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ASTM International and Sustainable Development

Keeping Pace with a New Global Market

by Dru Meadows

ASTM International’s five-year-old Subcommittee E06.71 on Sustainability, part of Committee E06 on Performance of Buildings, is responding to a fast-growing market demand for “green building” and “sustainable development.” This market interest is voiced by building industry professionals, manufacturers, government agencies, and customers. It is expressed in developed as well as developing countries. The unique standards development forum offered by ASTM International allows these often very different perspectives to come together to develop standards that address the issues of sustainability.

“Sustainability,” as defined in ASTM E 2114, Terminology for Sustainability Relative to the Performance of Buildings, is “the maintenance of ecosystem components and functions for future generations.” And “sustainable development,” as defined by that same standard, is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Sustainability has three primary considerations: environmental, economic and social. Each of these considerations must be addressed in the development of standards.

Market Demand

The building industry engages many different industry sectors, each of which has environmental, social, and economic impacts. The building industry is one of the United States’ largest industries. Annually, it accounts for an estimated 9 million jobs. In 2000, there were 6.7 million wage and salary construction jobs plus 1.6 million self-employed and unpaid family jobs. (1) A recent U.S. Census Bureau press release states, “The value of construction spending in 2003 was $898.2 billion, 4.3 (±1.3) % above the $860.9 billion spent in 2002.” The building industry annually accounts for an estimated 40 percent of the world’s energy usage; 16 percent of the world’s water usage; 3 billion tons of raw materials (~40 percent of total); and 15-20 percent of the waste stream. (2) The Occupational Safety and Health Administration attributes an average productivity loss of 14 minutes per day to poor indoor air quality in buildings. (3)

There is national and international interest in these numbers. Numerous local, state and regional agencies are racing to adopt voluntary (and mandatory) green building programs, “smart growth” initiatives, and related sustainable development legislation.

“The Energy Policy Act of 1992 and Executive Order 13123 require Federal buildings to reduce their energy use by 35 % by 2010 (compared to 1985),” states Federal Commitment to Green Building, published by the U.S. Office of the Federal Environmental Executive. “Executive Order 13123 also requires Federal agencies to ‘apply [sustainable design] principles to the siting, design, and construction of new facilities.’ The Office of Management and Budget’s Circular A-11 encourages agencies to incorporate Energy Star® or LEED™ (the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system) into designs for new building construction and renovations.” (4) The 2002 Farm Bill – Section 9002, Federal Procurement of Biobased Products, requires each federal agency to develop a procurement program that 1) will assure that items composed of biobased products will be purchased to the maximum extent practicable and 2) is consistent with applicable provisions of federal procurement law.

Market Indicators

Indicators in private industry demonstrate the growing consumer, and corresponding corporate, interest in sustainable development.

On June 4, 2003, 10 leading banks (5) from seven countries announced the adoption of the Equator Principles. Together, these banks underwrote approximately $14.5 billion of project loans in 2002 (~ 30 percent of the global project loan syndication market). Subsequently, numerous other banks have followed their lead. The Equator Principles are a series of guidelines developed under the International Finance Corporation, the private-sector arm of the World Bank, that provide a framework for banks to manage environmental and social issues in project financing.

Socially responsible investing, which uses various financial screens to support environmental and social initiatives, has increased significantly, representing more than $2.4 trillion as of 2001. SRI funds manage an estimated $1 out of $8 under professional management. In February 2004, California State Treasurer Phil Angelides proposed the Green Wave Initiative, a program for the state’s public pension plans to support environmentally responsible investing. The proposal calls for the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System to funnel $1.5 billion into environmentally-sound investments. (6)

Communities are demanding “high performance” schools across the United States. “High performance” refers to high environmental building performance that, in turn, supports high academic performance. The U.S. Department of Energy publishes a model program, High Performance Schools. State and local initiatives include those in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, and Washington, D.C.

According to the Green Hotel Association, 43 million U.S. travelers have a preference for sustainability. This represents only 5 percent of total U.S. travelers as calculated by the Travel Industry Association of America, but it is an affluent and vocal 5 percent and one that is rapidly growing. There is strong trade organization support and related initiatives that promote green hotels and travel. New conference centers are marketing very successfully with green, courting both organizational customers and high-profile green municipalities such as Chicago, Ill., Portland, Ore., and Austin, Texas.

Healthcare is another sector that is increasingly vocal in promoting industry awareness of environmental issues. The American Society for Healthcare Engineering’s Sustainable Design Guidance Document asserts that “building design and construction practice can be shaped to protect health at three scales. … protecting the immediate health of building occupants; … protecting the health of the surrounding community; …[and] protecting the health of the larger global community and natural resources.” (7)

Market demand for environmentally friendly products, socially-responsible policies, and sustainable development is expanding in every facet of the building industry.

ASTM International’s Response

ASTM Subcommittee E06.71 on Sustainability addresses:

The promotion of knowledge, stimulation of research, and development of standards related to the environmental performance and sustainability of building materials, building components, building systems, and buildings individually and in aggregate.

The topic of sustainability is complex. Consequently, much of the work in this subcommittee is coordinated with a wide range of ASTM committees and other organizations. Current work items in the subcommittee include standards for green roofs, earthen building systems, and environmentally preferable products. Additional current work items include development of a draft Guide for General Principles of Sustainability Relative to Buildings, and a draft Classification for Sustainable Building Elements and Related Sitework.

