Product Innovation Case Study: Building Envelope Innovations LLC

Tom Schneider is a chemist with insight about a major challenge for buildings in the northwest: Keeping moisture out. In addition to being a chemist, Tom is also the co-owner of Clackamas-based Building Envelope Innovations, LLC. He’s responsible for the development and commercialization of a product called “Fast Flash” that’s unique in the way it helps protect buildings from moisture.

The problem with moisture is that once it gets inside a building’s walls, it doesn’t readily evaporate. Since it can’t escape, the moisture rots the wood and other materials. Repairing this type of damage to buildings is very expensive. 

About a year ago, Tom and his partners were contacted by a team working on the Bullitt Center building in Seattle. The Bullitt Center is being built to meet the standards of the Living Building Challenge (LBC), which includes requirements to avoid “Red List” chemicals and materials. Tom was informed that the Bullitt Center wouldn’t be able to use Fast Flash because the product contained a chemical that belongs to a group included on the LBC Red List: Phthalates.[1] This group of chemicals makes plastics flexible, and they’re included on the LBC Red List because of scientific evidence pointing to their impact on child development.[2]

The green chemistry solution:

Fortunately, Tom was up for the challenge. He had conducted some research and even preliminary testing on alternatives to phthalates several years ago based on regulatory trends he observed in Europe. At the time, Tom wanted to be prepared if there were limitations in the availability of raw materials for his product as other manufacturers started responding to the rules in Europe and moved away from phthalates.

This prep worked proved to be invaluable in reformulating on a short time frame and avoided significant costs for the Bullitt Center project. His partnership with Prosoco, Inc. a manufacturing company that offers Fast Flash, was critical in many ways. According to Tom, they were critical in addressing challenges with sourcing, accessing, and incorporating the safer alternative into the production process.

Like other businesses, the search for safer alternatives was part of an established raw materials selection process. However, in this case Tom wanted to weigh health information about potential phthalate alternatives with routine selection criteria like performance, cost, and availability. Many performance tests were completed on potential alternatives in a short period of time. Interestingly, Tom used the selection criteria of whether or not a potential alternative is allowed in food products as a filter for avoiding substituting one problem chemical for another.

 

Benefits of using green chemistry:

Put simply, BEI saw the Bullitt Center as a high profile project that offered the opportunity to gain public recognition and exposure for the company. Additionally, the company benefited by being the first to market with this type of product that contains no red list chemicals. As other projects and buildings integrate human health and environmental factors into materials selection, they believe Fast Flash will be the product of choice for moisture resistance.

Initially, BEI decided the phthalate-free product was going to be a one-off. Now, they see the holistic benefit for their customers, not just for those working on living buildings. Tom’s attitude is that if a business is truly concerned about building health, then why would they leave phthalates in any of the products they make? Thanks to his involvement with the Bullitt Center, now that has become a rhetorical question.

 

[1] International Living Future Institute. (2012). Living Building Challenge Standard 2.1. Retrieved from https://ilbi.org/lbc/standard on September 5, 2012.

[2] U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. (2010). Overview of Phthalates Toxicity. Retrieved from www.cpsc.gov/about/cpsia/phthalover.pdf on September 6, 2012.


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