CSI GreenFormat: Info Good, Functions Bad!

The Construction Specifications Institute decided to endeavor in a difficult project: a materials database for green products called GreenFormat. No one else perfected this concept yet (GreenSpec is the closest), and GreenFormat is no exception to the rule. CSI made some smart moves in developing this database though, and with a few improvements could become a leader in the sector. In any case it's completely FREE to you, which makes it worth at least a try. The fact that that they're passing the buck to the manufacturers will doubtless limit the listing of smaller, regional companies, potentially (but not assuredly) limiting it's breadth in the long run.

CSI GreenFormat

A shiny new toy!

The Good

CSI made a wise choice in deciding not to try to define "green" in any way. Instead, they opted for an approach where they just provide information in an agnostic manner and leave you to your own conclusions. The reporting for each product is extensive... VERY extensive... perhaps even TOO extensive, which is saying something. You'll find info about third party certifications, manufacturing and extraction locations, background info on the manufacturing process, shipping materials, product lifespans, buyback/recycling programs, and a host of other non-environmentally related testing info.

From what I can tell, the database is populating fairly quickly. When I first checked it out about a month ago there weren't many products listed. There's significantly more today, and I suspect this will grow rapidly in the near future. That's the edge a group such as CSI (on EVERY product manufacturers radar already) has over its competition.

The Bad

A single clearinghouse including this level of detail is commendable. Unfortunately manufacturers are permitted to post as much or as little information in their listing as they please. While this entry on Gold Bond Gypsum Board even includes a narrative about efforts the company has made to reduce water and energy use during the manufacturing process, this entry for McElroy Metal roofing panels contains... well nothing.

Data, Data, and more Data

Doesn't that info just pop out into your face???

Equally unfortunate is the user interface. If you want to browse using the MasterFormat numbers, see a list of products in a single category, and learning as much or as little as that manufacturer is willing to share, then you're in luck. If you want to compare product attributes in a single screen, browse by LEED credit, or bookmark/save products to view later, then you're S.O.L. (<- that means you can't do it)

The detailed information is poorly arranged in a big block of text that all pretty much looks the same. In other words, if all you want to do is look at recycled content of a variety of materials you're probably going to be spending a fair amount of time navigating around. As one 4specs discussion board poster put it: "Talk about clunky navigation!"

The Summary

I like data, and I don't like people telling me what to think... For those reasons, you'd think I'd be all over this site. Unfortunately I also spend a fair amount of time on the web, and would like a more intuitive interface and more powerful browsing functions. (NOTE: Before you start emailing me complaining about the piss poor interface and browser functions of THIS site, please consider the fact that the average earnings per hour of work on this site pulls me a whopping $2.87/hour worked... before taxes of course.) I also worry about it's ability to support smaller manufacturers, but only time will tell how that pans out. On the whole I think I'll keep using it though, and the few problems that are there could be fixed. Keep up the good work!

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