Sustainability Glossary: Transparency

As part of the Metropolis Perspective: Sustainability special issue, we asked experts to provide refreshed definitions of key sustainability concepts.
sustainability glossary transparency

Courtesy Lan Truong

The building industry recognizes that materials affect the environment and human health in different ways over the course of their life cycles. These elements matter at every stage: the sourcing of raw materials; manufacturing and the energy, water, and emissions associated with that process; the transportation and logistics necessary to get the product to the building; the use and benefit of the product when installed; and finally the product’s disposal, reuse, or recycling. This is why many best practices are now in place for choosing and installing products that create better spaces over the full life cycle for humans and the environment. While architects and designers are starting to educate themselves on the toxicity and recyclability of materials, policymakers and voters have passed measures like Proposition 65 in California, which requires businesses to notify consumers about any chemicals of concern in their products.

If we look back to five years ago, the drive for transparency in the building industry started with a loud plea from architects, specifiers, and designers eager to learn more about the impact of products and what they were made of. Principals of A&D firms sent letters with specific demands for manufacturers to be more transparent. In general, there was a call for the disclosure of detailed information about products, materials, and services that might include potential environmental and health hazards, implications for social policies, and energy footprints. Even when not required by law or sustainability standards, manufacturers stepped up their efforts and embraced a commitment to transparency. The response involved varying degrees of openness and levels of reporting, and there is now a common language to communicate transparency in several forms like Environmental Product Declarations, Health Product Declarations, and Declare labels. Many nonprofits, agencies, and standards supported this effort, including USGBC with LEEDv4, WELL, the International Living Future Institute, the Health Product Declaration Collaborative, and others.

Last year at Armstrong we created the Sustain portfolio of ceiling solutions that meet all the leading transparency criteria and conform to the most stringent sustainability standards. We continue to expand and optimize this portfolio and provide a comprehensive resource for the industry to select sustainable ceilings. The response from other manufacturers continues to grow, and efforts are in place to drive industry-wide change through collaboration, transparency resources, and education.

ANITA L. SNADER is the environmental sustainability manager at Armstrong World Industries. Armstrong Ceiling and Wall Solutions was a sponsor of Metropolis Perspective: Sustainability.

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Categories: Design, Ideas, Interiors