Op-Ed

Opinion: Transparency Is Just the Beginning—How Manufacturers Can Use HPDs

Ingredient inventories and assessment are important. But ultimately, we need to design for an indefinite future.

Martel

Photo courtesy Tarkett
Our goal at Tarkett is to create products that will enhance the human experience and allow us to live and work in spaces that are made of healthy products.

As we consider that people spend more than 90% of their time indoors, it is important to think about the products with which we surround ourselves. Transparency or material ingredient reporting is the first step, but in order to make significant changes in the products we live with every day, we need to go a step further and optimize rather than simply inventory and assess.

In search of endless reuse

Designing products with quality materials and attention to their environmental and health profiles will eventually lead to endless reuse of scarce resources and help ensure human health and well-being.

From Tarkett’s perspective, material ingredient optimization is central to our closed-loop, circular design strategy powered by Cradle to Cradle principles and the circular economy. (Editor’s note: Learn about this topic in our feature article Circular Economy at Scale: Six International Case Studies.) Based on the first Cradle to Cradle principle (waste = food), and the fact that we design our products today to be the raw materials of tomorrow, we know we must select product ingredients carefully.

Our optimization process, which we pursue through the Cradle to Cradle program, is based on three main steps:

  • Material ingredient reporting—In collaboration with our suppliers, we have so far established a list of all the raw materials used in all our products.
  • Material assessment—We assess ingredients according to their impact on the environment and human health by considering risks to workers, end users, and organisms that can be exposed to the material. Only publishing hazard information makes the understanding of real health issues problematic, as your exposure can be very small or nonexistent. Our exposure assessment includes an analysis of plausible avenues of exposure and consideration of manufacture, uses, and likely end-of-use scenarios.
  • Optimization—We select ingredients that have a very low potential risk to manufacturing workers, product users, and the environment, based on the material assessment and the European precautionary principle.

Manufacturers can’t do it all

Not all companies have the opportunity, time, and budget to invest in a deep risk assessment. That’s why tools such as the Health Product Declaration (HPD), Declare, Pharos, and GreenScreen help give companies ideas about how they can optimize their products.

The challenge is that tools out in the market are multiplying, and manufacturers will be unable to support all of them.

While the architecture and design (A&D) community can request safe and healthy products, selecting among various products fulfilling the same function based on currently available tools is increasingly complex. Harmonization, therefore, is imperative, especially considering there is so little time for A&D to spend on each product.

At Tarkett, we operate under the premise that meaningful risk assessment cannot be done without first undertaking a complete inventory and hazard assessment. However, it’s important to note that hazard assessment does not fully address the exposure to any material.

The first client of the HPD is the manufacturer

Consider that silica, for example, is a carcinogen on California’s Prop 65 hazard list. It is also found in common glass, which you drink out of every day.

But the exposure to silica is nonexistent in that form; it is a carcinogen only when it occurs in powder form. To list the respiratory hazard linked to silica without an exposure assessment creates a false impression of danger. These issues make it critical to know who is selling the product, how it’s made, and how exposed the workers are to silica in the form that is actually hazardous.

The first client of the HPD should be the manufacturer, who best knows their own products and how to optimize them for a safer, more sustainable future. While the HPD can provide a listing, manufacturers need to use it to figure out how to screen, assess, and ultimately optimize their products.

Diane Martel is Vice President, Environmental Planning and Strategy – General Management at Tarkett North America. She works with all divisions of Tarkett North America to develop and implement an environmental strategy and action plan, ensuring awareness and action across the industry.

 

Published November 2, 2015

Add new comment

To post a comment, you need to register for a BuildingGreen Basic membership (free) or login to your existing profile.