Effective Chemical Policy: A measure of Quality; a measure of Social Responsibility

Lasting quality improvements are made only after one reaches down into the root cause of the issue, finds what is truly causing the failure and then makes an informed change for the better.

So it is with the many who are reaching down into the root cause of certain illnesses and related health problems.

Nationally, we debate a myriad of opinions about health care; to whom, how much will it cost, how effective will it be, etc.

Physically and fiscally, it’s a matter worthy of our attention because a healthy America is a strong America.

Problem: Chemicals in products affect our health.   http://www.saferchemicals.org/

Root Cause: Outdated legislation and industrial behaviors.

http://lautenberg.senate.gov/assets/SafeChem-Summary.pdf

http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2011/04/25/peds.2011-0523.abstract

Solutions:

http://www.unep.org/hazardoussubstances/UNEPsWork/ChemicalsinProductsproject/tabid/56141/Default.aspx

http://www.greenbiz.com/research/report/2011/02/01/state-green-business-report-2011

http://www.greenbiz.com/news/2011/08/25/how-chemical-regulations-can-boost-cradle-cradle-thinking

Intended outcome: Reduce/eliminate causation

Monday, January 23, 2012 — 12 notes   ()


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Sustainability gives reason and purpose to environmentalism

If, as William McDonough (1) says, “Design is the first signal of human intention”, have we designed our businesses to provide the intended environmental outcomes we seek for future generations?  And how will the outcome affect not only basic issues of birth/life/death, but also social governance, conflict, democracy, and prosperity?

Although the cartoon highlights food, it could just as easily address any of the seemingly insurmountable challenges associated with population growth.

Whether one subscribes to either side of the Global Warming debate, worries about the earth’s carrying capacity (2), or simply wants to hide under a turnip leaf, the future will be more populous than the present (3).

A more populous future is a future to be celebrated.  Globally, the annual population growth is approximately 78,000,000.  However, within that calculation are 6,000,000 children under the age of 5 who never make it to their 5th birthday.

Goal 4 of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) (5) seeks a 2/3 reduction of under-5 child mortality by 2015.  (We conservatives too often switch channels when the UN comes on, but you’ll want to sit tight for a few minutes.)

How’s Goal 4 progressing?  Be encouraged, and enjoy:

http://www.gapminder.org/videos/reducing-child-mortality-a-moral-and-environmental-imperative/

What’s this have to do with building materials?

Answering such important questions is one of the many challenges we face as we try to pinpoint our role within so broad a universe as “sustainability”.  Recruiting and encouraging others to join in is highly dependent upon our ability to gather our reasons into a context and relevance in order to answer the questions, “What can I do, where do I start, and how do I know it’ll help?”.

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(1) http://www.mbdc.com/

(2) Wikipedia.org, Carrying Capacity

(3) Wikipedia.org, World Population

(4) Wikipedia.org, Child Mortality Rate

(5) Wikipedia.org, Millennium Development Goals

Thursday, July 7, 2011 — 6 notes   ()


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Aim for Zero Toxins

Architecture has always been about bringing art, engineering and interaction of people together in such a way that the building serves a people-purpose as it interacts with its physical setting.  The change being brought about by the revolution of environmentally-effective design, LEED, is that the “people” component is rightly raised to a higher level.  We’re not just touching the people in the building and neighborhood, although they’re the primary beneficiaries, we’re reaching back into the supply chains and asking how the raw materials were extracted, what chemicals are used in extraction and processing, and whether these chemicals remain at the factory, or if they have come to live in the building.  As importantly, we need to know how it all affects the workers and factory communities.

Can the materials manufacturer prove its practices are compatible with, and supportive of, the goals of sustainability and LEED?

Architects and owners are insisting on knowing and eliminating chemicals of concern, ridding materials of persistent bioaccumulative toxicants.

Case-in-point:  Architectural Firm Aims for Zero Toxins; Helen Christophi, 12/14/2010; GreenBuildingNews.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011 — 2 notes   ()


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Can’t we go somewhere other than “Green”?

If a green plane, flying through a green storm crashed into a green mountain and exploded into a green cloud, would the green cloud have a greenhouse gas potential less than, equal to or greater than methane?

