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Sustainable Minds' New Tool Adds Approachability to Product Life Cycle Transparency

Image credit: TOTO USA/Sustainable Minds

In response to market demand and the release of LEED v4, LCA software pioneer Sustainable Minds has launched an innovative new way for manufacturers to transparently report the environmental performance of their products. SM Transparency ReportsTM is a new alternative to environmental product declarations (EPD) — with equivalent credibility and superior distillation of technical information for end users. NSF International, industry leader in product certification, is providing the LCA verification and report certification.

The first company to publish its product lifecycle information with SM Transparency Reports is leading plumbing manufacturer TOTO USA. The need for a new solution became evident when TOTO was not able to comply with the new LEED v4 disclosure option to provide EPDs, for customers to earn the maximum available product credits for purchasing selected TOTO products. The company discovered there is no Product Category Rule (which defines the requirements for EPDs of a certain product category) for toilets, just as there are no PCRs for hundreds of other types of products used in building and construction.

In response to TOTO’s conundrum, Sustainable Minds CEO Terry Swack and Joep Meijer, SM’s LCA Technical Expert and co-author of the LEED Material and Resources credit language, launched an intensive R&D process to evaluate current EPDs with the goal of developing an equivalent reporting solution based on a universal PCR. The research findings showed that today’s EPDs are generally too long, too technical, don’t include enough descriptive product information — and they do not make it easy to compare products from different manufacturers. The conclusion: Most EPDs are not useful in helping architects, builders or contractors make purchase decisions.

SM saw the opportunity to enable manufacturers of any size that have done or are considering LCAs, to become transparent in an effective, credible, comparable and affordable way. With SM Transparency Reports, manufacturers such as TOTO can now report as much or as little of the lifecycle scope and level of verification as they’d like.

"Since our incorporation in 1917, TOTO has been committed to environmental stewardship and reducing our products' impact on the environment throughout their life cycle, from birth to the end of life," said Bill Strang, president of Operations — Americas, TOTO USA. "As a part of our People, Planet, Water ethic, we have long-used life cycle thinking to prioritize where we should direct our efforts to increase environmental sustainability. With the introduction of LEED v4, we sought to provide the same level of transparency to our customers. Unfortunately, without a Product Category Rule, we found that an EPD was impossible. However, working with Sustainable Minds and NSF International, we discovered that we could address this challenge by innovating a new way to report product transparency. TOTO is proud that our partnership with Sustainable Minds and NSF resulted in such a simple, elegant and credible solution, which enables us to continue communicating the message of our sustainability journey to our customers."

“Regulations and aspirational certifications are driving manufacturers to respond to the transparency demand, but real and understandable information is what builds product and brand recognition, preference and ultimately — loyalty,” said Terry Swack. “To incentivize manufacturers to invest in LCA, that investment needs to be more highly levereagable and the publication, verification and certification process must be more effective, rapid and affordable. TOTO is the best kind of customer who embraces innovation and NSF is the logical choice as they are an unassailable brand in the product certification space.”

The new Reports are in the cloud and freely available, and bring the same credibility, affordability and ease of use of Sustainable Minds cloud-based SM LCA software. They present functional and environmental product performance information all in one place and enable a manufacturer to make LCA results understandable by describing what they are doing to make their products more sustainable, giving the reader insight into the decisions being made across the lifecycle of their products. Today, they meet LEED v4 MRc2 Option 1 for product-specific declarations by reporting results of a verified ISO 14044 LCA, which is available from TOTO.

“It is great to see companies like Toto embracing product information transparency and delivering it in a way that is approachable and useful for the design and construction community," said Kirsten Ritchie, director of sustainable design at Gensler.

"LEED v4 recognizes market leadership and transparency for building materials, and the U.S. Green Building Council applauds manufacturers that utilize important third-party assessments like SM Transparency Reports to help them move further down the path toward disclosure,” said Sarah Buffaloe, LEED materials and resources specialist.

Five SM Transparency Reports for select TOTO toilets are now available through the introduction of the SM Manufacturers Showroom, a public destination for manufacturers across the value chain to showcase their more sustainable materials, processes, products and their applications.

Earlier this week, Philadelphia-based architecture firm KieranTimberlake announced the release of a new software application that allows designers to measure the environmental impact of building materials directly in a Revit model. The application, called Tally, puts LCA information in the hands of design teams, enabling life cycle-based product decisions at the same pace and within the same working environment as building designs are generated. 


Jennifer Elks is Managing Editor at Sustainable Brands. She is a writer, editor and foodie who is passionate about improving food systems, closing loops and creating more livable cities. She loves cooking, wine, cooking with wine, correcting spelling errors in… [Read more about Jennifer Elks]