Balancing the Value Attributes of a Product for a Green World

Posted on 4/21/2014 9:18:04 AM By Bob Braun

In my last two posts, I began a review of the historic versus the newly evolving challenges for the modern formulator. I also considered how certain product formulations presented an opportunity for the formulator to use Green chemistry advantageously.  In this post, I will go into more detail regarding how the many product attributes can be balanced to help obtain a more sustainable product.  Also, for those interested, in my last two posts, I reviewed my formulating experiences in the sealant, adhesive, and paint industries over the last 40 years. 

Formulators have always had to juggle the many desires of their customers—i.e. the user; the sales, manufacturing, and marketing departments; industry specifications, and the numerous government regulators.  The Green initiatives have now added another layer to this matrix.  All of these demands can logically only be partially satisfied as one tries to develop a more sustainable product.  Here are some examples:

  1. The customer wants to purchase a state of the art product chemistry with the highest possible level of durability along with the greatest ease of use, easy clean-up, and low odor and toxicity.
  2. Sales often wants a product less expensive to produce than the competition.  After all, one will then likely sell more product and that in itself may also affect building sustainability!  Sales also wants the product to not only meet, but to also exceed all industry expectations, as well as the competitors' claims and specifications.
  3. Manufacturing wants a product they can produce quickly and efficiently using existing equipment and without complications, such as the use of raw materials that are difficult to handle and process.
  4. Marketing wants a product that can be shown to offer unique advantages over the competition's products and that adds to promotional efforts in demonstrating the value proposition.  Certainly, being able to represent the product as “green” has become desireable for both the marketing and sales departments.  One of my earlier posts dealt specifically with green chemistry and how the product/application can be advantageously leveraged regarding this requirement.
  5. Every industry has long-standing product specifications, such as ASTM C920 for elastomeric joint sealants or ASTM C557 for wallboard construction adhesives.  To be competitive, such specifications often must be met or exceeded.
  6. Depending on the product/market application, there are often additional industry association requirements such as AAMA, EIMA, NAIMA, NFPA, NRCA, SPRI etc.
  7. All government related requirements must be adhered to in every case, whether related to OSHA, NIOSH, CPSC, EPA, CFR, or one or more of the germane building codes, etc.

Sounds daunting doesn’t it?  Well it is!  For each product category/application, a formulator must weigh the TOTAL performance attributes of the product as used in the building.  It becomes even more difficult to compete on a level playing field when each manufacture touts a different value proposition for a product used for the same end-use application.  What does one do in this case?  Frequently, one is forced to offer ever more special niche products.  Perhaps a single product category already had several product offerings from one’s company based on historical requirements.  Now, it may be necessary to add one or two more specialized products.

Unfortunately, there is no one-organization able to accurately weigh and balance the many issues related to optimum long term building sustainability such that the end result really achieves the best value for the environment, the building, and the health and safety of the consumer.  Making any one product feature too strong in a given area will often weaken it in other areas.  This can lead to a less sustainable building, rather than one that is more sustainable. 

The elements that are involved in sustainability are individually complex and diverse.  And, the multiple elements taken together are even more complex.  The expertise needed to trade these off is still developing and not well founded.  Energy efficiency, recyclable issues, reuse issues, green chemistry issues, waste issues, durability issues, transportation issues, disposal issues, etc. all affect sustainability.  Does any-body have the expertise necessary to quantitatively weigh these many attributes against each other?  Also, consider that a green chemical today may not be so green tomorrow as experience has often taught us.  What was considered to be the best building science yesterday is not the same today and may well change again tomorrow.  But of course we can't know what we don't know.  And why do I bring this up anyways?  Because emphasizing any one attribute over the many others can be counterproductive to the ultimate goal of sustainability.

In my career, I experienced this problem over and over again—poor balance of the product requirements motivated by seemingly good intentions.  I saw chemists—driven by project charter—work ardently to improve the strength of an adhesive that was already unnecessarily strong for the application.  Other times, they worked to obtain lower flame spread values to better the competition without enhancing actual fire safety, all at the expense of one or more other essential properties. Balance is the key in most everything we do as humans.  Achieving building sustainability is no different.

In my next post, I will discuss educating customers on your green initiatives to help them decide on the many tradeoffs.

Any Questions or Comments?

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