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Who Decided Sustainability was Important?

The SparkNotes version of how green building came about and who’s calling the shots.

Over the last year, Clarus™ certified its glassboards to contribute to three different credits — Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) credit, low emitting materials credit earned with Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), and a material ingredients credit earned with a Declare label. These three certifications allow our products to be included in many different green building projects, like LEED, BREEAM, Living Building Challenge, and more.

As we’ve interacted with professionals around the world in the business of green building, it’s surprising how many people don’t fully understand the schemes, certifications, certifying bodies, and other essential aspects of the industry – even we don’t fully understand! Environmental sustainability is a world unto itself – an entire industry with its own language and political hierarchy, made up of private and public organizations all competing to be the most important standard for sustainable development.

Why is this conversation important?

Throughout the year spent certifying Clarus’ glassboards, we couldn’t find resources to help visualize the industry’s layers of management. We were looking for a simple, concise, listed explanation of the green building industry; an educated, unbiased, experienced outlook on how to mentally digest and dissect the ins-and-outs of the world of sustainability.

With controversial opinions across the board about the value of different certifications, as well as a general lack of readily available information on the structure of the industry – how do you learn to understand the value of each certification?

And since we couldn’t find that information on our own, we made the resource for ourselves.

How did the green building industry develop?

As the world has become more educated about the importance of a healthy planet, we’re also learning about the impact of our building and manufacturing processes. Environmental responsibility began developing long before the green building movement – we’re talking early 1900s, Industrial Revolution.

Around the world, humans have come to grips with our effect on the planet over the last 100+ years. A step in the right direction – contractors started requiring construction processes to include responsibly sourced raw materials, like steel, sheetrock, glue, and anything else you can imagine. Even beyond the construction process, organizations began requesting sustainable office commodities and furnishings.

But how did construction companies and end-users and contractors decide which materials were “environmentally friendly”? Which materials are truly responsibly manufactured? That question is exactly why standards like LEED began to come about.

Standards developed around the demand for environmental responsibility. These standards are called “schemes,” and you have probably heard of some of them: LEED, the Living Building Challenge, BREEAM, and more. Schemes organize environmental building efforts, creating a process for construction projects pursuing sustainability. Instead of picking and choosing products and crossing your fingers that they are truly environmentally friendly – builders select certified products that contribute to a particular scheme they are following.

For example, if our glassboards were to be included on a LEED project, they would fulfill 3 credits for that project: an Environmental Product Declaration, a low emitting materials credit earned with Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), and a material ingredients credit earned with a Declare label. By including our boards, the project improves its LEED score and fulfills the standard.

The Overall Gist

The green building industry is made up of schemes and certifications that are developed by publishing organizations, certification bodies, industry groups, NGOs, and others. These organizations promote environmental practices around the world by testing, auditing, and certifying products that are environmentally manufactured.

The goal of Clarus’ sustainability resources is to educate, inform, and make you fluent in the language of green building. This is just the start, and later, we’ll explain the connections and hierarchy between certifying bodies, schemes, and certifications, and explain the significance of each.