I was surprised to see a full page ad on the back of Wood Design and Building for Sustainable InsulationTM that looked suspiciously like fibre glass batts. I wondered, a) how do you trademark the words "sustainable insulation" and b) under any definition, how do you call glass fibre insulation sustainable?
CertainTeed, part of the big French glassmaker Saint-Gobain, makes a profoundly twisted case for their product. They write:
CertainTeed Sustainable Insulation is made of fiber glass which consists of 50% rapidly renewable content, 35% recycled glass in the US, 70% in Canada, and now a new organic plant-based binder that has no formaldehyde, acrylics or dyes added.
Now since when is glass "rapidly renewable"? Where does it grow? And what do they mean by "organic plant based binder"? Did their plants come from an organic farm? Or are they using the term in its chemical sense, in which case one might point out that formaldehyde is an organic compound too. As my nerdy cousin used to say when ever he picked up a piece of plastic junk, "It's organic!" And since when does 35% recycled content qualify a product as "recycled"?
Then there is the embodied energy of glass fibre. CertainTeed claims that the product will save "12 times as much energy in its first year as the energy used to produce it." In their hilarious video, they claim huge improvements in energy consumption at the plant, reducing energy use 13.5% in the last decade, "saving enough energy to power 71,222 houses". But the inverse of that is that they are still using enough energy to power 525,000 houses.
is Glass Fiber Insulation Safe?
There are other issues. If you read the Material Safety Data Sheet, (download here) you see quickly that is is not much different than any other glass fibre insulation, and has the usual statements:
Use of these products has not been shown to cause cancer in humans. Fiber glass wool is a possible cancer hazard. Fiber glass wool has caused cancer in animals but has not produced cancer by inhalation.
Glass fibre insulation has a role to play in reducing our energy consumption. It is cheap, it is easy to install, and did I say it was cheap? This stuff is clearly better than the pink crap, given its higher recycled content and the elimination of formaldehyde.
What does "Sustainable" mean?
But under any definition that I know in the world, there is no way you can call it "sustainable". I don't know how the gang making the video didn't crack up when they said "Looks like everyone is trying to present themselves as green these days, and it seems to us that green credentials are getting pretty watered down." and I do not know what they were smoking in the trademark office when they gave these guys a trademark on the phrase "sustainable insulation". It ain't.
More on insulation
Fiberglass: Is Pink Really Green?
TreeHugger Picks: Green Insulation
Polystyrene Insulation Doesn't Belong in Green Building
UltraTouch Recycled Denim Insulation
Why The Choice of Insulation Matters
Pink is the New Green