Page E1.1 . 21 June 2006                     
ArchitectureWeek - Environment Department
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Vinyl: Any Color but Green

by Michael Cockram

In the debate over the "greenness" of building materials, vinyl has become a divisive topic. The U.S. Green Building Council conducted what it termed an exhaustive study of the environmental impact of vinyl and decided to drop recommendations to avoid the use of vinyl in its LEED certification program. As a result, the USGBC has found itself at odds with some environmental groups.

In many contemporary buildings, vinyl is ubiquitous from water pipes to window frames to wiring, siding, flooring, and roofing. Chances are good that you are within arm's length of vinyl at this moment. By far the most common form of vinyl is polyvinylchloride (PVC), and PVC is one of the most used plastics worldwide.

Initially, the USGBC considered giving credit in its LEED program for the avoidance of vinyl building products. After forming a task force that included stakeholders such as the Vinyl Institute, the council submitted a report that stated they could not determine whether vinyl was environmentally "a clear winner or loser" compared to other materials.

This report outraged many environmental groups that contend that the USGBC succumbed to pressure from the vinyl industry. Chemist and environmental activist Dr. Michael Braungart, principal of McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry, reacted strongly when asked by the Healthy Building Network about the quality of the report.   >>>

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Vinyl siding is a common, low-maintenance, but toxic replacement for wood in U.S. houses.
Photo: David Owen

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PVC pipe has many uses in construction at all scales.
Photo: David Owen

 

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