Greening the Building Envelope

The road to a more sustainable future for building materials and products is multi-faceted.

Full article originally published in Facility Executive’s October 2019 issue.

Imagine a world where all commercial buildings and building products are manufactured from non-hazardous, renewable materials, and provide more than 40 years of unparalleled weathering performance. Carbon emissions are on the decline. Landfills are becoming a thing of the past. Unfortunately, that is not the current picture of the world we live in today, but why? Utilizing recyclable resources is not new to the marketplace. In fact, people have been incorporating recycled materials into products for decades. So why aren’t manufacturers capitalizing more on the sustainability movement?

The answer is more complex than building owners and consumers may realize. The world of sustainability is a multifaceted moving mechanism that requires each part to work together seamlessly. Over the years, manufacturers have made huge strides in the sustainability arena, discovering new and innovative ways to use recycled materials in products without compromising performance, yet also providing environmental benefits. But like most movements, there are some roadblocks hindering the building envelope industry from springing forward to a more sustainable future.

Sustainable Manufacturing can be hindered by:

  • Supply and Demand — This concept is shown in the movement to eliminate plastic straws. The demand for reusable or compostable straws increased when consumers became aware of the potential harm posed by plastic straws. Cost can also affect companies; the sustainable options must compete against well-honed manufacturing processes, cheaper options and purer products.
  • Evolution of Sustainable Products — For building envelope materials, one of the largest collective and continually growing changes for the sustainability movement is the switch from solvent-based to water-based materials, such as coatings, adhesives and sealants. However, solvent-based products still maintain a hold on the industry due to their proven performance. Therefore, any manufacturers wanting to incorporate sustainable practices will need to adapt to new products, new installation methods, and new results.

So, how can coating and waterproofing/roofing manufacturers bridge the gap between performance and sustainability? Consumers and manufacturers concerned with sustainability want the same thing–sustainable, reliable, high-performance products. But the road to sustainability is not as easy as replacing one non-renewable component with a renewable one. Moreover, the life cycle and overall performance of the product is mutually as important. Inexpensive (and less sustainable) products with a low life cycle cost will end up in landfills because they’ll need to be replaced two to three times as often as the higher performing, longer life-cycle option.

As the demand for these high performance, sustainable solutions increase, this will bring more options to the marketplace. Once the demand increases, theoretically, costs should decline–helping to remove that factor from the decision-making process. Manufacturers play a critical role in educating building owners, architects and contractors on the benefits or hazards associated with the products they are using, and which options will provide the lowest environmental footprint from a life cycle analysis standpoint. Transparency is key in forging the path to a more sustainable future.

For more information and detailed findings, see the full article from Facility Executive.