December 1, 2018 Shakari McGill

Saving Face with a Materials Database

Shakari McGill is an intern at Verdical Group who is currently pursuing his Master of Building Science at the University of Southern California.

Here at Verdical Group, I was tasked with the creation of an internal database to record information about sustainable products that we have used on our projects or that may be a fit for a future client. The intent of this project was to create a spreadsheet that could be referenced at a glance to confirm or deny the presence of sustainable certification(s) for each product.

This is not the first database to compile such information, however, aside from the Smith Group’s now-defunct HPD database, it is difficult to find it consolidated in one place.  Creating this resource was fulfilling in several ways, and I’ve chronicled that experience here. 

In starting this project, I was unaware of the breadth of sustainable certifications that could be obtained for each building material. From Cradle to Cradle and the HPD  Open Standard to Floorscore and Declare, each system has its own method to demonstrate that a product is sustainably produced.  Personally, I thought it was great that each company could choose which certification was the best fit for their products.

Some manufacturers skipped the middleman and included a repository of these certifications on their websites; for example, Clark Dietrich does this with some of their steel products. Other manufacturers’ certifications were harder to locate, and I had to dig around a bit: certain products by a manufacturer would have one or several types of documentation, while other products did not have any. Upon taking time to ponder this issue, I realized that manufacturers might certify some products and not others, or chose different systems for different products, because each certification has its own price tag and red tape. Having to obtain documentation for several products can quickly become costly and time consuming for larger manufacturers. But for smaller manufacturers, this often means that even sustainable products go without documentation.

Compiling this database was an educational, thought-provoking, interesting, and extremely fruitful undertaking. I was given a high degree of exposure to the various sustainable documentation options available to companies and have a newfound respect for both the companies and the various providers for obtaining these documents. Searching for each type was a productive treasure hunt, which was entertaining in its own right. Because LEED provides credit for sustainable materials, I’m confident that the database will increase our team’s productivity and help us find the best products for our clients.