Building Industry driving toxic Chlorine and PVC production.

This is why we have Red Lists and transparency programmes such as Declare and material verification schemes such as EPD, REACH, Cradle to Cradle etc …

All people and the planet thrive when the environment is free of toxic chemicals (*)

We talk of sustainable procurement, of healthy buildings, of greater transparency in what we specify and procure and of eliminating toxic materials from construction but, as the recently published Healthy Building Network overview of the global Chlorine and PVC markets demonstrates, we have a long way to go – and its scary. (Part One of the HBN report covers North and South America, Africa, and Europe, with Part Two later this year covering Asia and Rest of the World)

cover.jpg.860x0_q70_crop-scale

As the HBN notes:

  • Chlorine is inherently highly toxic.
  • Chlorine production uses and releases mercury, asbestos, or other highly toxic pollutants. (Mercury use has significantly declined, but the US still imports 480 tons of asbestos per year for diaphragms, primarily from Russia.)
  • Combining chlorine with carbon-based materials creates environmental health impacts that are difficult if not impossible to solve.

And, it is the the building sector is propping up a ‘toxic’ chlorine and PVC global market … 

Market data indicate that, as many industrial uses of chlorine decline due to environmental health concerns, market de-selection, and stricter regulations, the market share of chlorine used in PVC and certain other products has increased. Today, most of the chlorine produced in the world is used to make four plastics: PVC, epoxies, polycarbonate, and polyurethane.

PVC contains nearly 60% chlorine by weight, and most PVC is manufactured for use in building products. Indeed, chlorine and building industry analysts agree that because building trends drive PVC demand, and PVC demand drives chlorine production, it can fairly be said that the building-products industry drives chlorine production levels and its attendant environmental and human health impacts.

pvc-pipe-1172534_960_720

Chlorine Production Technologies

There are four industrial processes that can be used to create chlorine gas. The oldest technologies use either mercury or asbestos. The two newer technologies (introduced in the 1970s) use diaphragms or membranes coated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Most chlorine produced in Europe and Africa comes from PFAS-coated membrane technology. The main chlor- alkali producers in Africa do not use mercury cells or asbestos diaphragms. In Europe, exemptions to regulations that otherwise prohibit asbestos and mercury-based technologies allow the largest chlor-alkali plant to continue to use asbestos, and at least five other locations will continue using mercury into the foreseeable future.

Approximately 45% of chlorine production capacity in the Americas, including 8 of the 12 largest plants in operation, use asbestos diaphragms. Seven of these 8 are located on the US Gulf Coast. The other is in Brazil, which is phasing out asbestos mining. The US plants have relied upon Brazilian asbestos and soon will depend upon asbestos mined in Russia.

Chlorine-Based Pollution:

While all petroleum-based products are associated with industrial pollution, the introduction of chlorine and chlorine-based substances adds an additional pollution burden that is uniquely associated with chlorine.

This begins with the manufacturing of the chlorine itself. Over 400 tons of chlorine gas are released per year by chlor-alkali facilities in the US and Canada. Asbestos and mercury releases are well documented from the plants employing those antiquated technologies, which pollute the environment and poison people throughout the lifecycle, from mining, to distribution, to use, and finally, to recycling or disposal operations.

… “forever chemicals”

The more modern technologies employ machinery coated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are highly toxic and long-lived chemicals that are coming under increasing scrutiny. The Harvard School of Public Health has issued warnings about these “forever chemicals” as used in consumer products such as Teflon, and as stain and water repellents on carpeting and upholstery. Because PFAS are not regulated at the point of use at chlorine manufacturing plants, there are no reported PFAS emissions or waste. However, PFAS have been detected in the effluent from the main US manufacturer of membranes used in chlorine plants.

… the additional burden of PVC production

The use of chlorine for PVC production creates additional burdens, generating organochlorine waste and by products. These chemicals are not broken down by natural systems, and typically last for generations in the environment. Many of them also build up in the ecosystem, including fish, wildlife, and humans, and are toxic at low doses. In addition to polluting the local environment near the facilities that release them, these chemicals can also be transported around the globe. One of them, carbon tetrachloride, is an ozone-depleting chemical and potent global-warming gas.

