When the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) announced its Living Product Challenge in 2015, finding manufacturers to participate seemed like a tall order. The LEED-like certification process for building materials and consumer products asked companies to go beyond merely minimizing negative environmental impacts and create products that could actually improve the world’s ecosystems. But the second annual Living Product Expo, held in Pittsburgh last week (September 13-15), suggested that both multinational companies and start-ups are willingly stepping up to meet higher standards for environmental performance and human health.
The signing of the Paris climate agreement in April has encouraged bolder steps by manufacturers to find sustainable materials and processes, said the institute’s CEO, Amanda Sturgeon. “The current model is sharing, rather than competition,” she said.
The conference’s opening session included a panel discussion on the intersection of social justice, regenerative manufacturing, and labor union activity. Panelists included Khari Mosley, Pennsylvania manager for the Blue Green Alliance, Allan McDougall, emergency response team coordinator of the United Steelworkers, and ILFI founder Jason McLennan. “Don’t make manufacturers and assemblers the enemy,” said McLennan. “We need healthy communities for all people.” Following the panel, Dutch innovator Bart Bliejerveld, co-founder of the Better Future Factory, introduced his studio’s solutions for recycling plastic waste, including Refil, a 3-D printer filament made from car dashboards, PET soda bottles, and discarded appliances.
ILFI honored four manufacturers that have received Living Product certification for new and redesigned products. Humanscale is the first company to achieve full certification. It eliminated perfluorinated compounds from the redesigned Diffrient Smart Chair, which is manufactured in a solar powered facility with a rainwater collection system. The company also achieved full certification for its Float Table. The sit-stand desk is no longer made with PVC.
Owens Corning achieved its second partial Living Product certification for EcoTouch PINK, a formaldehyde-free insulation with 65 percent recycled content. Two smaller firms also received partial certification: The Garden Tower, a composting small-space planter, met the requirements for the certifications system’s water and materials categories; as did Bureo for its recycled plastic resin and pellets sourced from Chilean fishing nets. With investment from Patagonia’s $20 Million and Change fund, Bureo manufactures skateboards and sunglasses. The firm has invested in a solar array at an impoverished neighborhood school in Santiago, which should help with its efforts to achieve full Living Product status. Of 25 products participating in the Living Product Challenge pilot program, seven have achieved some level of certification.
Among 22 exhibitors at the Living Product Expo, most displayed Declare product labels. The voluntary “nutrition label” created by ILFI for building materials now comprises 670 products and has posted a 71.2 growth rate since its inception in 2012. Exhibitor Tarkett previewed IQ One, a line of non-PVC sheet and tile flooring. The Cradle to Cradle certified product will debut in North America next year. Armstrong showcased its Sustain portfolio of ceiling panels and suspension systems that are red list compliant and meet California’s air quality standards.
ILFI’s Just initiative, a public listing of social justice indicators such as diversity, equity, and worker benefits, has proved popular. It has registered 240 organizations, doubling in participation since last September.