One-on-One with Steve Taylor
July 1st, 2011

Custom Building Products, the 50-year-old Los Angeles based maker of ceramic tile installation products, continually seeks ways to reduce its environmental impact. Director of Technical Marketing Steve Taylor reports that with the introduction of the company’s Emerald System, Custom Building Products has taken action to not only make green compliance simpler, but to move forward on CO2 emission reduction. The Emerald System takes Custom Building Products’ longstanding Build Green program to the next level, Taylor says. All Emerald System products comply with green building agency standards, and all boast recycled material content and low Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) content. Because they are engineered to minimize their energy footprint, they also comply with major green building initiatives: American National Standards Institute (ANSI), California Green Building Standards Code (CALGreen) and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Environmental consciousness is nothing new for Custom. Being a SoCal-based company has been an advantage, Taylor says. In the 1960s, California took note of pollution and began regulating VOC compounds. Custom grew up at the same time that these and other regulations were being implemented, helping make it an early adopter of an environmentallyaware philosophy, he adds. For almost a decade, Custom has used pre- and post-consumer recycled materials in its tile and stone installation product manufacturing processes. No fewer than 100 of the company’s building products help contribute to LEED Certification in at least one of several categories. Recently, Taylor talked with TileDealer about the company’s green building philosophy and how Custom Building Products develops new products. Taylor also addresses how the company undertook its intriguing new initiative involving carbon offset credits, and the ways in which it intends to extend and Director of Technical Marketing Steve Taylor reports that with the introduction of the company’s Emerald System, Custom Building Products has taken action to not only make green compliance simpler, but to move forward on CO2 emission reduction. refine its lines of surface preparation, bonding and grouting products.

TileDealer: Please discuss your green building products.
Nearly all of Custom’s products are considered green and qualify for LEED in one of four categories: regional materials, recycled content, low VOC adhesive, low VOC coatings. Some of the better known products include PolyBlend Grout, VersaBond Thinset mortar and LevelQuick self-leveling underlayment, extensively utilized by tile installers.

TD: What is Custom’s green building philosophy.
Being a California-based company, we have always been concerned with the environment. Southern California has always had one of the strictest VOC and emission standards. Custom is concerned with the environment and strives to supply the industry with safe, non-polluting products. We established 11 manufacturing sites across North America to reduce transportation and natural resources consumption. All our facilities are conscious of waste, and employees there do everything they can to reduce energy consumption and the generation of waste to landfills. Dust and water from our processes are recycled back into the process. For the most part, all of this is done on our own. For instance, there are no regulations requiring us to be close to our customers and suppliers. These are things we decided to do on our own to eliminate waste and cost.

TD: How is Custom Building Products developing new products for that market?
At Custom, we all work together to develop new products. Teams with personnel from marketing, R&D and sales evaluate the needs of our customers and formulate plans to fill these needs with new products. Our R&D staff of 40 people works on developing and thoroughly testing these new products to assure successful launch.

TD: What new products are in the pipeline?
Our most recent introductions are our CEG-Lite epoxy grout, an easy to use product that contains recycled content and is part of the Emerald System. We also introduced SpiderWeb uncoupling mat. The Tile Council of North America recognizes that there are some instances that require the use of an uncoupling membrane. We recognized there was a hole in our product offering. The result is SpiderWeb. There are situations in which floors can’t be installed without using an uncoupling mat, which basically uncouples the tile installation from the sub-floor, so if there’s movement in the sub-floor, it doesn’t crack the tile. For a tile installation, concrete normally requires 28 days to cure before tile can be laid. SpiderWeb allows the tile to be set in as little as three days.

TD: How do you anticipate this category will evolve over the future?
Tile and stone are very desirable decorative covering materials. We believe the demand will continue to grow and we will see new products. Many of the newest tile products have also incorporated a green focus and sustainability. Ultra thin tile is an example. This tile is only three mm thick and requires less energy to produce and transport. New tiles like this require new installation products and methods. We plan to make sure that as new tile products are developed, there will be an installation method for them.

TD: You just took on an interesting initiative with carbon offset credits. Can you explain the Emerald System products?
There is so much confusion around green standards — LEED, IgCC (pending), CalGreen, GreenSquared (pending) — that we decided to take the confusion out. We’re watching these standards being developed and want to make sure we have products in place once the standards are approved. We identified products that will qualify for any of these standards and guaranteed that using Emerald System Products will meet the standard and qualify as green. We also wanted to take this one step further and offer carbon offset credits for installations that use a full line of green products. Right now, the Emerald System covers all phases: preparing the surface, setting or bonding tile to the floor, and grouting products.

TD: What made you pursue this tactic?
We wanted to offer more than the traditional recycled content and low VOC in the Emerald System. We have local manufacturing and use regional raw materials. So what else can we do? Many of our products contain Portland cement. Portland cement is the largest producer of greenhouse gases, outside of electrical energy production and transportation. We cannot eliminate use of Portland cement, but we could offset the greenhouse gases emitted during its manufacture. This is one more step to reducing worldwide pollution. In the rest of the world it’s not a choice, it’s a mandate to reduce greenhouse gases. What an offset credit says is if there’s nothing we can do to reduce the greenhouse gases in the manufacturing of our product or the raw materials we use, we can help reduce emissions of greenhouses gases elsewhere, i.e., building a windmill that’s producing electricity, which shuts down a coal-fired energy producer.

TD: How has it been received?
Many of our customers like the idea of reducing greenhouse gases. They see this as a positive attribute for the products. Since this is targeted to large commercial projects, time will tell the value. We’re sort of monitoring the whole thing. We’ve reached out to our field representatives who call on the architects. The trouble is that when an architect designs a building, there’s a year delay between that and the time it gets built, so they wouldn’t recommend any materials until a year later. So we would not see any transactions until then.

TD: Do you anticipate doing this in the manufacture of other setting materials?
There have been discussions concerning the addition of other tile installation products to the Emerald System. As we see the need, we will offer carbon offset credits with more products.

TD: If developers are using these carbon credits, what is their gain?
Developers using the full Emerald System of products, including grouts and mortars, for their tile installation will not only receive up to a lifetime warranty on the installation, they will receive a certifi cate showing the tons of CO2 greenhouse gas they removed from our atmosphere. This can be applied to LEED for credit under the innovation contribution. As more communities adopt Cap-and-Trade limitations for greenhouse gases, obtaining carbon offset credits will be an important step toward attaining the greenhouse gas reductions required.

TD: Your products comply with all major green building initiatives. How long has it taken the company to comply with all these?
We are involved with many of the committees developing the green standards. By constantly reviewing the drafts during the standards development, we can see that our formulas are modified as needed to meet proposed standards. It’s one of those evolving situations. We see things developing we need to address and respond quickly.

TD: Were you yourself always environmentally conscious, or did that develop over time?
I’ve been with Custom for 21 years, and in building materials for 35. I hate to admit it, but I’m a product of the 1960s. There were a lot of tree huggers back then, and I’ve always had an interest in the environment. Being so long in California, where Los Angeles had the worst pollution in the world in the 1960s, it was always, “How can we develop products with no VOCs and solvents?” We were always concerned with making solvent-based products water-based. I just kind of hit the ground running.

TD: What’s ahead for Custom Building Products?
We envision that we will be the green leaders for tile installation products. We will continue to refine and extend our lines of surface preparation, bonding and grouting products that meet the requirements of the green community. We will also position our cleaners and sealers as environmentally sustainable.

SOURCE: Steve Taylor, director of technical marketing Custom Building Products, Los Angeles 562-296-9569

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