WASHINGTON — She may be new to the Vinyl Building Council (VBC), but Kate Offringa knows building products. And she knows Washington even better.
Now the VBC's first-ever executive director, Offringa has been working in Washington for 20 years, including five years working with the window industry and nine with the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA).
“My background is actually in international affairs and energy policy. But I developed a specialty throughout the course of my career in energy efficiency and more specifically energy efficiency in buildings and that's how I came to represent building product manufacturers in this town,” she said. “And that brought me to vinyl. Of course there are all sorts of vinyl products, but I'm now running the VBC so it's those vinyl building products like siding, flooring I'm focused on. And widows again!”
The fledgling VBC has been around for some time as a concept within the Vinyl Institute, but the self-funded business council held its first formal meeting late last year with representatives from the vinyl building and construction market. Designed to bring a unified vinyl industry voice to the public policy arena for building and construction, the VBC's mission is to champion the use of vinyl building products in North America building and construction applications by promoting their economic, environmental and societal benefits. Members include building product manufacturers, compounders, resin suppliers, and additive and raw material suppliers across the entire vinyl spectrum.
“The Vinyl Institute, where we're housed, represents the resin manufacturers and then you have the other downstream product manufacturing trade associations like the Vinyl Siding Institute, the different trade associations for the different types of vinyl products manufacturers. What the VBC does is bring all of those groups together — the resin suppliers, the downstream product manufacturers and their representative trade associations to all work together on policy issues, advocacy issues both at the federal and state level that affect vinyl building products, broadly speaking.”
A key focus of her efforts while at NAIMA was to increase the insulation industry's visibility and influence with Congress, presidential administrations and individual state governments. That sort of experience is what Offringa will bring to VBC. A smaller, family-owned business can't really lobby Congress on its own, but a collective voice on Capitol Hill or in the mainstream media can be a powerful force for change or even just recognition.
“When an industry can come together and work on issues of common concern for the common good, it's really helpful and it's great to see that kind of cooperation across an industry,” Offringa said. “It's not just about the products themselves, which is the important part, but also about what an industry looks like. You've got big corporations, you've got medium sized companies, you've got tiny family business. It's really a cross section of what the country looks like.”
And while some in Washington occasionally need to be reminded of it, much of United States still looks like manufacturers.
“I love representing manufacturers. We have such a great manufacturing history in this country and I think it's a big part of what's made us a great country,” she said. “The companies that make vinyl products and the companies that make the products in other parts of the construction industry I've worked in, they're good, responsible companies who have done so much over the years to make their processes efficient, make their products better and better through innovation all the time.”
Offringa knows that vinyl has a lot of energy efficient and sustainable attributes, plays an important role in green building; her building background combined with a passion for energy efficiency and sustainability issues will serve her well when it comes to vinyl. But she also knows she and the VBC are in the middle of an uphill slog when it comes to educating the public on green building, vinyl manufacturing practices and generally fighting off misconceptions about vinyl products.
Offringa and VBC are supporters of the Green Globes sustainable building standards, developed by the Portland, Ore.-based Green Building Institute, an American National Standards Institute (ANSI)-certified green building certification. “And we'd love to see the U.S. Green Building Council adopt and ANSI-certified process for their standards development,” she said.
“I'm very supportive of green building standards. It's important. Buildings use more energy than anything else, more than transportation, more than industry. More energy is consumed in buildings than any other sector, so energy efficiency in buildings is very important,” Offringa said. “But I believe in competition among green building standards, especially since they're produced by private groups, and I certainly believe in open process for input to the standards development and that's why ANSI certification is so important.”
While there is important work to be done by the VBC on energy efficiency standards, she said, green building is about more than just energy efficiency.
“There's sustainability, life-cycle assessments on products, the maintenance aspects … and there's more misconceptions [about vinyl] there.
“I think it's great that in the last couple of generations in this country we're really educated each generation more and more and sensitized people. We've become a generation of citizens who care about recyclability and sustainability and that's great. Fifty years ago nobody was talking about that,” Offringa said. “Our challenge, not just in the vinyl industry where we have a great sustainability and recyclability story to tell but also in other industries that I've worked with, our new challenge is to be just as good at educating the public on the types of products and the manufacturing processes and the life-cycle assessment and sustainability attributes of products that are part of their daily lives. They've been sensitized to ask questions about sustainability — great — now they need education on the products themselves.”