I’m reminded of a winter trip I made as a young business traveler 30 years ago.  Visualize a twin-engine, 12-passenger commuter plane, a snowy evening and both pilots visible because the “don’t-scare-the-passengers screen” was missing.  And they had a flashlight!  They took off in the snowstorm and as we were gaining altitude, pilot/copilot passed the flashlight back and forth to inspect the wings for ice build-up.  Since all seats in a 12-passenger commuter are window seats, we each followed the light beam and ice build-up until the props began flinging ice chunks into the fuselage; it was then that praying seemed more interesting.

So?

So I’m thinking we’re flying through a green storm more dangerous than ice.

The USGBC has taken energy to the forefront, a position commensurate with the urgency of reducing consumption and the corresponding GHG.  We can change only what is, and LEED has documented the benefits of this change.  Flights to GHG have been rerouted to cooler climates.

Day lighting and views … great, as long as you don’t shine the flashlight out the window in the middle of a green storm.

Green storms occur when El Nino marketing winds sweep across the land stirring thousands of green dust devils forming green clouds that rise all the way to the boardroom.

The green dust devils are varied and many.

One is a multi-billion dollar manufacturer of international status that gives out business cards printed on green stock.  When asked about their environmental work they unabashedly throw green dust into the air and admit it’s just green dust, but the coolest shade of green you’ve ever seen.

The green dust of recycled materials filled with PBTs is more highly sought after than first generation materials with no PBTs.  Just don’t inhale.

Another sprinkles the green pixie dust of Corporate Social Responsibility in its ads as it restores the greener and taller prairie grass while showing their lawn service accelerating the process by spraying defoliant on the existing, no longer fashionable lawn. (Remember: The green pixie dust is meant to cover your mistakes, not highlight them!)

One manufacturer dusts itself with green toxic powder as it calls out its competitor for importing a plastic compound created without antimony on an otherwise loaded container ship as less “green” than their domestic material made with antimony.

So, if a green plane flying through a green storm crashed into a green mountain and exploded into a green cloud of dust, would the green cloud have a greenhouse gas potential less than, equal to, or greater than methane?

Answer:  Green dust is methane.

Are there any direct flights to where we’re going?  Commuters scare me.

Yes, there are and more travelers every day, and they fly above the green dust.

Thursday, December 30, 2010 — 4 notes   ()


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There Isn’t One Expert

I firmly believe that there are absolutes in this life, and I left Greenbuild 2010 knowing of others sharing that belief - but with a slightly different twist.  Some at Greenbuild gave presentations of their version of an absolute - one certification regimen is the absolute best and only way to quantify and qualify environmental aspects and impacts.

Several months ago I wrote that I felt good that we’re not limited to one authoritative view on the subject of environmental responsibility and/or sustainability, and having sat through a session where the “right way” acknowledged all but one other certification, I found my initial thoughts coming back to me.

There isn’t one expert, thankfully, and as much as I was surprised to witness rivalry by exclusion (UL Environmental ignored MBDC’s Cradle to Cradle), I was thankful to see the projection screen plastered with certification schemes.

I had the honor of sharing an interview with William McDonough (MBDC) and the interviewer asked what Greenbuild would look like in 10 years.  I answered that I thought it would still be called Greenbuild, but the talk would move off of “green” and onto “good design” because by then we’ll all recognize that environmentally responsible design (product or building) is simply good design.  In 10 years we’d all better reach that point or we’ll continue to drive each other loony with green-speak.

Time will sort the proverbial wheat from the chaff, and various certification/declaration schemes will be, or continue to be, the gold standard, and as William McDonough said in an interview that week (and I paraphrase), MBDC C2C isn’t an environmental certification, it’s a quality certification.  I liked that, and not just because it fit my bias, but because C2C stands on 5 pillars that individually make sense, but together define the quality of one’s environmentally responsible work and design for sustainability.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010   ()


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LEED Building Standards Fail to Protect Human Health

On August 16, 2010, John Wargo, Yale professor and blogger for Yale Environment 360, posted a very good article about the LEED program.  In his opinion LEED falls short in protecting human health.  Read the article here

I posted the following in response.

"As a building product manufacturer, Corporate member of the USGBC and a LEED AP+, I, too, want to see LEED pick up the cause for safer building materials.

What good will it have been to have saved energy but not people?

The USGBC continues to do an extraordinary work.  Unprecedented and essential sustainability.

Wanting to add healthy building products onto that effective and successful machine is natural; we always ask more of the high achievers.

