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Assessing the sustainability of building products

There is no shortage of claims made surrounding the sustainability of various building products. While some of these claims are reliable, concerns about greenwashing and marketing spin abound.

Looking at assessing the sustainability of building products

This leaves product specifiers in building design with an increasingly complex task in trying to discern what a sustainable product is and deliver it to the end users. So, where does one start? Three key areas are important to the sustainability of a product:

  1. Human and ecological health (no harmful ingredients)
  2. Low carbon materials
  3. Circular materials (salvaged, recycled)

Officially launched at the Greenbuild expo in Atlanta this past November, the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator is a free tool for calculating and evaluating carbon emissions embodied within an array of building products. The tool is free, cloud-based, open-access and is meant to give users the information they need to make more informed decisions on embodied carbon.

Third party ratings systems

Another reliable way to know a product is sustainable is through a third-party rating system. An independent review process undertaken by a third party eliminates any trust issues that may result when information is provided directly from a manufacturer.

EPDs are used to measure the environmental impact of a product or assembly throughout its lifecycle.

Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) set such a standard. EPDs are used to measure the environmental impact of a product or assembly throughout its lifecycle. The EPD process can be thought of as a cradle to grave approach to analyzing the environmental impact of a product. Developing an EPD requires a complete life cycle assessment, which includes collecting, analyzing and verifying product data and getting independent third party verification and registration.


For rating systems for entire buildings, the USGBC’s LEED certification is the gold standard in sustainable building design. LEED has recognized EPDs in its latest update that encourages designers to specify products that have an EPD.Due to the rise in popularity of the sustainable building movement, and the potential profits gained by building operators from the marketing of green buildings as well as lower energy costs and higher tenant satisfaction, accountability is now a must.

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