Certifier Spotlight: A Q&A with Construction Specialties

Kendra Martz, LEED Green Associate and Manager of Sustainable New Product Development at Construction Specialties (CS) believes that product design is the key to addressing society’s sustainability challenges, and in her role she provides product development teams with design strategies to overcome those challenges. We asked Kendra to share her thoughts around her commitment to Cradle to Cradle and some of the challenges around transitioning into the circular economy.

What inspired your commitment to Cradle to Cradle® design principles?

When CS started its environmental journey in the early 90’s, we were ahead of the curve in terms of sustainability and had incorporated practices such as closed loop water recycling, process chemical inventory, recycling and more!

Our challenge was that we considered these to be disjointed activities and didn’t have a vision for how it all fit together. In the early 2000’s our former GM read the book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, which caused us to realize that our viewpoint was skewed and those efforts weren’t disjointed. In fact, they were holistic, and a company couldn’t be truly sustainable without focusing on all five attributes of sustainability – material health, water, energy, circular products, and social fairness.

Soon thereafter, Cradle to Cradle became our guiding vision and design philosophy to unite our sustainability initiatives. One of the most inspiring pieces that CS felt aligned with was the notion that in order to make significant change, as a society, we need to focus on doing “more good” instead of just “less bad.” This notion of continuous improvement was how CS always conducted its business operations, which made Cradle to Cradle a natural fit for our sustainability initiatives. The other inspiring concept that Cradle to Cradle introduced to CS was the idea that waste and pollution in manufacturing and the built environment is a design flaw. Alternatively, manufacturing and design can be forces for good by adjusting how we make things. Ultimately, Cradle to Cradle design principles left CS with a never ending question of “what if” behind how we design products and operate our company that would enable us to be part of the solution and to do “more good.”

What is the most pressing challenge you see in the transition to a circular economy?

One of the most pressing challenges I see the built environment facing in transitioning to a circular economy is traceability up and down the value chain in order to create active circular systems. Manufacturers, like CS, are engaged by architects or designers in the early stages of a project.  The challenge is professionals working on the renovation project likely aren’t the ones that designed the building the first time around. Products in the built environment can easily last 20+ years, and the chances of working with the same design team years later are unlikely. 

So how do tenants, building owners, and design teams know how to get the products that are in that space, back to the manufacturer? How do we know what ingredients make up products that are currently installed in buildings? How do we provide information that can be revised decades later? If we do start thinking about buildings as “material banks,” a lot more work needs to go into designing the right tools and programs to track products and materials across entire life cycles in order to have a circular built environment. 

Collaboration is key in developing circular practices and products. How is Construction Specialties collaborating across the  supply chain to optimize products and processes for the circular economy?

CS is constantly working to build partnerships across the supply chain. It allows us to focus on what we do best and rely on outside experts so that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  We focused for over a decade on material health because we believe that it is the building block of a circular economy. 

The first step for CS was to establish this solid foundation in material health. We’ve put a lot of work into knowing what’s in our products, and optimizing them so they can be used as safe material inputs for perpetual cycling. Requesting and requiring transparency documentation and utilizing our Accredited Cradle to Cradle Assessor has enabled us to be successful over the years.  With this solid foundation, we were able to focus on creating circular products and identifying partners on the take-back side of things. For example, our Floormations® carpet supplier has invested significantly in material health alongside us, and they have their own take-back program. By choosing this supplier, it allows CS to benefit from their sustainability initiatives and contributes to the Floormations Cradle to Cradle Silver Certification.