Additionally, PVC plastic production plays a role in the growing concern about microplastic ocean pollution through the factory discharge of PVC resins, in the form of small plastic pellets, into waterways.

Moving Forward: “When we know better, we can do better”

While environmentalists, building owners, architects and designers, and building-product manufacturers differ in their opinions on the avoidance of PVC, there is widespread and growing support for the elimination of mercury and asbestos from the supply chain of PVC and other chlorine-based products. A public global inventory of chlorine and VCM producers, and associated documented pollution, is a necessary first step for taking action.

HBN is providing this report, and accompanying online materials, spreadsheets, and map, as full open-access content. This data can help manufacturers to avoid chemicals derived from toxic technologies, scientists to fill gaps in understanding on the material flow of pollutants like PFAS and carbon tetrachloride, and communities to connect with others who, like them, face daily pollution from the chlorine and PVC industry.


(*) HBN Vision: All people and the planet thrive when the environment is free of toxic chemicals

The HBN Report can be downloaded and read from here. 

See also the excellent Lloyd Alter detailed article in TreeHugger:

Report from Healthy Building Network slams PVC production

Making vinyl and other plastics releases dangerous pollutants. Do they belong in green buildings?

PVC, often called vinyl, has long been controversial in the sustainable design and green building worlds. It’s red-listed in the Living Building Challenge and the Cradle to Cradle certification system, and the attempt by the LEED people to limit its use in buildings almost brought down the whole certification system.

Advertisements

Understanding the Social Value Act for better bids …

The Social Value Act 2012 was established in part to help understand the difference between a contracts cost and a contracts value and to encourage greater collaboration between voluntary, community and private sectors.

Bid responses for public sector work can be greatly improved by a through understanding of and addressing the concepts of the act. Waste and recycling company Veolia Environment Services have recently released a new and useful youtube video explaining the Social Value Act from their perspective

Also, from – Towards New Innovative Collaborations

The Social Value Act 2012 introduces social benefits into public procurement of private services. It requires local authorities and other commissioners of public services to consider how their services can benefit people living in the local community. Under this legislation, local authority procurers must now consider how they can improve the social impact of their public service contracts before they start the procurement process.  More…

JUST: a social justice label for construction …

Taking built environment sustainability deeper into the responsibility agenda, the International Living Future Institute are launching (Oct 2013) a new and important transparency initiative for the built environment to sit along side the Living Building Challenge and Declare. Just will provide clients, specifiers and procurers with ‘a view of how participating organisations treat their employees and where they invest their profits’

Just will cover the important areas of gender and ethnic diversity, salary equity, gender pay equity, community involvement, responsible investing and more, taking it beyond other programmes in the built environment sector. (And arguably areas that the UK Considerate Constructors Scheme should be addressing?)

The Press Release from ILFI reads:

In today’s global economy, it’s difficult to know what your consumer dollars are really supporting. JUST gives you an insider’s view of how participating organisations treat their employees and where they invest their profits. JUST works seamlessly with the International Living Future Institute’s Declare™ materials label and the next iteration of the Living Building Challenge™ (Version 3.0 — coming spring 2014).

By providing participating companies with a clear, elegant and informative equity ‘nutrition-label’, JUST aims to transform the marketplace through transparency and open communication. It aligns with the Institute’s Declare™ materials label to provide a holistic picture of both the products a company produces and the human story behind those products.
To participate in this voluntary disclosure program, an organization must submit documentation that asks for in-depth information about twenty distinct aspects of workplace equity and justice.
We’ll be launching the JUST label and searchable database FALL 2013. Join us in this critical initiative!
.

Construction Localism – how do you compare against benchmark?

Construction ‘localism’ is currently high on the agenda. And set to grow in importance.

There is, rightly, much talk and focus on localism within construction projects and frameworks at the moment, based on the principle of keeping project spend local. And of course realising other benefits such as reduced travel and transport distances, reduced carbon emission, improved productivity and more.

But how do we compare and benchmark ‘localism’? How local is your project? As a client how can you know if your contractor is addressing your ‘localism’ requirements?

