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'Green' building relies on plastics

By: Don Loepp

August 2, 2013

If your goal is to go "green" in the construction market, plastics have a lot to offer. Plastic building products combine low cost with energy efficiency. That's the plastics industry's sustainability mantra. It's uncomplicated and effective.

But the debate about construction and sustainability isn't that simple, as we see by the development of the latest U.S. Green Building Council's LEED standards — called LEED v4.

The original draft for LEED v4 would have rewarded architects and builders for avoiding "chemicals of concern," such as PVC — a major player in the construction market. Eventually that draft was changed, and the standards instead give builders credit for using "good" materials — rather than for avoiding "bad" ones.

Brendan Owens, USGBC's vice president of LEED technical development, explains that his agency had specific goals for LEED v4 — reducing carbon footprints and enhancing human well-being. Some products — like plastics — may score well on carbon footprint. But human health is a big factor too. The plastics industry can point to years of experience and research backing up the safety of its products, but some activists feel strongly that certain plastics should be avoided when possible.

It's the whole precautionary principle idea — and it's a very a tough issue to debate. Keep in mind, no one on either side of the argument is opposed to human health and safety, or sustainability.

So how can an industry argue with critics who say they care more about human health? Can "green" construction and plastics still come together? We're confident that they will.

Plastics industry officials have been working behind the scenes for years on the green building debate. There's a lot at stake — for the plastics industry, and also for the building and construction sector, and for consumers.

We all have a lot to gain from having access to safe, low-cost materials that save energy and have a low carbon footprint over their entire lifespan.

Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of "The Plastics Blog."