Walk the aisles of IBS, Greenbuild, and other national or regional building trade shows and you can’t help but be wowed by the industry’s sustainability ingenuity.
Exterior wall systems. Roof systems. HVAC. Lighting. Glazing. Floor and wall coverings. Ceiling systems. Electrical and plumbing. Today there’s a myriad of ways advanced building technology helps build greener, smarter, and more efficient.
But there’s one building product that often gets overlooked in the sustainability roll call. Maybe it’s because it’s not flashy or has a glitzy name. Or, maybe it’s because the technology behind it has been in place for more than a century.
Taken for granted? It could be. The typical new U.S. home contains more than 7.31 metric tons of it. Yet, it helps architects and builders score major sustainability points for recycled content, regional materials, and indoor environmental quality. Oh, and it’s so inert, non-toxic and people-friendly that it can be used as a harmless soil conditioner. In fact, it can actually improve indoor air quality.
This miracle building material?
Yes, the gypsum boards that form the basis for most interior wall assemblies are often overlooked as a sustainability backbone. It shouldn’t: Gypsum has science firmly in its corner.
Take the CertainTeed Gypsum company. Their gypsum products have received Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), a rigorous independent certification process based, in part, on ISO 14040/ISO 14044 standards. An EPD is a comprehensive examination of material content, the production process, detailed health and safety information across all life cycle stages, along with information on CertainTeed’s takeback/recycling program.
Going a step further, CertainTeed worked with the Health Product Declaration Collaborative™ to issue Health Product Declarations (HPDs) on gypsum boards. EPD and HPD certification forms powerful testimony to gypsum’s sustainability.
That’s just the beginning of gypsum’s environmental cred:
- Gypsum boards can remove harmful formaldehyde from indoor air, creating a more healthful environment at home or work. CertainTeed, for example, has a specially-formulated gypsum panel called AirRenew® that actively absorbs indoor formaldehyde for up to 75 years (even when painted- or papered-over with breathable finishes).
- Gypsum manufacturers have been using recycled paper for panel face and back for more than 50 years.
- In 2013 alone, the gypsum industry used more than 40 million cubic yards of paper material destined for landfills – enough to fill more than 10,000 railroad cars (about 125 miles long).
- The U.S. Green Building Council credits use of synthetic gypsum toward LEED certification (it is calculated as pre-consumer recycled waste). Other gypsum certifications include GreenGuard, Ecologo, CGBC, Living Building Challenge, IgCC, NGBS, and CALGreen.
- Synthetic gypsum, sometimes called FGD gypsum (for flue-gas desulfurization) is made from a by-product of power plant air scrubbers, another environmental plus.
- The total recycled content for CertainTeed Gypsum is 99 percent using synthetic gypsum.
- Several CertainTeed Gypsum manufacturing facilities incorporate about 20 percent post-consumer gypsum board construction waste back into production.
- Shipping gypsum requires minimal packaging, often just reusable tarps reinforced with nominal banding.
As you specify building products, or influence those who do, keep in mind the sustainability benefits of gypsum. In its own quiet way, this construction workhorse is helping architects and builders advance sustainability to even bolder heights.