Others have been working on the problem.  The Green Guide for Health Care and organizations like Practice Greenhealth, Healthy Building Network, and Collaborative for High Performance Schools and Clean Production’s Business/NGO for Safer Chemicals are all working/advocating for this issue.

The Green Guide for Healthcare asks that we, “Imagine: Cancer treatment centers built without materials linked to cancer; Pediatric clinics free of chemicals that trigger asthma.”  www.gghc.org

A clear and supportive endorsement (in the absence of being “in” LEED) from the USGBC of the need to protect people from the effect of hazardous chemicals in building materials would set in motion the free market forces for accelerating change.  Although this is implicitly evident by the very nature of the USGBC work, some things just need to be explicit.

It’s not just about off-gassing of hazardous chemicals; it’s about eliminating chemicals of concern such as PBTs and carcinogens.

The Safer Chemicals Healthy Families coalition, its members and others, are lobbying for, and working to educate all of us as to the need to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act.  Their publication, the Health Case for Reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act, is the most concisely informative piece I’ve read; supported by 3 pages of endnotes.  www.SaferChemicals.org

Government control or government support?  Control through TSCA Reform and support through enforcing existing Executive Orders and federal policies requiring federal agencies use established environmentally preferable purchasing.  See the EPA’s Final Guidance on Environmentally Preferable Purchasing, August 20, 1999. (Yes, “1999”.)

While TSCA Reform is debated in the Senate & House, and while the USGBC remains implicit, let’s thank Mr. Wargo for helping keep this issue in full view and open debate.”

This is timely for C/S because we stand in both the USGBC camp and that for chemical reform.  We not only advocate for reform, but are doing something about it as we identify chemicals of concern in our materials and replace them with safer alternatives.

Reading Wargo’s posting and the responses gives a good sense of the issues and opinions.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010 — 3 notes   ()


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Exchange and Interplay

Working on two recent Op Ed pieces (below) reminded me that there isn’t a mountain-top guru of environmentalism.  And that’s a reassuring reminder because the work is too big, and far too important to be held by one person/group.

The exchange and critique of wording that went into the pieces is the same dialog that’s going on among and across the breadth of the issues.

I’ve come to appreciate this exchange and interplay of ideas as never before, and find it sharpening my thinking as I strive to ensure our approach is relevant to the work and up to the challenges of our time as it rolls into future generations.

In her June writing in the New York Times on the topic of "Products That Are Earth-and-Profit Friendly, Sindya Bhanoo ends with this question, “I have to ask, is this really just an example of green tokenism, or does it reflect deep thinking on a company’s part?”

What a great yardstick against which we should measure our work to help ensure we walk the talk.

Published in The Hill, 7/16/10:  Green buildings need safer chemicals policy reform

Published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/27/10:  Disclosing toxic chemicals

Wednesday, July 28, 2010 — 2 notes   ()


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Clarity and Understanding

In the broad scope and importance of Sustainability, one’s environmentalism can get lost in a myriad of terms, views and meanings.

Two of the filters I use in seeking clarity and understanding are that of context and relevance.  Why is it important and what is its affect on the whole?

"Environmental speak" can quickly obscure meanings and redirect into irrelevance.  Context and Relevance can be proof-tests by which we judge what we, and others, are doing and in the process learn what we may be missing.

The three links below are a few of the reference points by which we (C/S) judge our work to rid our products of PBTs and Chemicals of Concern.

Low Emitting Materials Technical Brief (GGHC)

Understanding Indoor Air Quality and Toxicity (Jan D. Stensland)

Business NGO Working Group

Thursday, July 8, 2010   ()


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Tail of the 25’ Yellow Duck

I was recently invited by Safer Chemicals Healthy Families to participate in a press event being hosted by the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDAA) to give a brief overview of our position on TSCA Reform.

It’s almost summer and the centerpiece of the event was a 25 ft. tall inflatable yellow duck.  Who could resist?

Although the day’s event didn’t unfold in the exact order originally anticipated, the press and Representative Murphy’s Field Director, Nate Nevala, were there to hear about our purpose, challenges and hoped-for reform.

And, if the day’s work had ended there and then it would have been a good day.

But, it didn’t end at that point; there was the matter of the 25 ft. tall yellow duck - it was time to put him back in the box.  Here’s a recap …

It was a hot, sunny day with a prevailing wind, not “breeze” - wind - giving ducky a ride while testing its tethers.

