Green Cradle To Cradle Certification — For Styrofoam Insulation?

by Owner on March 7, 2010

An interesting article in Environmental Building News caught my eye by saying that Dow Chemical’s Styrofoam branded extruded polystyrene (XPS) insulation was awarded Cradle to Cradle Silver certification by its sponsor company MBDC. XPS contains the brominated flame retardant HBCD, which persists in the environment and is not green at all.

What’s going on here? People looking for green building materials tend to think of Cradle to Cradle as one of the gold standards of third-party green certification, so the development is disturbing.

MBDC explains in the EBN article that while these chemicals in XPS “are definitely a concern,” they are permitted at the lower certification levels of Basic and Silver, so long as the manufacturer has plans to improve on the use of those chemicals over time.

It’s all well and good that Dow commits to “improve” the product later. But as EBN points out in an editorial, the problem here is one of PERCEPTION. The perception is that Cradle to Cradle is a valuable green certification, something builders and consumers can look for when seeking green building materials. Few designers and individuals have likely read the fine print that says that only Crade to Cradle Gold and Platinum are the “truly” green certifications, while the lower certifications denote merely a commitment to improve.

MBDC has responded by saying,

“We have been asked by concerned people about our position regarding flame retardants. MBDC sees HBCD as one the most problematic substances in the chemical industry. HBCD tends to be highly persistent and bioaccumulative and should be removed from the market as soon as possible. With MBDC’s Cradle to Cradle┬« Certification we honor Dow’s commitment to replace HBCD and their action plan to do so. In the event Dow would not follow through with their plan at the one-year review, certification would be withdrawn.”

It’s great for any company to make that kind of commitment and great for MBDC to strongly encourage such commitments, but in my opinion it’s not appropriate to extend an eco friendly aura to a product until it actually improves. Call it something else — Cradle to Cradle “Reviewed” or “Aspirant” or “Committed” or whatever, but not “certified.”

Meanwhile, I’ll only focus on Cradle to Cradle Gold or Platinum when looking for truly green building materials!

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