Vinyl is the Key for Sustainable Access!

Jane Rohde - Nov 2014

Arriving at Greenbuild in New Orleans late on October 21, 2014, as I’m checking into the Hilton Hotel, an irate woman approaches the main registration desk.  “This is the second time that I’ve come back down, because this key isn’t working for my guest room door!  Give me a ‘real plastic key’, instead of this wood thing!”

This begs the question: When is “sustainability” a gimmick versus truly a sustainable solution?

The key cards for the Greenbuild conference are made out of birch, harvested from a sustainably managed forest.  It further states, “It’s 100% PVC-free and manufactured with no hazardous chemicals or additives.”  However, in order for the card to work, it has to have a plastic coating and strip to work with the electronic card system.

So let’s look at the service life of this key:

  • One use advertisement for Greenbuild, but also promotes Sweets Sweepstake
  • Not directly recyclable back into another coated “wooden” key
  • Did not fulfill the basic use and application of being a good key solution
  • Provides no indicator for use or direction arrow for using with the card reader hardware on the entry door
  • No indication of how to dispose of the key

I asked for a standard vinyl plastic key card.  It states on the back of the card “made from 43% recycled material” with recyclable “3” symbol on the back.  It also requests to return to front desk when checking out.

In comparison, the service life of this key:

  • Multiple re-use with Hilton Hotel advertisement for reservations
  • Includes recycled content
  • Is recyclable after useful service life
  • Indicates how to dispose of the key
  • Includes brand of hotel and includes countries served
  • Includes a graphic arrow to assist the user how to insert into card reader hardware

In this example, the wooden key is clearly a ‘gimmick’ approach to sustainability.  This also flies in the face of collaboration and progress made between the USGBC and The Vinyl Institute; working toward transparency.  The dialogue needs to not only include the leadership, but clearly needs to reach some of the marketers promoting Greenbuild.  This key solution is not a sustainable approach.

This simple example supports the evaluation and specification of products from a durability, life cycle, and multiple attribute approach.  The appropriate product for the appropriate application; clearly wood isn’t the best solution for a flexible key card that has an electronic plastic strip imbedded.  An example of this situation in building products could include the use of an absorptive carpet within a healthcare setting, where bodily fluids are present, versus a resilient vinyl product that is heat welded.   In this situation, durability isn’t the only concern.  Maintenance, cleanability and infection control are all important factors for consideration.  The entire building or product service life is the key to sustainability.