It is easy to criticize a solution for having negative impacts. This semester I’ve been working on identifying growth opportunities for insulation. The solution, polyurethane insulation, can reduce end-user energy demands by 75% over fiberglass insulation. On the surface this is a great accomplishment and a solution that should be widely praised. Unfortunately there is one ingredient that makes the proposition a little less enticing. There are some alternatives to the solution. One solution makes the building less fire resistant and another solution increases the risk of explosion during production. The question we’ve been asking over the past couple of months is what’s the best available option and plan forward.

There isn’t a clear answer for what is best for today. From a global warming perspective it would be the solution that has a higher explosion risk. Fortunately there are solutions that will be coming available in the next few years that offer a lower global warming potential (GWP, a term used to describe an equivalent level of CO2) and have the preferred fire and safety properties. Our client is investigating these solutions, but is apprehensive of the potential price that any of them may provide. Polyurethane insulation offers great long-term savings, but requires a few years to earn a positive return over substitute products. If these solutions are more expensive it will put more pressure on proving the case.

Many articles mention the potential reduction targets through energy efficiency. Polyurethane is another example of the challenges the best case scenario must overcome against the lowest cost scenario. Our society’s short term focus may prevent us from achieving the reductions we need to meet our 2020 and 2050 targets for CO2 reduction. What daily decisions could you change to achieve the best environmental solution?


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