Should We Develop a Green Label of Our Own?

John G. Swanson
April 1, 2008
COLUMN : Opening Remarks | Codes & Standards

The green building movement is not only a focus of this issue, recent meetings of both the American Architectural Manufacturers Association and the Window and Door Manufacturers Association have featured much talk about the subject. It was also a big topic at the International Builders' Show, with many manufacturers talking about how their products could make a home green, and how they were green in their operations.

Getting back to AAMA and WDMA, one specific idea that came up at both was the possibility of developing a new label-or more likely a new marking on the existing labels-providing some indication of greenness related to both a product's performance and/or production. It's an idea that's worth exploring.

In suggesting this, I will note there's a certain level of hype going on with green. I don't think the demands of green will go away; they will become pretty basic expectations and/or virtual requirements to do business. As with the Internet, there could be a green "bubble" that will burst, but there will still be a fundamental change.

An industry program would also face challenges achieving legitimacy, at least in the eyes of some environmentalists. They have a higher opinion of LEED for Homes program than the NAHB's green building guidelines. They see more value in the FSC certified wood label than an SFI one. Industry-developed programs are definitely greeted with some skepticism, but they can gain traction, particularly if they are developed with input from outside the industry.

I can also hear the groans, of course, about the thought of another set of tests, the additional paperwork and the costs associated with another label.

Yet there could be some benefits. On the production side, a lot of manufacturers don't know where to go right now. Looking through the growing number of "environmental practices" pages of company Web sites, you see references to recycled content, wood sourcing, management of water resources, control of VOCs, management and recycling of waste, ISO certification and a number of other efforts. It all sounds good-and I'm not saying it isn't-but a common yardstick might be helpful. Admittedly, it would be tough to develop a program accounting for all the different materials that are used for windows and doors, but it would be possible.

An industry program developed to tackle assorted environmental criteria would have one distinct advantage on this front. Most manufacturers are already participating in these programs to get their products certified for structural and energy performance. The auditors that now go into plants to see if companies are producing the same window, door or skylight that's being tested and rated could add verification of environmental practices to their list of procedural and quality control checks.

Some may question the need for a green label on the performance side of the equation. Those certifying LEED or other green homes are looking primarily at NFRC numbers when it comes to windows and doors. Codes too will continue to focus on those ratings. And, on the marketing end of things, we already have the Energy Star label. That may change, however.

No, the Energy Star label isn't going away, but the Department of Energy will soon announce new more stringent criteria. In DOE's mind, the Energy Star label belongs on best-in-class and/or leading edge products when it comes to energy efficiency. They would also like the Energy Star label to represent products that are "better than code."

Much of the window and door industry has a different perspective. Rightly or wrongly, the Energy Star label has come to be seen as a mark of a good energy efficient window. I don't think it is used as a point of differentiation so much-as DOE would like-but as a label that provides consumers some sort of quality assurance-at least on the energy efficiency front.

Should an Energy Star label cease to serve that role, perhaps an industry green label could replace it. DOE is likely to set new numbers for windows that are attainable by many manufacturers, but the increased performance will come at a price. Meanwhile, the window with a .35 U-value will still offer a more than respectable level of energy efficiency for many homeowners-particularly those living with old, single-glazed windows. Perhaps an industry-developed green label could help communicate that message.

Maybe we don't want bronze, silver, gold or platinum windows and doors, but it's an idea worth considering. And while I'm in the idea phase, builders, remodelers and even lumber dealers can earn green labels these days. How about a program to create green window and door dealers? Maybe something to talk about next month...