Last week’s Greenbuild Conference and Expo in Boston was more than an educational networking opportunity. For almost 30,000 green building professionals from across the industry and the country, it was an oasis of optimism, and a welcome one at that. And while there are many remarkable highlights I could point to, the overriding one for me is how, in the midst of unrelenting bad news, a national conference centered on advanced building technologies, high-performance requirements, increased professional commitment, and a sense of environmental urgency and contribution could significantly grow its numbers of attendees and exhibitors when every other major event in the industry is losing ground. Somebody was pumping pure oxygen into the Boston Convention Center last week.

As EcoHome’s Jenn Goodman reported from the show floor, the combination of educational sessions and broad range of product exhibits made for a high-energy and highly informative week. And while past Greenbuild conferences primarily targeted commercial and public developers and GCs, this year the USGBC unveiled its new one-day track called Green Homebuilder’s Day to match the organization’s move into residential markets with the LEED for Homes program. Judging from the sold-out sessions, the residential tracks will likely become a permanent part of future Greenbuild conferences.

In addition to case studies ranging from affordable green building to “Extreme Green” zero-energy homes, there were interesting discussions about the future of home building in America and lots of talk about green building product ratings and certifications. Here are some of my takeaways related to building product ratings:

Product raters continue to develop their green matrixes to help with selections. They describe their efforts as akin to developing “nutrition labels” for products. The most ambitious continues to be the Pharos Lens, but others, including a brand new searchable effort from CSI called GreenFormat, are emerging. These are more complex, multiple-attribute ratings that dig deeper into environmental performance--unlike single-attribute ratings found in Greenguard, Green Seal, Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), and RFCI’s FloorScore certification programs.

Product raters are beginning to simplify green attribute priorities. For the first time, I heard leaders in these efforts, including Tom Lent from the Healthy Building Network and Jennifer Atlee from BuildingGreen, begin to narrow selection criteria down into simpler priorities. This is in contrast to the continually expanding number of considerations we’ve always heard about for choosing a green product. This means that for a given category, they recommend identifying the most important attribute and placing the emphasis on that. For example, for HVAC or windows, energy efficiency performance would outweigh recycled content. For lumber and concrete, embodied energy and resource efficiency would be the most important considerations. This approach was reinforced by other speakers in other product-related sessions, and if this trend of analysis continues it will help simplify the process of specifying materials.

EPDs, LCAs, and C2C laying the groundwork for the future. Companies are beginning to provide Environmental Performance Declarations (EPDs) for their products that offer a transparent view behind the environmental claims they make. These EPDs include Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) that weigh all aspects of manufacture from extracting raw materials, through the creation of the finished products. But LCAs are usually referred to as cradle-to-grave analysis looking at recycling potential or landfill impacts, which is why McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry’s Cradle To Cradle certification, which breaks down products by materials and components and analyzes their reuse potential in new products, has been seen as setting a higher standard for designers and manufacturers.

Rick Schwolsky is editor in chief of EcoHome.