Sustainable building materials are becoming transparent

The focal point of commercial restroom sustainability has long been aimed at water conservation, but there’s a much bigger environmental picture than simply the amount of water that’s flowing down the drain.

Certainly, we’ve come a long way with our faucets, showerheads and toilets, but as water-saving innovation has continually evolved over the years, low- flow fixtures simply don’t have much room to go any lower without sacrificing drain-line carry.

With engineers now developing water closets with flush volumes as low as 1.1 gallons per flush, and in some instances completely water-free urinals, commercial restroom manufacturers have essentially reached the floor of flush and faucet volumes and are turning their attention to a new wave of sustainability.

That next evolution is coming in the form of a product’s impact on the environment, with complete product visibility becoming an essential part of commercial restroom specification as architects and contractors continue to push green design further.

While water conservation continues to be a point of emphasis of any restroom fixture, the environmental and health impacts that those fixtures make is now the trend that is carrying the torch into the next generation of restroom sustainability.

A declaration of sustainability
Transparency reports are providing unprecedented visibility into the impacts of the components and materials specified for projects. Manufacturers are now generating Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), Health Product Declarations (HPDs) and Declare Labels for their products that outline how production details throughout a product’s lifecycle can impact human beings and the environment.

More specifically, EPDs and HPDs are breaking down various stages of a product’s lifecycle – from
Manufacturers are then looking at how those different life cycle stages impact the environment.
Among the types of impacts that these companies are looking at are how much carbon is generated by the product, how it affects ozone, the amount of smog produced, and how much fossil fuel is being used or depleted throughout its entire lifecycle.

With the help of these indicators, manufacturers are able to act on the learned data to adjust manufacturing processes, as well as some of the chemicals and materials used
in their products with the aim of reducing the environmental impact levels of their products.

And some manufacturers have already started to take action on the data from their EPDs, improving the environmental impact of their products.

What’s in a label?
What’s the difference between EPDs, HPDs and Declare Labels?
Environmental Product Declarations, or EPDs, are based on the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of a particular product. The EPD details the life cycle impact of that product and its environmental impacts, such as recycled content, service life, water and soil pollution, global warming potential, ozone depletion and smog creation.
Health Product Declarations, or HPDs, disclose the materials or ingredients in our products and their associated human health effects. The HPD was created by the not- for-profit Health Product Declaration Collaborative to be the industry standard format for conveying details about product content and associated health information.
HPDs also help project teams
to achieve the new LEED Building product disclosure and optimization credits and the Living Building Challenge Materials Red List Imperative.

Declare labels are like nutrition labels for products. They answer questions like where a product comes from, what it’s made of and where it goes at the end of its life. The International Living Future Institute (ILFI) developed the Declare label to let manufacturers publicly announce the life-cycle sustainability of their products. ILFI identifies more than 800 “Red List” chemicals as hazardous to humans and/or the environment, then certifies products based on the criteria of the Living Building Challenge (LBC).

Taking the LEED
The latest version of USGBC’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system now offers additional credits for specifying products that have documented the environmental impact across the entire life cycle of the products specified. To qualify, they are asking manufacturers to provide EPDs or third-party verified life cycle assessments (LCA). EPDs and HPDs can now correlate directly to additional LEED points, the ultimate measure of green building.

Reclaiming Earth’s most precious resource
While a product’s composition certainly contributes to its effect on the environment, the biggest carbon footprint of commercial restroom products actually has nothing to do with how manufacturers are extracting the brass, where it’s coming from, or the machining of the product. Instead, the heaviest impact of commercial restroom products continues to stem from the potable water flowing through it.
With new water conservation efforts starting to slow down due to the existing innovation of low- flow fixtures, learning how to maximize non-potable water is the next wave of sustainability facing manufacturers.
With only so much water on our planet, the existing challenge is to convert fixtures from potable water and onto a greywater system, reclaiming and reusing as much as possible.
When we consider the heavy energy impact that creating and delivering potable water brings, it raises the question of why we’re taking so much valuable, energy-intensive water and simply flushing it away. Instead, there are other types of water that we could be using to flush both toilets and urinals.

Focusing on the future
Innovating with sustainable, low-flow fixtures that positively impact both buildings and the occupants inside is keeping manufacturers busy today, but it’s never too early to look ahead. We’re already starting down a path to where products can communicate to users in real time to deliver up-to-date data in an effort to save both time and money thanks to predictive maintenance.

With this focus on human health and innovation, the industry is beginning to build additional frameworks designed to take a closer look at how products and the chemicals that compose them can adversely affect the people that interact with those products on a daily basis.

Did you know?
The embodied carbon in a manufactured product can be reduced through a number
of methods, including entering into Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) to purchase zero carbon renewable electricity or completely offset the embodied carbon by investing in forestry carbon offsets.

Jason Boyd is the LEED-accredited vice-president and general manager of Dobbin Sales, a master distributor and supplier of commercial plumbing products to the Canadian plumbing industry. He can be reached at [email protected]