Clear, the New Black: Pharos and Transparency

Clear, the New Black: Pharos and Transparency

tweet me:
Clear, the New Black: Pharos and Transparency
Wednesday, March 24, 2010 - 4:00pm



If anyone doubted the need for a tool that cuts through the fog of labels, manufacturer claims and private certification schemes that dominate the building materials market, a short stroll through the aisles of the 2009 Greenbuild exhibition hall last November would have erased that.
Perhaps it was the aftershock of a trip through the Greenbuild exhibition hall that prompted keynote speaker, Al Gore, to exhort: "I urge the green building movement to pay attention to keeping the environmental standards high, and when you find greenwashing going on, speak out against it. Don't put up with that because they undercut the legitimate folks who are here, who are doing the right thing."
Al was right. The trouble is, it's not always that easy. Greenwashing is by definition clever, sophisticated and disingenuous, making it difficult to distinguish from legitimate green marketing. The other limitation is that individual voices rarely break through the din of greenwash. We know from experience how difficult this can be.
That’s why we created the Pharos Project. Pharos, at its core, is a campaign for transparency in the building materials market.  What we are creating is the ultimate campaign tool:  a tool for users to locate the best materials to meet their current needs and enduring values; a tool to help cut through the prolific greenwashing; a space where users can discuss what makes a product truly green; and, most importantly, a platform from which to show manufacturers what constitutes a market in support of the best environmental, health and social equity practices.
The Pharos Project delivers users online access to environmental health data on over 9,000 chemicals used in building materials as well as full product evaluations within a constantly expanding building product library. Users not only get the information they want, they also send a clear message to manufacturers about the kind of information a truly “green” market needs.
For manufacturers, Pharos defines transparency as a product manufacturer answering three basic questions about their product: What’s in it? How was it made? Where did it come from?  
That may seem simple enough, but in an era of proprietary polymers, confidential business information and greenwash, it is often too high a bar for many manufacturers to reach.  Still, the Pharos Project exists for those product manufacturers who are willing to supply such information and for those designers and specifiers who demand it.
Ultimately, real progress towards reversing many of the most challenging environmental issues of our generation will depend upon all of us meeting that standard of transparency rather than redefining the term.
Transparency must be a foundational element of sustainability, not just the new black.