By Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP
Let’s imagine you are interested in purchasing a new pair of running shoes. You find two pairs you like. One is manufactured using slave labor in unsafe conditions and pollutes local waterways, while the other pair is manufactured using responsible labor practices, in safe working conditions, and in an environmentally conscious manner. Would that knowledge impact your decision? Nike came under fire in the early ‘90s when it was revealed that its shoes were produced in poor working conditions and with low wages. Nike has since implemented policies that include setting a minimum age for workers, adopting Occupational Safety and Health Administration clean air standards in all factories and adding more factory monitoring. This led to Nike releasing a corporate social responsibility report containing numerous examples of its social and environment stewardship.
Other companies have followed suit and you can now find social responsibility reports or responsible sourcing reports for everything from diamonds to chocolate milk.
Guess what? The precast concrete industry could be next.
What is RSS and who’s asking for it?
As the green building evolution continues to rise, there is more demand for transparency. We mentioned in the September/October Precast Inc. about how owners want disclosure of the environmental impact of each construction material through the use of environmental product declarations. They want to know what is in each material and what the associated potential health risks are with the use of health product declarations. Turns out, they also want to know how these materials and the raw constituents are extracted or harvested, and how they are manufactured and processed to assess the social and environmental impacts of that product.
There are a few different terms used for this process, but the most common in the construction industry is responsible sourcing scheme or RSS. You may ask why we need an RSS when we are providing an EPD? EPDs provide quantitative information about the environmental impact of precast concrete and are used when performing a life-cycle-analysis. An RSS provides qualitative information identifying responsible practices throughout the supply chain – addressing both social and environmental impacts of the product.
However, at this point, you may say, “I pay my employees well, I provide a safe environment and I don’t pollute, so I should be fine.” That’s great to hear, but it is not just about you. The admixture you use may contain a chemical that is processed in another country, and the owner of that company may not be as nice as you are. The RSS pertains to you and your company’s product supply chain.
The main driver in the building rating systems is mainly LEED. LEED v4 has a new credit available under Materials and Resources titled Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Sourcing of Raw Materials. One option requires that 20 different permanently installed products have a public report released from their raw material suppliers that includes information about raw material extraction locations, a commitment to responsible land use, and a commitment to environmentally responsible extraction and/or manufacturing processes.
Cement industry to follow
The cement industry has seen the writing on the wall and is quickly getting to work to develop an RSS. The Cement Sustainability Initiative, operating under the umbrella of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, is partnering with concrete sector organizations throughout the world to develop an RSS by the end of 2014.1
So whether it is running shoes or a precast wall panel, consumers want to know how the product was made before making the decision to purchase. The next generation of specifiers will demand more transparency and, as an industry, we need to be prepared in order to maintain market share. What can you do now? Ask your suppliers if they have an RSS or Corporate Sustainability Report. NPCA will continue to bring you updates as they develop.
Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP, is NPCA’s director of Sustainability and Technical Education.
1 For more information visit http://www.wbcsdcement.org