Deflation requires finding and opening the rear inflation portal, reversing the fan and drawing the air out said portal.  So, I placed the fan inside ducky and ducky, beginning to deflate, lulls you into thinking it’s going willingly.  Until the fan sucks the duck against its intake grill and the process comes to a halt.  Removing duck from intake grill requires that I enter the duck through the rear portal (not something on my Bucket List).  At this point, I’m very happy the news crews are gone.

The rear portal isn’t big enough so only 2/3 of me (folded at the waist) can fit in.  I then stand inside ducky, astride the fan and each foot holds ducky from getting sucked into the intake.  Again, hot … sunny … prevailing wind.  I’m in suit pants and long-sleeve white shirt. 

Soon, suit pants are inextricably sucked against the intakes.

Leaving my “hold the duck up so it doesn’t smother me” position, I reach for the cuff of my pants.  The wind blows ducky over me so now I’m IN and were it not for the tethers, I’d still be wandering around the streets of Hoboken.  (This event took place in Pittsburgh, by the way.)

Finally, Christine (a co-worker) and Maureen (with LDAA) wrestle the yellow beast to the ground and free me from my predicament.  But before they finish, they pause because Maureen, on knees in wet gress struggling with ducky, notices Christine’s shoes and gives an admiring comment, to which Christine dutifully joins the discussion about how much each likes shoes.

I was pleased to hear an admiring comment about Christine’s shoes and thought it a timely and friendly remark bespeaking of Maureen’s obviously outgoing nature, but really thought the last sounds I’d hear were angel voices as the duck smothered me and not the redeeming qualities of shoes in the life of a woman.

They soon came back on task and beat ducky away just as its rear portal was about to do unspeakable things to me.

Ducky is now 96% deflated, I’m free from the “portal” and working to vacate the remaining air. 

Then they abandoned me!

Maureen went “to get the car” and I still don’t know where Christine went, only that she did finally return.

Ducky is now dead but the wind is trying to resuscitate it and I’m on my knees on the duck trying to gather it up like a paratrooper on D-day.

I move back and put my knees on the ground, the wet ground, there having been days of rain preceding this sunny, windy day.  When I stood up my suit pants had “little boy knees” - big, round, wet spots.

As I’m now standing there, shirt askew and all little boy knees, Officer Smiley rides by on his bicycle.  I asked if he had any experience subduing 25 ft. tall yellow ducks and Officer Smiley smiles more broadly as he surveys the insanity of the picture before him.  I then ask him to shoot ducky and he, smilingly, says it doesn’t match the description of any known criminals and rides on having offered neither moral nor physical support.

Christine returns and we’re both wondering if Maureen is now home by the pool.

With ducky now in full submission, Maureen and her ducky transporter vehicle arrive with boxes that were once used by someone in the Carter administration.  (I’m wondering if the National Archives know she took their boxes.)

Three adults begin stuffing the duck, once a ritual reserved for Pilgrims in November, into a bag.  Once we finished solving the riddle of how much duck would you stuff if you stuffed a duck, we closed and boxed the bag, hefting everything into Maureen’s car and going to lunch.

May the next adventure of the 25 ft. tall yellow duck happen on a cool, calm day and may all the preparations, as well as de-preparations, go as smoothly as ours did in Pittsburgh.

Monday, June 21, 2010 — 1 note   ()


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Chemical Policy Reform

In recent months, federal legislation has been proposed to overhaul the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA).  On March 9th a Senate hearing was held to get business’s perspective on TSCA reform.  We, Construction Specialties, had a story that Senator Lautenberg’s committee wanted to hear.  When their committee person interviewed me and got a sense of what we were doing, he said that the committee would want to hear about it.  I was honored to testify before the Senate of behalf of C/S.  You can view the hearing here.  I think that we bring a voice that is both pro business and pro TSCA reform.  If it’s not about people and people don’t benefit - then why do it?  And there cannot be a benefit to people if TSCA reform shuts down industry.  It won’t do that.  It will give industry the ability to innovate.  Without the proposed TSCA Reform, we’ll lose industry to Europe and/or Asia, but with effective TSCA Reform it’s a stronger America that will be exporting our expertise in safer products.

