The PVC Debate Video, 63 minutes

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If alternatives cost more but are perceived as healthier, should you convince your clients to use them?

Two decades into this heated environmental debate, we have yet to see definitive answers emerge to questions like this, although one thing is for sure: whether it's called "Poison Plastic" or "Pandora's Poison," polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and the vinyl products made from it is easily the most vilified building material commonly used today.

Are you up to date on the facts?

The green building community has been critical of PVC for containing hazardous materials and releasing toxic chemicals during manufacture, use, and disposal.

All the while, the PVC industry, buoyed by incredible demand for the material, argues that complaints are exaggerated and emphasizes that it is made from "common salt"—implying that it is harmless.

What are the facts behind this rhetoric—and how have they changed in the 20+ years since Greenpeace and other environmental organizations made PVC a signature issue?

A practice-oriented panel

BuildingGreen will host a panel stocked with professionals who deal with product choices and the details of PVC on a day-to-day basis, with a focus on pragmatic results informed by deep research into the risks of PVC and its alternatives.

In addition to two architects—one with a focus on healthcare and one on homes—our panel includes a researcher, and a representative from a manufacturer known for its environmental initiatives, yet which has steadfastly stuck to PVC as its main feedstock.

Everything you need to know about PVC

If like a lot of people your head has been spinning over the last decade as PVC has been debated to point where clarity is hard to find, we'll review the key context that underlies this whole debate—and where facts and opinions diverge.

  • Why did Greenpeace pick PVC to attack in the first place? Was PVC singled out unfairly?
  • You've heard about chlorinated or halogenated plastics like PVC being problematic. What makes them different from other plastics?
  • Dioxins: is PVC responsible for spewing these poisons into the environment, or is it not the real culprit?
  • Mercury pollution: does PVC cause it, and if so, where—in the U.S., China, or both?
  • Is PVC socially just? What about "fenceline" communities that bear the brunt of problems?
  • Are HPDs and the transparency movement giving us useful data on PVC? Isn't the real issue the phthalates, plasticizers, and other chemicals embedded in vinyl products?

Alternatives and cost

If you decide to avoid PVC, what will it cost you? BuildingGreen's product research expertise will discuss alternatives in key product segments, and our panel will discuss their experience on what these alternatives cost—and if there is a cost in performance.

You'll also hear audience questions and perspectives during the panel discussion and Q&A.


Sarah designs residential and commercial projects, architecture with a capital 'A' that is also practical and a pleasure. A keen understanding of sustainable design is carefully enmeshed with the individual values that motivate her clients to create architecture that delights.

Since 1989 Sarah has led a practice with a national presence including 9 national and local design awards. A leader in the design community, Sarah has served on the AIA's Committee on the Environment, and taught at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College and the University of Minnesota

Mikhail Davis is director of restorative enterprise for Interface in San Francisco. Interface is the world's largest manufacturer of modular carpet and has promised to eliminate its negative impact on the environment by 2020.

Mikhail was previously responsible for strategically leveraging and expanding Interface's thought leadership in sustainability with a focus on the U.S. Pacific and Southwest regions. He has more than 14 years of experience as a strategic adviser, analyst, designer and manager for sustainability programs in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors.

Susan Walter is a senior project architect at Wilmot/Sanz in Gaithersburg Maryland. The firm specializes in healthcare environments and she is responsible for implementing sustainable design for the firm's projects. The firm currently has around 1 million square feet of space registered with the USGBC at several certification levels.

She has co-convened the National Capital Region Sustainable Healthcare Alliance, which strives to bring owners, users and designers together to discuss solutions to the challenges of implementing sustainability into healthcare environments.

As products editor for BuildingGreen, Brent Ehrlich conducts research and writes product- and category-level descriptions for the company's GreenSpec product directory.

He also contributes product reviews and feature articles for Environmental Building News, and has been a contributing editor to McGraw-Hill's GreenSource magazine

Sarah Lott provides critical research on building materials for Healthy Building Network. She began working with HBN as a Pharos Project intern in 2010, and became a full time employee in March 2013. Sarah has a B.S. in Biotechnology from James Madison University where she also studied environmental management and environmental studies.

Her education and work with HBN have fostered interests in life-cycle analysis and sustainable production systems.  She is author of "Phthalate-free plasticizers in PVC," published in 2014, and co-author of "Full Disclosure Required," HBN's analysis of asthmagens in building materials.