At CONSTRUCT [in 2010] I asked a question at a trade show booth that I've been asking for years. I finally got a real answer. Now that the manufacturer is finally "off the schneid", I will consider using the product in future projects. We're hockey fans in our family, and for a player to be "on the schneid" is to have not yet personally scored a goal in a game, deeper and deeper in the season. (Here's another explanation.) I think of it as failing, repeatedly, to meet expectations. When I say that a manufacturer is "on the schneid", they are failing to offer me the vital information I need in order to specify their products in my projects.
This particular manufacturer repeatedly refused to answer a question I felt was important to my work as a specifier: "What is the source for the product?" Sometimes I asked, "Animal, mineral, or vegetable?" [The rep who laughed at this question? Couldn't answer it. To be fair, headquarters wouldn't let him.] I got all kinds of non-answers, like "It's a polymerized resin." I felt certain that the manufacturer hoped to hide the source because it didn't seem very green. This product has a Cradle-To-Cradle certification, so the manufacturer has paid big bucks for their green story, and I'm sure they didn't want to ruin their green image with specifics that seemed to contradict that story. The answer isn't in their literature or on their web site; it's clear that the information was intentionally withheld. When I pressed for my answer, I was told that the information was proprietary.
I finally got my answer, last week at the trade show. The product is, in fact, a petroleum distillate, not at all surprising in the context of the schneid. My reaction, though, was not to reject the product out of hand, which is perhaps what they feared. Rather, I was relieved. Now I have the data to balance the green story, which is actually quite admirable; the functionality, also impressive; and the environmental impact, which may still be less than that of competing products. I wouldn't feel right about specifying a product whose manufacturer refused to answer appropriate questions about resource use, but I can now reasonably consider using the product.
Consider carefully the information you consider proprietary. Will refusing to share it put you "on the schneid" with specifiers?
Now, more than ever, owners expect transparency and green building ratings systems reward it. More and more information is demanded about the ingredients and production of building products. Architects need building product information in order to validate the products they would like to use or to evaluate new ones. So there's never been a better time for building product manufacturers to get off the schneid and share more information about how their products are made.
Incidentally, in the intervening years between the old post and this one, Cradle-To-Cradle has, itself, become more transparent and released its certification criteria. It's no longer the "black box" I used to consider it to be.
CONSTRUCT 2013 is only a few months away. What manufacturers do you hope will get off the schneid this year?