The current TSCA requires the EPA to prove a chemical is dangerous.  Chemical manufacturers and formulators are not required to prove that a new chemical is safe.  Some say there are 20,000 chemicals in industry, some say there are 80,000 - 100,000.  The EPA has not even been able to ban asbestos - they are powerless to do so.  The reform certainly adds complexity, but the hoped for legislation will require the first set of bad actor chemicals be reviewed for safety and each year there would be a minimum number of chemicals that would be reviewed.  New chemicals and substitutes would have to be shown to be safe and if there’s doubt, they won’t be used, but if there’s no doubt as to the safety, the chemical would be given a fast pass.  Ultimately, if TSCA is not reformed, we in the U.S. will lose our competitive edge.  Europe is already working on chemical policy reform.  What will happen is that European manufacturers will have safer materials than what U.S. manufacturers have.  We have consumers that want environmentally friendly products.  Imported products would have better features than ours and this will ultimately hurt American business.  We need to go further - we need safer choices and better alternatives or we will lose competitive edge against imported products; American industry will be vulnerable.

There are challenges in this for business, but we still support TSCA reform.  The benefits for human health are great and we believe that the work is worth it in the form of an ROI in terms of dollars as well as human health and a stronger America.

If you’d like more information on TSCA reform, visit the Safe Chemicals Healthy Families and Business NGO Working Group websites.  Please leave a comment and let me know your view of the proposed TSCA reform legislation.  Or ask me a question about it - I’d love to help you understand this important legislation.

Friday, June 11, 2010   ()


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Wake-up Call

The hazardous chemicals wake-up call happened for Construction Specialties (C/S) and me in the early 90’s after a hazardous waste incinerator was to be sited in a small, local community.  We wondered “why here?” and knew we didn’t want it in our backyard.  Thankfully the incinerator project was stopped by a strong grass-roots movement (O.U.E.).  Watching that story unfold made us wonder about where our hazardous waste was going (and why do we have hazardous waste anyway?) - something we hadn’t thought about before.  So we decided it was time to get to work.

Part of why C/S won the Pennsylvania Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence in 2003 was because we eliminated chemicals of high concern from our manufacturing process.  Organizations like Healthcare Without Harm and the Healthy Building Network helped us get a better awareness of dangerous chemicals and their impacts.  With earnest, in 2003 I began reading to try to understand why all the concerns about chemicals and materials, PVC in particular.  The Healthy Building Network and Green Guide for Health Care websites were great resources for me.  I read “Greed to Green” by David Gottfried, “Cradle to Cradle” by William McDonough and Michael Braungart and “Environmental Impacts of Polyvinyl Chloride Building Materials” by Joe Thorton, Ph.D.  Too many resources to list here so if you’d like to know what else I’ve read, let me know and I’d be happy to give you that information.

I tried to read on both sides of the issue.  One side says that these materials aren’t harmful.  If this side is wrong, the damage and impact continues and so many millions of people are injured - that’s unacceptable.  If the environmentalists are wrong - no one is injured (if dangerous materials are eliminated).  Some think that the environmentalists are anti-capitalists.  Through my association with the Business NGO Working Group for Safer Chemicals and Sustainable Materials, I’ve met several “activists” and learned this is not true.  They know that if there’s a business case for the work, the changes will accelerate.  They understand the market driven economy.

C/S has since established a chemicals policy, been certified ISO 14001 and has worked with MBDC to ensure safe chemicals are in place as we work our way back through our products (starting with Acrovyn 4000 and staying with it until we’re done).  We’ve established an environmental policy that has enabled us to save energy and reduce the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere.  If you’d like to know more about what we’re doing to protect the environment and human health, visit www.c-sgroup.com.  What was your (or your company’s) wake up call?  I’d like to hear from you!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010 — 1 note   ()


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Introduction

The greatest contribution we can make to sustainability is to try to frame the concept at its people-centered best, and to get that message out while the doors are yet swinging open.

And as we have designed our initiatives over the last 15 years, we sought to do things that directly relate to that theme, hoping to leave the abstract behind and working only on that which is immediately relevant and supportive of sustainability.

It is a time for businesses to be more purposefully public about our aspirations and our work.

Linking the intended outcomes to identified concerns such as toxic chemicals/removal of toxic chemicals, C02 reduction, deforestation/reforestation, etc. allow the initiatives to become active mitigators and teaching labs.

This blog will become my way of facilitating action and recording our journey.

Please comment.

Howard

Monday, May 24, 2010   ()


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People Centered Environmentalism is using Apple Like by Hello New York.