Show and Tell: A new label program gives manufacturers a platform on which to fully disclose the content of their products.

Photos: Courtesy International Living Future Institute

Show and Tell: A new label program gives manufacturers a platform on which to fully disclose the content of their products.

The International Living Future Institute (ILFI), an environmental non-government agency based in Portland, Ore., has launched a label that it claims will give building products manufacturers a transparent and consistent mechanism through which to state the material and chemical content of their products.

 

This “Declare” label, which the institute introduced early this month, is the latest attempt at giving consumers and professionals a better understanding about what they’re buying and using in construction. Last year, the architectural firm Perkins + Will launched a free database that identifies “precautionary” substances in building products that are either known or suspected to cause harm to humans and the environment.

 

Declare intersects with ILFI’s Living Building Challenge, a performance and environmental standards certification that works off of a “Red List” of toxic substances to be avoided in products going into the built environment, such as asbestos and polyvinyl chloride.

 

Sarah Costello, a spokesperson for ILFI, tells Builder that projects must meet 20 criteria, including being net-zero energy and net-zero water, and be occupied for a year before they are certified.

 

Costello calls the Declare label “an incredibly simply piece to the puzzle.” A product manufacturer would sign up and submit information about its product (which goes into ILFI’s databank). The label shows the manufacturer’s name and plant location, the product’s ingredients and raw materials, whether the product can be recycled or reused, and whether any of the product’s content poses potential health or safety hazards, as gauged by the EPA or IFLI’s Red List. (A product can still bear a Declare label even if some of its content is on the Red List.)

 

To ensure the veracity of the information on the label, IFLI requires the product maker’s CEO to sign a document testifying to its accuracy.

 

The label expires after one year, subject to renewal. The first label costs $850; each additional label is $700 for up to 10 products submitted; and subsequent product submissions are $600 each. The renewal fees are 50% of the first-year cost, as long as there are no changes to the content. However, to encourage companies to reduce the health and environmental impact of their products, this fee is waived if the change is to remove a Red List ingredient.

 

Costello says that about a dozen suppliers have signed up for the labeling program so far. ILFI also recently teamed with The Oregon BEST (for Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies) Center to launch a contest to encourage product designers and manufacturers to develop nontoxic sustainable building materials. Submissions are due by Jan. 18, 2013, and the winner will receive $10,000 in cash.

 

Of the 140 projects or so that are certified under IFLI’s Challenge program, there is a handful of residential projects, such as Eco-Sense in Victoria, British Columbia; Desert Rain in Bend, Ore.; and Flex House in Portland, Ore. Each of these falls into the category best described as “extreme green” in their design, products, and construction.  For example, the 2,300-square-foot Desert Rain, which includes a detached two-car garage, is net-zero energy, offers a completely self-contained rainwater collection system, processes all of its wastewater, and is carbon neutral and Red List-free.

 

John Caulfield is senior editor for Builder magazine.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Portland, OR.