Durability is Key to Product Sustainability Measurement

December 2, 2015

Today’s guest post by Eliza Clarke, Director of Sustainability at Andersen Corporation, focuses on an alternative to throw-away culture.A-Series Casement Windows, Pine Interior, Specified Equal Light Grille Pattern (2 wide x 2 tall), Transom and Picture Windows Tudor Home Style French Eclectic Home Style Craftsman Bungalow Home Style A-Series Architectural Collection

Over the course of a couple of generations our buying behaviors have changed. Now, without giving it a second thought, we quickly discard one functional item in favor of a replacement that promises to perform better (who among us doesn’t have a drawer full of “old” cell phones?). Even with eco-friendly products, many believe that being green can only be found in newer, greener models, while similar items of a certain age are to be discarded. Considering the impact that this repetitive consumption has on our natural resources, that mindset has to change. For consumers who want to measure the true sustainability of their building project, we’re missing one key piece of information: durability.

Durability refers to how long a manufacturer expects their product to consistently perform as it was designed to. While there are plenty of industry experts who can give you an average lifespan for just about anything, what they haven’t figured out yet is how that lifespan factors into measuring a product’s sustainability. While next-generation products may offer advancements in energy efficiency or eco-friendly materials, extending the performance of older products may, in some cases, be the greener choice.

Think about the full range of environmental impacts associated with just one product over its life span. In our business, replacing a window doesn’t just mean creating waste by removing and discarding the old window. There are other significant impacts related to the new product, including the materials, energy and emissions associated with manufacturing, transporting and installing the replacement window.AndersenWindows2

The step in the analysis that we’ve been missing to-date is weighing a new product’s sustainable benefits against the resource savings associated with extending the life of a current product. In the case of windows, replacement may make sense if the old window’s energy efficiency or functional performance is poor, but if the old window is durable it may not. Our next challenge, therefore, is to measure and weight product durability as a factor in overall sustainability in order to prevent unnecessary waste and preserve valuable resources.

Durability is a promotable quality, one that builds trust between the consumer and the company as it is proven with use. It’s long past time to incorporate durability when measuring a product’s sustainability. For companies, durability offers proof of a long-term mentality. For consumers, it is essential for evaluating real quality and future savings.

By Eliza Clarke
Photo Credit: Andersen Corporation

Eliza Clark is Director of Sustainability at Andersen Corporation