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Sustainable Products

While the green building materials industry has flourished, the labeling of green materials is disparate, confusing, and complex. Man certification programs are available for various products used in buildings such as Green Seal, Energy Star, the Carpet and Rug Institute green label, Blue Angel and many others (GreenSeal 2008; EPA and DOE 2009; CRI 2010; RALgGmbH 2010). Many labels are often based on single criteria and may be required by law, such as flammable and toxic, for a product (James 1997). Marketing schemes often involve product information with generic claims of environmentally safe, recyclable and biodegradable (Howett 1991).


Green labels are available for a variety of products used in buildings. The products evaluated for this research were carpets, paints and linoleum flooring. Homeowners are often concerned with the indoor environmental quality of their residences; carpets, paints and linoleum flooring are target products for improving air quality in homes. Thus these products were selected for further research. Further, the three different products (carpets, paints, linoleum flooring) have varied labeling systems with separate requirements for achieving the respective label.


Most labels are voluntary, third party certifications, which mean they require an impartial organization to review the products that willingly choose their label. Some labels establish minimum content or emissions requirement for certain compounds like volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde and other harmful items, used either in manufacturing of the product or in some cases emitted when the product is in use. Some green labeling organizations like the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) have various levels of labeling such as platinum, gold, and silver with platinum being the highest level a building product manufacturer can obtain and provide labels based on several criteria (NSF 2010).

Residential Life Cycle Modeling: Comparative Case Study Of Insulating Concrete Forms And Traditional Building Materials

Innovative, sustainable construction products are emerging in response to market demands. One potential product, insulating concrete forms (ICFs), offers possible advantages in energy and environmental performance when compared with traditional construction materials. Even though ICFs are in part derived from a petroleum-based product, the benefits in the use phase outweigh the impacts of the raw material extraction and manufacturing phase. This paper quantitatively measures ICFs' performance through a comparative life cycle assessment of wall sections comprised of ICF and traditional wood-frame. The life cycle stages included raw materials extraction and manufacturing, construction, use and end of life for a 2,450 square foot house in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Results showed that even though building products such as ICFs are energy intensive to produce and thus have higher environmental impacts in the raw materials extraction and manufacturing phase, the use phase dominated in the life cycle. For the use phase, the home constructed of ICFs consumed 20 percent less energy when compared to a traditional wood-frame structure.


The results of the impact assessment show that ICFs have higher impacts over wood homes in most impact categories. The high impacts arise from the raw materials extraction and manufacturing phase of ICFs. But there are a number of embedded unit processes such as disposal of solid waste and transport of natural gas that contribute to this high impact and identifying the top unit process and substance contributors to the impact category is not intuitive. Selecting different unit processes or impact assessment methods will yield dissimilar results and the tradeoffs associated with every building product should be considered after studying the entire life cycle in detail.

Rajagopalan, N., Bilec, M.M., Landis, A.E. (2010). "Residential Life Cycle Assessment Modeling: Comparative Case Study of Insulating Concrete Forms and Traditional Building Materials." Journal of Green Building, 5(3), 95-106.

Life cycle assessment evaluation of green product labeling systems for residential constructionading

Purpose, Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a tool that can be utilized to holistically evaluate novel trends in the construction industry and the associated environmental impacts. Green labels are awarded by several organizations based on single or multiple attributes. The use of multi-criteria labels is a good start to the labeling process as opposed to single criteria labels that ignore a majority of impacts from products. Life cycle thinking, in theory, has the potential to improve the environmental impacts of labeling systems. However, LCA databases currently are lacking in detailed information about products or sometimes provide conflicting information.


Method, This study compares generic and green-labeled carpets, paints, and linoleum flooring using the Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability (BEES) LCA database. The results from these comparisons are not intuitive and are contradictory in several impact categories with respect to the greenness of the product. Other data sources such as environmental product declarations and ecoinvent are also compared with the BEES data to compare the results and display the disparity in the databases.


Results, This study shows that partial LCAs focused on the production and transportation phase help in identifying improvements in the product itself and improving the manufacturing process but the results are uncertain and dependent upon the source or database. Inconsistencies in the data and missing categories add to the ambiguity in LCA results.


Conclusions, while life cycle thinking in concept can improve the green labeling systems available, LCA data is lacking. Therefore, LCA data and tools need to improve to support and enable market trends.



Rajagopalan, N., Bilec, M.M., Landis, A.E. (2012).  Evaluation of Green Product Labeling Systems with Life Cycle Assessment. International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 17(6), 753-763, doi:10.1007/s11367-012-0416-9.

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