Moving Sustainability Forward with Cradle to Cradle Certified Products

The built environment is an important dimension of the sustainability movement. As any commercial contractor knows, the products used on a sustainable construction project can make or break the sustainability of that project. Substitute one product for a non-specified product and the entire project’s sustainability rating could be jeopardized.

“With sustainable design becoming synonymous with human health and performance, it shouldn’t have to be in the purview of an architect [or a contractor] to scrutinize every ingredient of every material for consistency with sustainability goals,” says Stacy Glass, Executive in Resident for the Built Environment at the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute (C2CPII).

The Cradle to Cradle Certified Products Program is increasingly becoming a quick reference for consumers and specifiers looking for quality, sustainable products. Cradle to Cradle Certified products can also help contribute to LEED projects.

The Program

The Cradle to Cradle Certified Products Program is a multi-attribute and multi-level certification that acknowledges continuous improvement of products and processes towards the goal of being wholly beneficial for people and the planet.

The certification program is based on the Cradle to Cradle (C2C) framework and methodology, which has been developed and implemented by McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) over the past two decades. MBDC created the certification program in 2005 to recognize achievement in applying these principles. In 2010, MBDC gifted the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute (C2CPII) with an exclusive license for the certification program and methodology, and the Institute now administers the program and manages the product standard as a third-party, nonprofit organization.

According to Glass, with a Cradle to Cradle Certified mark and scorecard, architects and specifiers can know at-a-glance that:

  • A product’s recyclability and safety for human and environmental health have been externally verified;
  • An expert assessment of toxicity hazards of all product ingredients throughout the supply chain has been made down to 100 ppm (0.01 percent)
  • A continuous improvement path has been defined for optimizing product design and manufacturing processes. 

The Products

Products or materials from any industry or country are eligible to apply for certification.

“There has been increasing adoption of the program in recent years,” explains Jay Bolus, VP of Technical Operations for MDBC. Since the program began in 2005, more than 150 companies from 15 different countries have participated in the Cradle to Cradle Certified Program. Currently there are approximately 425 certified products in a variety of categories, including building materials, interior design products, textiles, fabrics, cosmetics, homecare products, paper, packaging and polymers.

One company offering Cradle to Cradle Certified Products is Construction Specialties (C/S) in Lebanon, New Jersey. The company manufactures and sells nine product lines of specialty architectural products. Six of these lines include Cradle to Cradle Certified Products.

“The five pillars [see sidebar “Cradle to Cradle Certified Principles”]of the Cradle to Cradle Certified Products Standard resonated with us as company,” explains Marketing and Product Development Manager Curt Fessler, LEED AP BD+C. “If we can get harmful chemicals out of the products we use every day, it would be safer for everyone – the planet, the people that use the products and the employees that manufacture these products.”

C/S has taken an aggressive approach to product design and manufacture, designing all products so at the end of their life they can reenter the technical cycle and avoid the landfill.

“Buyers are increasingly demanding to know the full extent of a product's environmental impact,” says Fessler. “From raw material extraction, production and packaging to distribution, end use and disposal, transparency into the impacts of a product at each stage of its lifecycle has become a critical driver of purchases and specifications.”

“Constant education is key for everyone,” he adds. “LEED has changed the status quo in the industry since the day it was introduced. Programs like this for products are pushing the industry towards even higher levels of sustainability,” he adds.

Cradle to Cradle Certified products will be written into the main LEED program, contributing to a Materials & Resources credit (See sidebar “LEED v4 Includes Credits for Cradle to Cradle Certified Products”).

The Levels of Achievement

The Cradle to Cradle framework has outlined a vision to guide product design and manufacturing, and the certification program recognizes multiple levels of achievement towards that vision.

Product certification is available at five different levels (Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum), with each higher level addressing a more rigorous set of requirements.

In order to be certified at a certain level, a product must meet the minimum criteria for that level in all five criteria categories (See sidebar “Cradle to Cradle Certified Standard”.)

The Basic certification level is a “provisional” level designed to help companies “get on the path” toward the development of healthy and sustainable products, recognizing the difficulties of transition and honoring human intention as an important part of any successful protocol for continuous product improvement. Certification at the Basic level requires a commitment to future assessment of the chemical ingredients in a product, and optimization of the product by phasing out harmful substances, implementing reutilization strategies, increasing the use of renewable energy, and implementing water stewardship and social fairness programs.

To read the full story, click here to download the Fall 2013 issue of Sustainable Construction.