Sustainability and Green Design

Specifying high-performing paints for building longevity
Sponsored by Benjamin Moore & Co.
1 AIA LU/HSW; 0.1 IACET CEU*; 1 AIBD P-CE; SAA 1 Hour of Core Learning

Learning Objectives:

  1. Understand the value of a thoughtful approach to material specifications to meet or exceed sustainability goals over the life of a project.
  2. Recognize the importance of reviewing transparency reports and specifying products that have secured health product declarations (HPDs), environmental product declarations (EPDs), and Declare labels.
  3. Describe how specifying environmentally responsible, high-performing paints can reduce maintenance and improve a building’s longevity.
  4. Explain the importance of ensuring that contractors use specified materials and products that support project sustainability goals.

This course is part of the Interiors Academy

[ Page 2 of 4 ]       

Minimize Embodied Carbon Footprint During Production and Transportation

From its earliest start, the manufacturing sector has had a long history of focusing more on production and profit than environmental impacts. The environmental movement gained social support in the 1960s, and for the past 50 years, regulations and standards have shifted to better protect the environment. Yet many of those shifts focused primarily on waste disposal and banning chemicals, all of which were very important improvements and critical steps toward a better environment. But for the past decade, the perspective has shifted to more closely examine broader ways that industry impacts the environment. This concern moves beyond just material input, output, and potential waste and now includes the environmental impact of a product’s life cycle— from inception, through engineering design and manufacturing, and to service and disposal of the manufactured product—and includes elements critical to the manufacturing process, such as material and product transportation and greenhouse gas production.

In short, businesses have started to look at ways to minimize the overall embodied carbon footprint during both production and transportation. Embodied carbon refers to the carbon footprint, or how many greenhouse gases (GHGs) are released through the entire supply chain of constructing the building, producing the car, or manufacturing the laptop. As a result, embodied carbon calculations require an understanding of all of the materials, or ingredients, within a product, and all activities related to those materials, such as processing and transport.

For some companies, the concept of sustainable manufacturing still may seem like a daunting capital investment that isn’t worth the effort. But others have found that such a shift can lower the cost of the business, often with relatively short payback periods, depending on the initial investment. For example, solar power can help a company become energy independent. Waste reduction and water reuse can both cut expenses. Or, on a more basic level, there are new technologies that help regulate energy consumption overall, which may then lead to more sustainable practices down the road.

Reducing Waste

Recycling in the United States has become increasingly popular, with a shift from transporting waste to landfills. The shift to recycling was also in part due to an agreement with China, which adopted a global practice paired with its shipping export policies: rather than take empty shipping containers back to China, the country accepted the world’s recyclable waste on the return voyage and would process it for profit.

However, in February 2018, the Chinese government instituted a program that set stricter standards for contamination levels common in waste materials. The goal was in part to help improve the quality—and thus recyclability—of what is imported and protect its citizens, who were processing the materials. The program bans 24 types of waste materials, including different types of plastics (e.g., polyethylene terephthalate [PET], polyvinyl chloride [PVC], polystyrene or Styrofoam [PS], and certain types of paper). The standard aims to ensure that whatever is shipped is as pure as possible.

As an example of what this means on a global scale, China processes 55 percent of the world’s scrap paper, and it has been the leading site for other recyclable materials. Since the policy began, the amount of scrap plastic imported to China has decreased significantly, from 3.5 million metric tons in 2017 to 21,300 metric tons in mid-2018.1

So, what does this mean for manufacturers and architectural firms? While the impact of this new policy is still being understood, common sense says that if a corporation or architectural firm has been relying on recycling, it can benefit from shifting its focus to the “reduce” portion of the “reduce, reuse, recycle” chain. By designing manufacturing processes and products that reduce waste, a big part of the recycling issue goes away. The American Coatings Association (ACA), for example, has implemented the PaintCare paint product stewardship program, which facilitates the reduction, recovery, reuse, and recycling of leftover architectural coatings. Among the many benefits, the program helps encourage consumers to buy the right amount of paint to reduce waste; collects, transports, and processes post-consumer paint; and offers convenient leftover paint drop-off locations. All of these activities encourage the reduce, reuse, recycle hierarchy and can minimize waste.

Supporting the Local Environment

Many companies now include sustainability strategies as part of their practice, and in some cases, taking care of the local environment and facility may be a deliberate business decision. For some companies, environmental protection has been a long-standing practice. Depending on the industry, practices such as measuring water usage, energy consumption, and CO2 help influence future green practices, such as reusing wastewater or relying on renewable energy sources.

Other strategies include increased recycling and aiming to minimize how much waste goes into landfills. This tactic is closely linked to reducing CO2 emissions as well; shipping waste to landfills requires transportation costs, and thus CO2 emissions.

Engaging in Sustainable Practices from the Start

As we have seen, manufacturing companies can do many different things to engage in sustainable, green design. For example, companies can commit to buying clean energy, engage in ingredient and process transparency, partner with non-government organizations (NGOs) and other environmental organizations to protect the local ecosystem, or share information with investors about why sustainable and environmentally beneficial practice makes good business sense. Let’s take a closer look at how one company has successfully taken on sustainable practices.

[ Page 2 of 4 ]       
Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in May 2019