Materials Intelligence – A Necessity for Selecting Sustainable Building Products

Young businesspeople with a house model
Interview with David Baggs, Global GreenTag for Auckland Build / Sydney Build news

Asked the question what hinders professionals in the construction sector from buying sustainable materials, David Baggs, the CEO and Program Director of Australia’s leading Type 1 eco label has a confident answer. It is knowledge, trust, and incentive he says.

“Professionals require confidence and trust to specify or use sustainable products in their designs. Therefore, they need to have some working knowledge about sustainable product intelligence to know what they are dealing with.”

Secondly, professionals incentive derives from having knowledge about third party certification schemes and knowing which eco label to trust to make it as simple as possible when sorting out what’s a green product on the market, what is not, and which ones are better than the others.

“The market unfortunately is still flooding with products that are marketed with ‘greenwash’ and most ecolabels are simple pass/fail, so don’t help designers differentiate between certified products to find the better and best for their projects.”

David, your background is also as a multi-award winning green architect. How has the built environment changed since you first started?

“It’s come a long way. It’s good to see. My significant turning point after developing my own direction in green roofed and earth covered buildings was taking on the materials and sustainability consultancy in the design and development of ten of the the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games venues, which was marketed as the first green Olympics. That was a game changer for me personally and the industry. It put sustainable development in Australia onto the world stage and inspired me to start the journey to look into the detailed life cycle impacts of the very building blocks of any development, which are the products themselves.”

“Although our intention to help mainstream sustainable development is still to be fully realized, we need to look at how far it has already grown and growing.”

“Look at the crane index, sustainable projects are very present and expanding exponentially to meet growing consumer demands for environmentally conscious and healthy living and working spaces. Trustworthy product information is therefore now critical.”

Doesn’t cost still have a deciding part to play in the procurement of construction materials?
“Well all builders are probably going to still pursue the best price of course but equating sustainability with additional cost is a common misconception. The thing is that with certification we have been able to demonstrate that many of the highest level sustainable construction materials are out there in the marketplace and competing on a level playing field in the price stakes, in fact some are less expensive overall solutions than their competitors, e.g. Weathertex’s uncoated cladding doesn’t need painting at all if you like the weathered timber look and while inexpensive in its own right, saves entirely the cost of painting – making it probably the cheapest cladding option around yet its Global GreenTag Certified Platinum, there is no higher sustainability rating.

We would probably also ask builders to consider the interests of their clients as well, especially when it comes to the energy and long term cost savings that have been well thought through and proven with the uptake of more energy efficient products.

Also, there is a perception that lowest cost always wins over environmental concerns in the market but actually market and consumer behavioural studies are saying otherwise.”

A recent report from the Australian corporate rental market registered a significant upswing in the demand for rentals that are healthier, more environmentally conscious, energy efficient and safer properties for people to live and work in. Another report – the 2015 Living LOHAS (lifestyles of health and sustainability) Report conducted by the Mobium Group tracked the changing views and actions of adult consumers in Australia between 2007 and 2015. It found that preferences for sustainable choices doubled in the period, representing a market value of over $26 billion.

“Building professionals across the market need to take note of this,” says David. “Transparency of claims has become a market imperative. That’s why Global GreenTag was born to provide a robust system designed for building professionals to trust the sustainability claims of product manufacturers … and product brands that call themselves sustainable to have the proof that what they say can be trusted.”

“What it really boils down to is that people – the broader consumer market – want control back; they want proof of product claims because their health, wellbeing and the preservation of the environment is important to them. Trust that a product can deliver the claims it makes is becoming central to decisions being made.”

What can professionals do immediately to ensure that sustainable product claims are trustworthy?

For building professionals, this requires a better understanding of the differences between different kinds of product verification and certification schemes, says David “to see what they offer and exactly how they integrate and serve sustainable projects.” He strongly advises that professionals make every effort to question a product certification or verification agency.

“Also, make a point of investigating what certification processes a certification body employees. Establish their claims as well; verify that their Marks are approved by a trusted body like the ACCC and compliant with standards aligned with a trusted international body like the ISO (International Standards Organisation).”

“Also, investigate how a certifier ranks products so that you are clear about comparative product choices and also how and where they interface with green building rating schemes.”

“Above all, ensure that there is transparency about a product’s means of production. Certification should be robust in certifying all manufacturer claims: from where and how a product’s raw materials are sourced; through to declarations of cultural, environmental and social impacts; to production to market and then how they are handled at the end of life.”

It is a detailed process, says David, but it is a serious business to make a lighter footprint on the earth, and sustainable product claims need to be fastidiously assessed to help bring this ultimate vision for a healthier built environment into a reality. “It will be up to all professionals to become savvier and to have answers that can be trusted because at the end of the day, it’s going to be the consumer who wants to know.”

Where can we go to do programs in materials intelligence?” What would you recommend for this sector?
“There are education programs available through a number of organisations, which do provide content in the field of sustainable materials selection and application. Some also provide CPD (Continuing Professional Development) points like programs provided by the BCA, the Green Building Council of Australia. Ecospecifier Global also offer CPD approved modules in sustainable materials as well.

More about Global GreenTag
The Global GreenTag label is the only ACCC approved certification mark for the Australia building sector. It has been influential in assisting green building professionals to achieve benchmark green building and interiors’ projects and facilities operations around the world. It has also assisted building manufacturers to improve their processes – and predominantly to gain access to selling their products into the green building market. It was voted in 2015 as one of Australia’s Top 100 Most Trusted Brands by readers of A&D Magazine. To understand more about GreenTag’s GreenRate and LCARate based product certification programs,

visit the Global GreenTag website: globalgreentag.com or contact David Baggs directly at: david.baggs@globalgreentag.com