Trade Associations are Interested in Green Building: And why you should be interested in them

Bill Walsh - March 7, 2004

In 1995, one year after Greenpeace documented widespread, unreported dioxin contamination at Louisiana vinyl manufacturing plants, the vinyl industry pledged $1 million to Habitat for Humanity in Louisiana. This earned the Vinyl Institute the right to use the Habitat logo, identify themselves as "partners" and call vinyl the "material of choice for those in need." A pretty good deal for an industry accused of systematically ruining healthy communities.

Last week, with a straight face, the Vinyl Institute complained to their "partner" that Greenpeace and the Healthy Building Network were "misusing the good value and reputation of Habitat" because Greenpeace explains on its website why it is sponsoring a PVC-free Habitat home in New Orleans. (To offer labor, materials or donations to help Greenpeace & Habitat build the house - and to see Greenpeace's explanation - click here [link no longer available]).

Greenpeace's point is that the impacts of vinyl production fall heavily on those who live at the fenceline of vinyl manufacturing facilities. Two small Louisiana towns had to be evacuated and razed because of groundwater contamination, toxic air releases, and health problems caused by neighboring vinyl factories. Healthier building material alternatives exist, and meet Habitat's specifications. That's why Greenpeace and HBN are interested in affiliating with Habitat.

In a letter to Habitat founder Millard Fuller, the Vinyl Institute argues that it is wrong for Greenpeace "to tell about products and materials they are not using during the upcoming build. They could ? (sic) and should -- be talking about the materials they are using and why those materials will help make their house livable, durable, affordable, etc . . . " This foreshadows the changes we can expect at the US Green Building Council (USGBC) if trade associations are granted the membership status they are aggressively seeking. Accentuate the positive - and ignore the negative - of every product manufactured by a USGBC member. It's a greenwash strategy.

Trade associations are nothing more than groupings of companies that individually already have membership rights within the USGBC. Why grant them an additional unique membership status? It seems unfair after all - like double dipping. In truth, it's worse.

Trade associations do the dirty work while their manufacturer members market themselves as "green." Recall how the Resilient Floor Covering Institute, acting on behalf of USGBC members such as Armstrong World Industries, Domco Tarkett and Mannington, cynically invoked LEED in a failed lawsuit seeking to strike down green building regulations in New York.

Trade association memberships in the USGBC will allow manufacturers having a financial stake in how their products fare under LEED to manipulate the system, operating under multiple aliases. Vinyl flooring companies can count on not only the RFCI to do their bidding, but also the Vinyl Institute, the Chlorine Institute, the Carpet and Rug Institute, the American Chemistry Council, and American Plastics Council. This harms other manufacturers as much as anyone else. Bamboo and ceramic tile manufacturers don't enjoy the backing of multinational chemical and plastics giants.

The Council has asked to hear from its members on the question of whether trade associations should be granted membership status. Many local USGBC Chapters have already stated their opposition to the idea. For more information on the USGBC trade association issue and how you can comment click here [link no longer available]. Speak up today. They are.


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