatever contribution this industry can make to reducing humanity’s impact on the planet is eliminated. The fenestration industry has dedicated considerable time and expertise to laying the foundation. Now it is time for the market to build on it.