A US report has found that ‘negative credits’ – points awarded by building rating tools for the avoidance of specific materials – could steer designers into using alternative materials with worse health and environmental impacts.

The study, by the US Green Building Council (USGBC)’s Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee, found that on balance, when PVC building products are compared to alternatives, no single material shows up as the best or the worst across the impact categories.
The report recommended the USGBC, in its green building rating tools, create ongoing market incentives for continuous improvement of all building materials. 
Vinyl Council of Australia chief operating officer, Sophi MacMillan says the US report supports studies carried out by the CSIRO, which found that the environmental and health impacts of PVC products over their life cycle are no worse than those of the alternatives.

“The significance of this report is that it highlights that all building products have environmental and health impacts. The report recognises it’s not a question of discriminating against one material or another; rather it is about how significant impacts can be addressed, by considering issue-focused credits in green building rating tools.”

MacMillan says that notwithstanding some data in the report suggesting potential issues for PVC, the report clearly warns against singling out PVC for a negative credit in building rating tools.
“Significantly, while some potential end-of-life issues have been identified for PVC products, the authors noted the data was highly uncertain in that area. They also found a lack of comparable life cycle data for many of the alternative materials, signalling more work needs to be done to evaluate materials,” she says.
The Australian PVC industry through its Product Stewardship Program, now in its fifth year, has actively been working to improve the life cycle of PVC products and to report openly on its progress and issues. The local industry has been at the forefront of PVC product innovation globally, producing material efficient, recyclable products with reduced environmental impacts.

The long awaited report originated when the USGBC, in developing its environment design rating tool – LEED – for buildings, was under pressure to award points for avoidance of PVC (vinyl) building products. The organisation recognised there were others arguing that the available science did not support such a credit. In 2002, it formed a task group to evaluate the environmental and health performance of PVC and competing building materials in four key product areas to evaluate the issue.

This report, released this week, is the culmination of the task group’s four years of data gathering and analysis. Of the materials studied for windows, pipe, flooring and cladding, the report concludes that “no single material shows up as the best across all the human health and environmental impact categories, nor as the worst”.