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Leading LEED Material Transparency: Milliken Pilots a New Credit

Posted on Oct 5, 2016, by Mollie Williams

Green building today encompasses a myriad of product certifications, building standards and manufacturing processes. Transparency tools range in focus, from environmental impacts to potential risks to human health – and it is no surprise either. People spend more than 90% of their time inside, where the EPA estimates that pollutants are between two and five times higher than those outdoors. 

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Building material transparency is no longer a bonus when comparing finishes for commercial interior environments such as flooring – it is mandatory. This movement is something that Philip Ivey, sustainability leader for Milliken, understands at its essence.  

“If we are to ‘do good,’ for our customers, we must continue to dig deeper into the sustainability of our products through their entire value chain, and entire lifecycles,” Philip shared.

Philip and his colleague, Jennifer Smith, recently embarked on piloting a new LEED v4 credit, MRc4 Option 3, to do just this. The goal of the credit is simple: To have a formal plan in place to optimize supplier chemistry, and understand what is in 99% of every ingredient in a supplier’s product, such as nylon yarn, from 99% of its suppliers. If hazardous ingredients are found in supplier formulations, there should be a collaborative strategy to logically phase it out as much as possible.

When piloting the credit, Philip and Jennifer knew that Milliken had to strive for higher standards. They aimed to exceed this requirement by understanding 100% of the materials used in 100% of our products available in North America, covering 100% of our suppliers.

“By doing more than we were asked to, we found out more than we would have than just stopping at the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) level,” noted Philip. “Part of piloting a new green building certification credit is helping determine where the credit should be taken next.”

The result of the credit exercise is known as Product Manufacturers Supply Chain Optimization. The credit language states that product manufacturers must engage in validated and robust safety, health, hazard and risk programs, which at a minimum document at least 99% (by weight) of the ingredients used to construct the building product.

Milliken expanded its interpretation of the credit language to include policies and procedures for how to manage every aspect of a manufacturer’s product ingredients – regardless of the percentage that a material makes up in a final product. This method is also proactive. If a supplier were to alter its product formulations, there are policies and procedures in place to review the new list of ingredients to ensure that they conform with both Milliken’s and the market’s material standards. 

Milliken has completed the first audit for the LEED v4 MRc4 Option 3 credit as of Greenbuild 2016 and received a contingency certification with the goal to complete the certification soon. The process of piloting a credit includes working through the nuances of the language, and tweaking it to be both rigorous and attainable.

WAP Sustainability authored the approach to fulfilling the new requirement for Milliken, serving as the third-party resource that helps evaluate proprietary formulations confidentially, while having upfront conversations with suppliers about single ingredients that may pose potential risks to environmental and human health. WAP Sustainability states that its approach is intended to help build Chemical Management Competence in the material supply chain and with product manufacturers. WAP Sustainability approaches this from a service-oriented perspective, helping suppliers better understand what they need. It's a chain reaction of transparency.

“By finding an avenue to address proprietary information in a manner that is respectful to suppliers, we can help both the supplier and Milliken better understand their chemical footprint,” said William Paddock, founder and director of WAP Sustainability.  They coined the process as its Value Chain Chemical Management®, or VCCMTM System.

Breaking industry norms once again, Milliken chose to have their efforts third party audited by Green Circle Certified; completing one of the first third party audits of material transparency. Green Circle Certified is an independent organization, which verifies that claims of sustainable aspects of products and manufacturing operations are valid. Going through these rigors ensures that Milliken and WAP Sustainability’s method of reviewing and understanding supplier product chemistry for potentially hazardous components is accurate.

“At Milliken, our job is to question the status quo. It is something we have been doing since 1900 when we established our first recycling policy. We wanted to take a more critical view of reviewing the accuracy of transparency labels to 99.99% (or 100 parts per million) from our customers’ perspective,” Philip stated. “Doing so requires a lot of time, resources and dedication, but we knew it was something we needed to accomplish in order to do our best work and be as transparent as possible about Milliken’s material chemistry. Seeking third-party certification is how we validate our efforts to the industry, building occupants and to ourselves.” 

According to William, this elevated level of transparency is above industry standards and norms, and exemplifies “what it takes to move green chemistry forward.”

“Milliken is raising the bar of building material transparency by auditing its pilot of LEED v4 MRc4 Option 3,” William noted. “It demonstrates Milliken’s dedication to move sustainability and material transparency forward in architecture and interior design through meaningful ways.”

Once complete, Milliken will be able to help customers achieve LEED certification by contributing to two credits through floor covering, meeting Option 1 and Option 3 globally for all Milliken floor covering products.

Philip is confident that the result of this pilot credit will lead to a butterfly effect. “Milliken is at the leading edge of pushing our industry to partner with suppliers to understand and be willing to disclose their full ingredient formulations. It enables Milliken to make informed decisions and design healthier products for the future.

The LEED v4 MRc4 Option 3 credit is the apex where accurate material transparency leads to healthier building products and healthier work environments. As a result, the architecture and design community will be empowered to make better decisions as they pursue The WELL Building Standard, USGBC’s LEED v4, Google Portico or other green building requirements.

Greenbuild 2016 will see a myriad of conversations around material transparency. Philip will be discussing this and more about his passion and work to further material transparency in flooring at the Materials Think Tank on Thursday, October 6. Follow us on Twitter for live updates during the panel. 

Topics: Sustainability, Health & Wellness

Mollie Williams

Written by Mollie Williams