Technical Focus: Tile and Tile-Setting Materials' Green Product Certifications 101
In traditional construction, the choice of products for a project requires consideration of aesthetics, performance, schedule and cost. In sustainable construction, these traditional considerations are expanded to include products that reduce impacts on occupant health and the environment. Designers, specifiers and owners are increasingly seeking transparency in building products and their associated environmental impacts and health hazards. The number of green building standards and certification systems — such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and Living Building Challenge (LBC) — are creating an increased demand for products with sustainable attributes and, as a result, the demand for green certifications on these products.
The sustainable attributes of products can vary significantly depending on the type of material. Every product must be carefully considered to ensure it complies with strict green building standard requirements. There are no exceptions when it comes to tile and tile-setting materials, which can account for a significant quantity of materials. For instance, the sustainable attributes of concrete block may include recycled content, locally sourced raw materials and an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD), while sustainable attributes for an interior tile adhesive might focus on low-volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and material ingredients. This variation requires knowledge and understanding of a product’s impact on the environment and human health, standards and certifications for both green buildings and green products, and product availability in the building market. Fortunately, as sustainability expands, so does the availability of sustainable products, as well as resources and tools to assist project teams in making appropriate, informed evaluations and selections.
Green building standards and certification systems
Green building standards and certification systems establish environmental and health performance criteria for buildings, each with varying approaches. Sustainable design and construction gained popularity with the launch of the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), first published by Building Research Establishment (BRE) in 1990. BREEAM was the world’s first environmental assessment certification.1 In 2000, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) introduced a similar program aimed at improving energy efficiency and environmental practices of buildings through the LEED green building rating system. Other green building standards and certification systems also responded to the growing interest and demand for sustainable design and construction, including Green Globes, which was developed in 2000 by ECD Energy and Environmental Canada and later adapted for the U.S.2 The LBC was developed by Cascadia Green Building Council in 2006; in 2011, the council was renamed to the International Living Future Institute (ILFI).3
More recently, additional green building standards and certification systems have been developed to address other sustainability related issues such as human health and well-being. In 2014, The WELL Building Standard, pioneered by Delos and administered by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), was the first standard to focus solely on how a building impacts human health and wellness.4 Other certification systems, such as Center for Active Design’s (CfAD) Fitwel standard, have followed in WELL’s footsteps. Furthermore, ILFI has since launched supplementary programs and labels, including The Red List (a list of unacceptable chemicals for materials), the Living Product Challenge (LPC) certification and the Declare Label. The LPC certification incorporates both Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) and material health evaluation in order to create products that are net positive across their entire lifecycle, while the Declare program labels products with a full list of ingredients.5
To further complicate this space, there are several rating systems within each of these green building standards and certification systems, as well as multiple active versions — each with varying and everchanging requirements. For example, the latest version of LEED (version 4; latest update: v4.1) has shifted from existing guidelines of measuring recycled content of products used, VOC content, and how far those products were extracted and manufactured from the project site to evaluating a product’s environmental impacts and its effect on human health. This means a green product chosen for a previous version of LEED may not contribute to the same amount of LEED credits it had in the past; this is especially true for tile and tile-setting materials.
Fortunately, there are some synergies between varying green building standards and certification systems. LBC’s “Imperatives” address many issues found in LEED “Credits,” WELL “Features” and more. This means that tile and tile-setting materials can contribute to multiple green building standards and certification systems, and these synergies help manufacturers and project teams narrow down the number of green product certifications required. Examples include the Green Squared certification required LEED’s Certified Multi-Attribute Products and Materials credit has similar requirements to Green Globes’ Materials and Resources credit; LBC’s Healthy Interior Environment Imperative addresses issues found in LEED’s Low Emitting Materials credit, Fitwel’s Indoor Air Quality Policy strategy and WELL’s VOC Reduction Feature; and LBC’s Red List Imperative is comparable to LEED’s Material Ingredients Credit and WELL’s Material Transparency Feature.
Green product attributes and certifications
The sustainable attributes of a product advise project teams that a product has met a standard and offers either environmental or health benefits; they also eliminate greenwashing — misleading or unsubstantiated claims about environmental and health benefits of a product. Many of these attributes contribute to several environmental parameters such as extraction of raw materials, manufacturing process and end of product life management, making them multi-attribute certifications. Others focus on a single attribute with specific parameters such as recycled content or VOC emissions. Some require third-party certification, while others do not.
Green products with third-party certification are considered the most valuable among green building standards and certification systems. Third-party certification means a product has been independently verified as meeting environmental and/or health standards. They offer assurance to architects, designers, specifiers and consumers that a product’s claims reflect its sustainable attributes. As a result, as the demand for products with sustainable attributes in the building market continues to increase, so do the number of green product certifications.
Tile and tile-setting materials’ sustainable attributes and certifications
As noted previously, a wide range of sustainable attributes have been developed for building products. Tile and tile setting materials may have the following sustainable attributes:
- Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) — An EPD is a document that describes the lifecycle environmental impacts of a building product. This voluntary lifecycle assessment provides information about a product’s environmental impacts such as global warming potential and ozone depletion throughout the product’s lifecycle, including raw material extraction, transportation, manufacturing, packaging, use and disposal at end of life.
