Setting standards for green building

How do you know that the choices you make when building are environmentally sound? About five years ago, Rayne Neave of EcoExhibit posed this question to Bonte Edwards of Jeffares & Green Engineering and Environmental Consulting when they met at a Green Building Council meeting.

“We realised there was no way of evaluating how ‘green’ a product is,” says Edwards. So Jeffares & Green teamed up with Neave to develop an assessment tool for building products.

One company or individual on their own could not have a huge impact on the industry, but a set of standards would give the consumer a voice, a way of indicating that they preferred more sustainable products.

If consumers started exercising choice on this basis, that could have a powerful impact; it could, in fact, swing the industry away from the “business as usual” approach that rules at the moment. It was out of this rationale that EcoStandard and the EcoProduct label was born.

“The development took quite some time,” says Edwards, as it was being done pro-bono and had to be squeezed into the ordinary working day with all its demands.

The standard that has resulted is a thorough instrument. It begins with a pre-assessment that is purely paper-based and gives the client a chance to see if going the whole hog is worthwhile, or if they have a lot of work to do before trying for the EcoProduct label.

The second phase is a rigorous and extensive assessment.

“We assess based on several different categories. We start by looking at resources: what raw materials are used? How much of the content is recycled product? Does it come from a sustainable source?

“Then we look at transportation: how far do the raw materials for the product travel and by what means?” Asking questions such as this also serves to set the company thinking along more sustainable lines, she adds.

EcoStandard inspectors always include a site visit as part of the process, looking at what kind of energy is used, how water is managed and how this relates to each unit of product.

“We also ask if they do any environmental awareness training for staff.”

They’ll assess how the product is packaged and distributed. “This is a much neglected part of the whole process,” says Edwards. “Many products are over-packaged.

“Then we look at how the product is to be used – does it, for example, increase energy efficiency or not?”

The last leg is to consider the end-of-life: how is the product to be disposed of once it’s reached the end of its life? Can it be dismantled and recycled or repurposed?

The assessment is done by Jeffares & Green for the moment, but they have experts on the board to call on as and when they need it, including Professor Harro von Blottnitz, who has expertise in lifecycle assessment, and Simon Gear, an expert on air quality.

A product that passes the test and scores highly is entitled to market itself using the EcoProduct label. Those that don’t “pass” get constructive suggestions on how they can improve and try again.

“It’s something we’re all very passionate about,” says Edwards. “This is where we feel we can really make a difference and contribute to a green economy.”

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