For Building Materials, “Going Green” Isn’t a Quick Win

“To go green or not to go green”: that is the question many building materials manufacturers and suppliers are asking. There’s no doubt that the market for green or sustainable building products has continued to grow and mature over the last 20 years. But appealing to project owners, architects, and contractors requires more than just a green label or adding “sustainable” to your product name. Green building is serious business, and there are serious consequences for misrepresenting the environmental benefits of your material.

The market for green building materials

The American Institute of Architects and other organizations have challenged building owners and designers to meet environmental goals relating to climate change, carbon emissions, and material sustainability. In addition, government entities have sweetened the pot by adding tax and other incentives for meeting sustainability goals. All this is to say that the market for green building materials continues to grow. Building materials manufacturers and suppliers who haven’t already adopted green marketing strategies are under increasing pressure to meet consumers’ need for this information.

A recent study by Global Market Insights Inc. anticipates that the market for green building materials will surpass $610 billion by 2028. As project owners, designers, and contractors become more aware of the significance of green building materials, the market will continue to grow.

Green marketing

Building materials suppliers and manufacturers must be responsible when undertaking green marketing strategies. They should only be used if:

● The material has a path to sustainability that can be documented and proven

● You provide clear details about your extraction, manufacturing, and distribution practices

● Sustainability is reflected in the larger marketing strategy for your products, and isn’t an afterthought

If your company is not authentically dedicated to sustainability, claiming to be so can cause long-term damage to your reputation. Not only will this affect current sales, but it may mean your product will be excluded from future projects.

There is an increasing crackdown on green marketing by the Federal Trade Commission and other organizations. Making unsubstantiated green claims can lead to legal and financial penalties. For example, the FTC recently penalized Walmart and Kohls for falsely advertising rayon textile products as bamboo and claiming that they were made using eco-friendly processes, when the actual process used toxic chemicals and released hazardous pollutants. Total penalties to the two firms were $5.5 million.

The FTC publishes Green Guides to give product manufacturers clear definitions of common environmental marketing claims. For example, the guide says that recycled content “includes recycled raw material, as well as used, reconditioned, and remanufactured components.” It’s considered deceptive marketing if a product claims recycled content “unless it is composed of materials that have been recovered or otherwise diverted from the waste stream, either during the manufacturing process … or after consumer use.” The guide goes on to require proof of the diversion of waste materials.

Project owners and designers often rely on environmental product declaration or EPDs to document the benefits of a specific building material. Creating these documents involves research and scientific testing to determine specific environmental inputs and outputs throughout a building material’s useful life. Providing this information makes building products more attractive for designers, owners, and contractors.

Green materials standards

There is increasing pressure on materials manufacturers to focus on established green materials standards, instead of general terms like “green” or “environmentally friendly.” These standards help construction project teams and owners meet their sustainability goals. Building materials that can document their sustainable features are more likely to be used on these types of projects.

There are a wide variety of green material certifications available. Some are focused on a certain range of products, like flooring or wood products, while others are more general. For example, the Forest Stewardship Council certifies wood products as being harvested from a sustainable forest and handled and processed in an environmentally friendly way. GreenGuard certification means that a product will release low levels of volatile organic compounds or VOCs. This certification is applied to a wide variety of materials.

In addition, sustainable building materials can help projects meet building certification programs. Popular whole building certification programs include LEED, BREEAM, Living Building Challenge, and EnergyStar. Marketing can focus on how building products help teams meet certification requirements. For example, materials made with pre-consumer and postindustrial recycled content can contribute to project certification requirements for recycled products.

Marketing efforts can either focus on a product’s material certification or inclusion in a certified project. Case studies of certified projects that feature your material can help project teams see how it can directly contribute to their project’s sustainability.

Green marketing requires data

Before marketing the green or sustainable features of your product, it pays to spend time and money to understand the benefits and costs. To avoid potential penalties, make sure that you have scientific data to back up your claims, and that you understand what each claim means. The market for green building materials will continue to grow as consumers become more aware of their effect on the environment. Make sure that you are capturing this market by investing in the research and data required.

Patience Jones