As the new executive director of the Vinyl Building Council, Kevin Koonce will oversee advocacy for the most-used plastic in building and construction on national issues that range from green rating systems to port dredging to rail freight costs.
However, he said one of his big hopes for the job is to build on grassroots momentum he noticed last year when there were calls to ban vinyl siding in North Carolina and cries to level the playing field for plastic pipes in Ohio for water infrastructure projects.
In North Carolina, Koonce said there has been talk of outlawing vinyl siding in some communities for aesthetic reasons, while in Ohio PVC pipe is locked in a competition against iron pipe.
To further complicate matters, there aren't many vinyl siding manufacturers in North Carolina or plastic pipe producers in Ohio.
Even so, Koonce said that didn't stop stakeholders in the $54.4 billion vinyl industry, which employs 350,000 people, from collaborating to support each other.
“In Ohio, the siding guys were able to help out and in North Carolina the pipe guys weighed in and contacted their local members of the state Legislature,” Koonce said in a telephone interview. “From my understanding, it's not that vinyl siding was aesthetically unpleasing but if it's not installed properly it can warp and bend. You have to hang it loosely so it expands in the heat.”
While the issues are still pending, Koonce said progress was made.
“It's the first time I think where we had a cross-pollination effort and it broadened our footprint,” he said. “It's easier to ban vinyl siding when no one speaks up for vinyl siding but it helps when you have local folks whose jobs are related to the vinyl industry writing and calling and saying, ‘Look it's not the product itself. It's the installation and I need you to take that into account.'”
While new challenges can pop up anywhere, Koonce said he has a lot of perennial issues on his plate, too.
“One is making sure vinyl products are not put on any de-select lists or red lists by people with an agenda and bringing forth the positive message that vinyl is your product for life,” he said.
Koonce pointed to disagreements with the U.S. Green Building Council, which administers the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program, about how different building materials are treated.
“More recently we have an agreement to try to work together and see if we can adjust the latest LEED program or maybe we need to start over,” he said. “I don't want to speak ill of the USGBC but there are concerns that some folks would like to de-select not just vinyl but other products that contain chemicals that are very important to our way of life and our quality of life and quite frankly don't have a ready substitute.”
Great strides have been made in the process of making PVC with dioxin levels reduced to 7 grams per year and more recycling initiatives are on the way to handle vinyl at the end of its life as a building product.
“That 7 grams is coming from 18 plants so that's less than half a gram per plant,” Koonce added.
He said vinyl has a good life cycle story to tell and it's getting better.
Koonce said he and the VBC also are concerned about the need to dredge port harbors to handle the bigger ships that will be moving plastic and other products between the eastern and western hemispheres via an expanded Panama Canal. And, the VBC would like federal officials to look at decades-old railroad regulations put in place before that industry consolidated from 17 players to about four.
“The problem is now the way the system is set up it's almost price fixing by the railroads,” Koonce said. “For our guys, getting the raw materials we need to produce the resin is expensive and the railroad operators have a bit of a monopoly. That's why we say it's a captive rate problem. It's felt by the resin producers most acutely but it affects the whole supply chain because the cost is passed along and ultimately to the consumer.”
Koonce is optimistic about a good outcome.
“If there's anything Congress says it can agree in this year it's trade and it's transportation,” he said. “You need infrastructure no matter where you come down on the issues.”
Koonce is the second executive director of the VBC, which was launched in 2013. The first director, Kate Offringa, has a new position with the Vinyl Siding Institute.
Before the VBC, Koonce was vice president of government affairs for the Council of the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association. He also was vice president of the American International Automobile Dealers Association and he was legislative director and counsel to former U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH).