It’s not easy being a product manufacturer in this time of rapid change. How far should a company have to go to release proprietary product formulations to meet the growing requests for transparency? How much can we push for information protected as intellectual property?
These questions are coming under fire from two directions. First, there’s the potential for losing business to customers who demand transparency, Google being the leader in this area.
Second, it is feasible today for companies to take almost any product into their labs and analyze its makeup through reverse engineering to get their own answers. So it could be that the actual customers would be the only ones left in the dark.
This is also tricky territory for architects and builders who are being asked to understand chemistry and toxicology in addition to everything else about their professions.
Some firms are pushing hard for transparency and disclosure, while others are actively discouraging their designers from asking for this kind of information, afraid that having the data exposes them to additional liability if any problems arise.
BEYOND THE RED LIST
In a world of proprietary formulations, health and environmental advocates developed filtering tools like the Red List that identify ingredients to avoid, but the tangled mess of lists isn’t working well for anyone. If suppliers choose instead to use a format like the HPD and reveal what’s in their products, the whole dynamic will change for the better, and everyone—manufacturers and their customers—will be working together as trusted stakeholders to create the safest products possible.
We need that kind of trust if we are to succeed in solving the health and environmental problems we all care about. Transparency is most powerful when it leads to that trust.
Nadav Malin is president of BuildingGreen and Vision 2020 chair for Materials and Resources.