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Why We Care About Product Transparency

What's in it? Where was it made? Is the manufacturer socially responsible? These questions about green building products are getting easier to answer.

This is Part 1 in our series on transparency.

Part 2: Why We Need "Nutrition Labels" for Building Products

Part 3: The End of Greenwashing? Five Myths about Product Transparency

There's been a growing amount of buzz recently about "transparency"--a catchy word for giving people more information about products, finances, corporate behavior, and more.

It looks to us like the move toward transparency will be a major theme in 2012, so we focused EBN's January feature on explaining different forms of transparency and what this that could actually mean for the building industry in practice. To whet your appetite, check out this quick video we put together for a taste of what transparency means and how it could change our lives (thanks to our multi-talented sales administrator, HB Lozito, for her brilliant animations and narration).

In a new video, BuildingGreen looks at the accomplishments of the transparency movement so far--and what you can do to push for better information.

Highlighting transparency in GreenSpec

We're also going to make it easier to find products from companies that are taking the lead in providing greater information transparency about their products and activities. Starting today, GreenSpec will have a new Green Attribute for Information Transparency.

This means you'll be able to go directly from the "Green Attributes" menu to a list of products---products that have an Environmental Product Declaration, provide full disclosure on product ingredients, or where the company is providing info about their total operations through systems such as the Global Reporting Initiative.

When you're searching for a specific product, you can also filter for just those in the set of products you're considering that have this greater level of transparency.

We'll be adding products over time, so don't expect to see a complete list just yet, but check it out, and let us know what you think. Are you already seeking out this level of information and just waiting for it to become standard practice? Are you skeptical of its value, and find information overload just getting worse? Somewhere in between?

From better data to better products

Of course, better information alone doesn't make a product green, but it does make it a lot easier to see just how green that product actually is. We can make more informed purchasing decisions when we know what's in a product--not just manufacturers' claims about what it's "free of"--and when we know the actual environmental impacts of manufacturing the product relative to alternatives, not just a trade association's claim that it's "green."

A product isn't going to get into GreenSpec just because the manufacturer gives us more information. But information transparency helps us decide if it's green enough for GreenSpec. It certainly saves us a lot of digging, and the whole point is that it should save you time too.

P.S. As far as GreenSpec is concerned, this is a bit of a sneak preview, as we'll be rolling out other new attributes this year. Next up in EBN: a complete revisiting of our popular "What Makes a Product Green?" article, last updated in 2006. GreenSpec's green attributes will be changed to reflect the guidance we outline there.

Posted by Jennifer Atlee on January 4, 2012


Everyone's going green.

With everyone going green, or trying to make what they do as environmentally friendly as possible, it's important to know what products are fully green or just passing off as a green. Other manufacturers take advantage of these things by promoting they are good for the environment when they actually aren't.

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