There are three types of EPDs available for various stages of development. LEED defines these EPDs as follows:
- Product Specific Declaration — Products with a publicly available, critically reviewed lifecycle assessment conforming to ISO 14044 that have at least a cradle to gate scope — from extraction of raw materials up to the factory gate (before being transported to the consumer).6
- Industry-Wide (Generic) EPD — Products with third-party certification (Type III), including external verification, in which the manufacturer is explicitly recognized as a participant by the program operator.6
- In 2014, Tile Council of North America (TCNA) released three industry-wide EPDs for “Ceramic Tile,” “Cement Grout for Tile Installation in North America” and “Cement Mortar for Tile Installation in North America.” These EPDs address everything from sourcing and extraction of raw materials to end of life options. Only manufacturers stated as participants can use these EPDS; for instance, MAPEI participates in the cement grout and mortar for tile installation EPDs and can use these on all applicable cement grouts and mortars.
- Product-Specific Type III EPD — Products with third-party certification (Type III), including external verification, in which the manufacturer is explicitly recognized as the participant by the program operator.6
- Some tile and tile-setting material manufacturers have gone beyond TCNA’s industry-wide EPD to publish product-specific EPDs; those with Product-Specific Type III Declarations can further contribute to green building standards and certification systems. In 2016, MAPEI S.p.A. (in Italy) became EPD Process-Certified, which means MAPEI’s internal process to produce EPDs on a large scale have been third-party verified by the International EPD System.
Recycled content refers to the percentage of materials in a product diverted from waste streams. Products with recycled content reduce the environmental impacts resulting from the extraction and processing of virgin materials. Tile and tile-setting materials typically incorporate pre- and post-consumer recycled content. Some manufacturers have the recycled content of their products third-party certified, although certification is currently not required.
Extended producer Responsibility (EPR)
Reclamation programs that allow consumers to return tiles at the end of their useful life. Some tile manufacturers practice EPR through take back programs — tile considered damaged, scrap or otherwise waste is returned to participating manufacturers for recycling and reuse. These programs reduce burdens on landfills while minimizing the demand for raw materials.
Many products travel significant distances before arriving at the project site. The impacts associated with transportation can be significant, including increased gas emissions. Selecting locally sourced products supports the use of indigenous resources and the local economy. Tile and tile-setting material manufacturers can provide manufacturing locations; this attribute does not require third-party certification.
The Green Squared certification is the tile industry’s first multi-attribute sustainability certification. This certification was developed by TCNA to recognize tile and tile-setting materials are in conformance with ANSI A138.1 (a sustainability product standard) and third-party certified to that standard. Green Squared certification provides authenticity that manufacturers have met the criteria in all categories, including environmental product characteristics, environmental product manufacturing and raw material extractions, end of product life management, progressive corporate governance, and innovation.
Tile-setting materials can contribute to green building standards and certification systems by carefully selecting adhesives and sealants that meet established indoor air quality standards. The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) Rule #1168 dictates VOC content for tile adhesives and sealants, and manufacturers typically provide this information on technical data sheets.
Inherently non-emitting sources
LEED defines products that are inherently non-emitting sources of VOCs (stone, ceramic, powder-coated metals, plated or anodized metal, glass, concrete, clay brick, and unfinished or untreated solid wood flooring) are considered fully compliant without VOC emissions testing if they do not include integral organic-based surface coatings, binders or sealants. Ceramic and porcelain tile products have zero VOCs and meet the requirements of inherently non-emitting.
While tile is exempt from VOC emissions testing, tile-setting materials are not. Third-party VOC emissions testing is required for most green building standards and certification systems, including LEED, LBC and WELL. Tile-setting materials must be tested and determined compliant in accordance with California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Standard Method version 1.2 – 2017. The array of VOC emissions certifications available can be daunting; third-party certifying programs include FloorScore, SCS Indoor Advantage Gold, CRI Green Label Plus, Declare Label, UL GreenGuard Gold and more.
Health Product Declarations
Material ingredient disclosures focus on the negative effects that building materials have on human health and wellness. Currently, regulations do not require manufacturers or their suppliers to disclose product information beyond their Safety Data Sheets (SDS). However, manufacturers may offer disclosures of their product’s ingredients. There are several reports or declarations that provide chemical ingredient disclosure information, including Manufacturer’s Inventory (MI), Health Product Declarations (HPDs), Cradle to Cradle Material Health Certificate, Declare Label, UL Product Lens and more.
Selecting green products
Selecting products with sustainable attributes requires research and critical evaluation. A wealth of sustainable information is available (and continues to be developed) pertaining to tile and tile-setting materials. The key is to start with the green building certification system being pursued, after which the project team should educate themselves on the sustainable attributes that are needed to meet that certification system’s goals, and then find products that meet those requirements.
Typically, required documentation, including certifications, labels, resources, a list of sustainable products, and applicable green building standards and certification systems their products contribute to can be found on a manufacturer’s website. There are also free online product databases such as mindful MATERIALS — a library for project teams to select products that meet their project’s sustainability goals. Individual third-party certifications, including CRI Green Label Plus, SCS Indoor Advantage Gold and UL Spot, also have databases for the sustainable attributes they certify. Advanced search options to filter by certification, environmental characteristics, product criteria, etc., can help project teams quickly find and compare products that will help them achieve their sustainability goals.
The process of selecting, specifying and collecting documentation for products pursuing various green building standards and certification systems can be time- and budget-consuming. However, industry leading manufacturers understand that third-party certification is becoming increasingly important, as sustainable construction becomes the norm rather than the exception. As new and more stringent requirements continue to be introduced in sustainable construction, project teams can expect continued progress in advancing sustainable products.
At MAPEI, our commitment to human health and the environment is built into everything we do.