From raw materials acquisition to end-of-life disposal, reuse and/or recycling, knowing the life cycle of products is a way building service contractors and manufacturers of sanitary supplies are moving beyond simple compliance to differentiate themselves as environmental leaders. This holistic approach to looking at products is proving to be a win-win solution, providing a competitive advantage and even a roadmap for continuous environmental improvement for companies looking to get a lead on demands for increased transparency.

Cleaning contractors should be and are taking notice of the concepts of multi-attributes and life cycle assessments (LCA) as great ways to compare products in the same category to find out which one is the top environmental performer.

Environmental awareness is on the rise and more and more companies are looking for ways to assess how their activities are affecting the environment. When big retailers such as Wal-Mart are looking into rating products’ impact on the environment, the manufacturing world knows they have to adapt or lose market share.

Leading governments and institutions are setting ever more stringent environmental purchasing policies that have a major impact on the manufacturing and selling of products. These clients are demanding proof: certified EPDs, copies of test results identifying laboratories and date of testing, third-party verification of test results, or third-party certification to a reputable environmental standard.

Building service contractors are learning to recognize that each choice they make in selecting products for their look, function and cost is also shaping these elements. Knowing how products purchased for buildings will impact the environment and the community based on how those products were manufactured, used and disposed of (or recycled) is powerful information. Clients will only be increasing their requests to see further proof of environmental leadership, so understanding what this looks like is a big step forward.

When comparing eco-labels, learn to ask about the validity of the standard, the standard setting process, and the verification process to help identify the most credible and legitimate environmental certifications. Ask questions and search for proof to back up claims as ways to ensure selected transparency tools are as scientifically sound as they appear.

The world of environmental labeling and transparency tools is full of solutions to meet today’s needs for proof and the disclosure of impacts. Tomorrow’s tools may create the possibility for greater harmonization and consolidation of eco-labels and new environmental claims labels that share even more information from life cycle assessments to help buyers select the most environmentally preferable solution. For now, building service contractors will do well to continue looking for reputable third-party certifications and to ask manufacturers and suppliers for more environmental data to make the most responsible choice.

Scot Case is market development director at UL Environment and an expert in responsible professional purchasing based in Reading, Pa.

previous page of this article:
Product Life Cycle Assessment A Step Toward Sustainability