The benchmark being set through ConstructCO2 can provide a starting point. How do you compare? Do you know your project stats?

Construction Localism by Zone

Measuring and understanding your localism (and CO2) footprint must be a key measure, a KPI, as part of your sustainability and CSR programme. Going beyond the measuring it’s essential we monitor trends, make the comparisons, understand the causes and, take action.

bb7dff99a6e2e90c5e67b380cb0aac7b

It is one of the more important impact and influence areas your construction project has on sustainability and the environment.

For more on measuring your construction project carbons and project localism check out constructco2 or please do get in touch.

PQQ Secrets: Listening to the voice of the customer

For PQQ responses to have chance of success they need to address the requirements and aspirations of the client and project.

They also need to differentiate from the competition. So when a client organisation presents on how to differentiate at bid stage, you should be on to a winner.

But of course it’s an ever iterative game, and you will need to be better than those who also hear the customers tips for bidding.

At last weeks CSkills Forum in Salford, Urban Vision Partnership presented what they look to as differentiators when marking and selecting PQQ’s, either as direct bids, as part of a consortia or within a supply chain. Urban Vision’s overall remit is to manage, protect, maintain and enhance development within the city.

Key Differentiating Factors:

– Creation of community benefit

– Workforce development

– Added value and innovation

– Environmental performance, eg 14001 and CO2 monitoring

– Health and Safety practices, eg 18001

– An IMS (Integrated Management System) approach to quality, sustainability and safety

How many of these can you honestly tick as being well established, or well in development, within your organisation, to articulate within bids?

Many of these have been part of the construction business improvement agenda for many years now, certainly since Egans Rethinking Construction back in 1998, whilst others are relatively new as Methods of Modern Construction Management.

Through fairsnape we can help with advice or support in these areas, in practice or in bid articulation. Why not have a conversation? You can follow and join me on twitter @fairsnape, subscribe to or share this blog post, or get in touch.

Construction supply chain footprints

Our construction carbon tool, Constructco2, through its ability to monitor a projects supply footprint is throwing up some interesting issues:

Take a look at a project footprint that has a focus on localism – ie in keeping material, supplier, management and even waste transportation as close as possible to the project:

And then one that doesn’t (which is actually less in construction value):

Across the 80 or so projects on the site we can start to see the travel pattern for materials, people and waste, and how close to the project …

All this starts to position Constructco2 as a possible valuable CSR tool and indicator, monitoring impact of projects on local communities, and starting to raise issues of procurement, appropriate sourcing / specification as well as good on site project management housekeeping

These notes are extracted from my recent ConstructCO2 presentation that is available to view on slideshare. 

For more on information please get in touch or visit Constructco2,and follow links.

Blink: the importance for bid interviews and presentations

Currently re-reading Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking in advance of a bidding interview and presentation workshop for contractors tomorrow(*)

According to Malcolm Gladwell,  decision and impressions may occur much faster than previously thought – think instantaneously or in two seconds.

The interview panel may then, without thinking, have made their first impressions as you walk in the room, before you start talking or presenting, yet we focus on content and presentation rather than team composition, team appearance and team impression.

Whenever we have to make sense of complicated situations or deal with lots of information quickly, we bring to bear all of our beliefs, attitudes, values, experiences, education and more on the situation. Then, we thin-slice the situation to comprehend it quickly. The implications of this concept have astonishing significance for our personal reactions to most situations.

We should of course be using this thinking and Gladwells research to advantage.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of the bestselling The Tipping Point explores the extraordinarily perceptive and deceptive power of the sub-conscious mind. Gladwell’s major claim is that decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as a decision made cautiously and deliberately. What we are actually doing is what Gladwell calls ‘thin-slicing’. When we leap to a decision or have a hunch our unconscious is sifting through the situation in front of us looking for a pattern, throwing out the irrelevant information and zeroing in on what really matters. Our unconscious mind is so good at this that it often delivers a better answer than more deliberate and protracted ways of thinking. Much of this is utterly mysterious but some of the most astonishing and useful examples of thin-slicing can be learned.

(*) Contact me for information on bid interview and presentation skills support and workshop