Op-Ed

What USGBC's PVC Report Means for GreenSpec

Now that the much-anticipated final report on PVC by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has been released (see

EBN

Vol. 16, No. 3), one may wonder how the report’s findings will affect BuildingGreen’s coverage of products and materials in

EBN and our

GreenSpec Directory. After a comprehensive and objective review, USGBC has determined that, relative to other common materials used in the four application areas examined, PVC is not uniformly bad enough, compared with the likely alternatives, that avoiding it warrants a point in the LEED Rating System. Will we continue to write about alternatives to PVC in

EBN? Will we continue to include products in

GreenSpec specifically because they provide alternatives to PVC in certain applications? I need to disclose here that

EBN editor and

GreenSpec coeditor Nadav Malin was a member of the PVC Task Group that wrote the PVC report under the auspices of the LEED Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee (TSAC).

The short answer is that not a lot will change. Consistent with the report’s recommendations, BuildingGreen will continue to tout products that, based on our assessment, provide clearly superior environmental and human health performance compared with PVC in applications that are dominated by PVC. For example, natural-fiber and recycled-content polyester wallcoverings will continue to carry the GreenSpec environmental attribute “alternative to hazardous components.” Just because environmental and health concerns over PVC do not rise to the level of warranting a LEED credit for avoiding the material does not mean that PVC is a good material. Environmental and health concerns about PVC, from dioxin released during landfill fires to the heavy use of phthalate plasticizers in many PVC products, continue to argue for finding greener alternatives.

At the same time, we learned a lot from the USGBC report about some of the common alternatives to PVC in particular applications, and that knowledge

will affect how we write about and recognize products. For example, because of the high embodied energy and the pollution emissions from coking plants used to produce cast iron, we have removed from

GreenSpec cast-iron drain pipe, which had previously been listed as a greener alternative to the nearly ubiquitous PVC drain pipe installed in homes. And concerns about the energy intensity of fiber cement are forcing us to reexamine our endorsement of fiber-cement siding and shingles.

The PVC report advances our knowledge about PVC and a handful of other building materials tremendously, and we are thrilled to be able to benefit from this wealth of information in our own assessment of products and materials. We are pleased, also, that this report establishes a new threshold of scientific rigor to materials assessment for green building. Thank you, TSAC and USGBC.

Published April 5, 2007

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