Finalists Announced for Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Challenge

c2cBy Priscilla Burgess

Ten finalists in the first Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Challenge have been selected and I’m delighted to announce that my company, Bellwether Materials, is one of them.

Here is the description of the competition posted on the Cradle to Cradle site:

The Challenge seeks to inspire innovators to recreate and retool the way products are designed, manufactured and consumed. The goal of the contest is to identify and reward highly creative and innovative product concepts for healthy, sustainable, affordable housing. The competition is aimed at manufacturers who seek to design and manufacture with superior standards as outlined in the Cradle to Cradle CertifiedCM Products Program.

The main focus on green building has been to reduce energy use. This, of course, is important, but it is only one part of building green. Using green building materials that insulate, sequester CO2, and reduce energy use is where we should start, not with expensive air systems. If interior spaces were created from non-toxic materials that didn’t emit VOCs or other poisons, we wouldn’t need such complicated air systems.

The Cradle to Cradle Challenge is focused on building materials that are safe, made from readily available materials, and affordable. Even more important, the manufacturers have all provided detailed information about the materials in their products to prove that they are safe.

According to Megan White, Sustainability Manager at Webcor, we spend 90 percent of our time indoors where air pollution concentrations are two to 100 times more toxic than outside air. The heightened indoor pollution is due to chemicals and particles released from building materials and furniture. As an example, take a look at one of the most common building products in our offices – acoustical ceiling panels.

And yet, there are no labeling laws for building products as there are with food. No one has to tell you that you will be breathing in carcinogens and asthmagens while you sit at your desk—which is also more than likely emitting invisible, odorless fumes.

The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Challenge is one of the first to demand that building products not only be green but also insist manufacturers reveal what their products are made from and prove they are non-toxic.

The Cradle to Cradle concept has been integral to Bellwether Materials’ way of doing business. I used the book, Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart as a guide for our corporate philosophy, especially around reducing waste. Now I discover that there are many other companies with similar philosophies and who, like Bellwether Materials, are actively trying to change the built environment into places we can live safely with our families and coworkers.

While our insulation has many positive features, insulation alone won’t save the world. Our product needs to work with other building products like those of the nine finalists that include roofing, wall and ceiling systems, bricks, paint, and straw panels. The finalists alone could probably provide a large percentage of a green building.

In total there were 144 entries. It’s possible that the other 134 companies who entered the competition will also have products that will contribute to a green built environment.

I hope the awareness created by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Challenge will be a pivotal point where occupants will demand to be informed of the safety of their homes and offices and where green building materials become the norm. We need to banish those materials that emit VOCs and toxic particles which today, hide behind the fact that there are no labeling requirements.

Sites like Pharos set up by the Healthy Building Network and Transparency, a service of the architectural firm Perkins + Will provide information about building products that inform consumers of the safety of their interior environment.

Building products do not attract investment like Twitter or Facebook, so the substantial prizes are especially appreciated. First prize is $125,000, second is $75,000, and third is $50,000, all of them large enough to make a real difference to a startup.

The groups contributing to the prize are:

Make it Right, The Dutch Post Code Lottery, Dwell Magazine and the Schmidt Family Foundation.

The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Challenge is a program sponsored by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute that was founded to support and to certify the creation of high quality, safe products.

It is truly an honor for Bellwether Materials to be a finalist in the competition. Whether or not we win one of the three prizes, it’s really great to be part of this growing community that will keep our homes and offices safe and healthy.

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