Green Roofs

This effort is creating standards in support of green roofs. The subcommittee maintains a relationship with ASTM Committee D08 on Roofing, Waterproofing, and Bituminous Materials through the various participants in this activity. Standards efforts address performance of green roof assemblies with respect to plants, soils, drainage, irrigation, insulation, root barrier, and roofing membrane.

A green roof is an assembly that supports an area of planting or landscaping, built up on a waterproofed substrate at any level that is separated from the natural ground by a man-made structure. A green roof can increase stormwater retention onsite, improve the energy efficiency of the building, prolong membrane life, contribute to wildlife corridors and local habitat, and reduce the building’s urban heat island effect. The urban heat island effect is the difference in temperature between a city and the surrounding countryside. It is due primarily to thermo mass and to the expanse of hard and reflective surfaces, such as roofs, which absorb solar radiation and re-radiate it as heat. Green roofs can reduce the stormwater runoff from the site. In summer, depending on the plants and the depth of the growing medium, green roofs retain 70-80 percent of the precipitation that falls on them; in winter they retain 25-40 percent. (8)

Unfortunately, despite initiatives promoting green roofs, there are no accredited U.S. standards for green roofs as of this writing. In response, ASTM E06.71 is currently balloting several standards that address various performance metrics for green roofs.

Earthen Building Systems

Earthen building systems, such as adobe, rammed earth, and straw, have been used throughout the world for thousands of years. Adobe construction dates back to the walls of Jericho (now within the borders of Israel), which was built around 8300 B.C. Many other earthen structures have been functioning for hundreds of years. However, with the emphasis on newer building materials, earthen building systems have been largely abandoned in parts of the world where they were once predominant. Few building systems used today have the potential of earthen building systems for maintaining ecosystem components and functions for future generations. As world population continues to rise and people continue to address basic shelter requirements, it becomes increasingly necessary to promote construction techniques with less life cycle impact on the earth.

Environmentally Preferable Products

There is significant market demand for information for the development of environmentally preferable products. Federal Executive Order 13101, “Greening the Government Through Waste Prevention, Recycling and Federal Acquisition,” encourages federal agencies to identify and purchase environmentally preferable products and services. Section 23.704 of the Federal Acquisition Regulation requires agencies to “affirmatively implement” the objective of “obtaining products and services considered to be environmentally preferable (based on EPA-issued guidance).” The Federal Trade Commission issued its Guide to Environmental Marketing Claims, often referred to as the “Green Guides,” in 1992, and continues to update them as needed.

Numerous state agencies, including those in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, North Carolina, Missouri, Washington and California have launched initiatives encouraging the purchase of environmentally preferable products.

Subcommittee E06.71’s effort responds to these numerous statutes. It is examining the life cycle stages, including the five criteria categories (9) referenced in E 2129, Practice for Data Collection for Sustainability Assessment of Building Products. It is intended to establish a consistent approach to evaluation and documentation of environmental information for environmentally preferable products.

Draft Guide for General Principles of Sustainability Relative to Buildings

This draft guide identifies the general principles of sustainability relative to buildings. Because sustainability has three primary considerations — environmental, economic and social — the general principles are categorized on the basis of that triad. Environmental, economic, and social considerations are interrelated. Therefore, sustainability relative to buildings often requires balancing the opportunities and challenges associated with each. This standard identifies issues associated with the decision-making process used in achieving a satisfactory balance.

Draft Classification for Sustainable Building Elements and Related Sitework

This draft standard establishes a classification of sustainable building elements and related sitework. Elements, as defined in the standard, are major building components. These elements usually perform a given function. The classification serves as a consistent reference for analysis, evaluation, monitoring and reporting for all stages in construction – feasibility, planning, design, construction, maintenance, renovation, retrofit, reuse and deconstruction.

ASTM International Standards on Sustainability in Building

The subcommittee is also responsible for the compilation ASTM International Standards on Sustainability in Building. This compendium unites multi-discipline standards as appropriate to the building industry. It addresses environmentally preferable products, energy efficiency and sustainable buildings. The 127 standards include those related to building materials, performance of wetlands, general principles for life cycle assessment, and the sustainable design, construction and operation of buildings. //

If you are interested in participating in the work of ASTM E06.71, please contact Steve Mawn at ASTM International or Dru Meadows.


1 U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Statistics.
2 Worldwatch Paper No. 124.
3 1004 - 04/05/1994 - Indoor Air Quality - 59:15968-16039; Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration 29 CFR Parts 1910, 1915, 1926, 1928 [Docket No. H-122] RIN 1218-AB37 Indoor Air Quality Agency: Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
4 Federal Commitment to Green Building: Experience and Expectations; Office of the Federal Environmental Executive; December 2003.
5 ABN AMRO Bank, Barclays, Citigroup, Crédit Lyonnais, Credit Suisse First Boston, HVB Group, Rabobank Group, The Royal Bank of Scotland, WestLB AG, and Westpac Banking Corp.
7 ASHE Sustainable Design Guidance Document; January 2002.
8 Green Roofs for Healthy Cities.
9 Materials (product feedstock), manufacturing process, operational performance of installed product, indoor environmental quality, and corporate environmental performance.

Copyright 2004, ASTM International

Dru Meadows is chair of ASTM Subcommittee E06.71 on Sustainability. She is an author, architect, teacher
and a partner in theGreenTeam, Inc. , providing strategic environmental consulting for the building industry.