Big names (Hillary Clinton, Bon Jovi) and big themes (climate change, disaster recovery) tended to get the big headlines at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in Philadelphia late in November. But for remodelers, some of the more important topics covered by editors of sister titles to REMODELING involved energy rating labels and the notion that manufacturers should reveal more about what’s in the goods they sell.

The so-called “transparency” movement contends that by making information more available, consumers will make greener choices. But skeptics worry that this information can be confusing, particularly when data is put into context by comparing one product against another or by attempting to shoehorn performance figures into some comprehensive database.

For instance, a training session on the Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) generated tension among the audience members, about a third of whom were manufacturers. Presenter Steve Baer, a senior consultant at PE International, was questioned frequently on the accuracy of the data and databases used to generate the LCAs and Environmental Product Declarations that he presented as tools to inform designer decisions.

The audience’s incredulity “may hurt,” Baer said half-jokingly, “but it’s a good discussion to have here with 170 people in a room.”

Elsewhere, four states—Alabama, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Washington—are involved in a three-year pilot program to develop and test energy rating labels for homes. The program wraps up in March 2014, with the results expected later in the year.

The four states are taking slightly different approaches, but the end goal is to have a standard set of energy metrics for consumers to use to compare houses in their areas. Massachusetts is participating in the Department of Energy-funded program not just to develop a label, but also to move homeowners to invest in energy efficiency, especially retrofits, Ian Finlayson, deputy director of Massachusetts’ Energy Efficiency Division, said during a Greenbuild presentation.

Finlayson and the other presenters compared a home energy label to miles per gallon (mpg) label found on all new cars. “The mpg label has a lot of value to people … and it can change behavior,” said Chris Wagner, project manager for the National Association of State Energy Officials. “But we don’t have a simple metric like mpg in the housing industry.”

To date, Massachusetts has produced 2,500 Home mpg scorecards, which have resulted in 832 retrofits, Finlayson said. The next step, he added, is to train Realtors so that they understand the scorecards and use them in the sales process.

The transparency movement got another shot when the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) debuted the LEED Dynamic Plaque. To reflect the ever-changing conditions of buildings, and in particularly those that have earned LEED certification, the plaque is an electronic display of ongoing performance in five sustainability metrics: human experience, transportation, waste, water, and energy. Presented as a numerical score, the display allows owners to compare their building’s performance with that of peer buildings, and to gauge their building’s past or projected performance with its actual operation.

Scot Horst, the USGBC senior vice president who unveiled the plaque, also moderated a panel on “How Information Improves Performance.” That panel discussion again showed the challenges that the transparency movement faces. According to the reporter’s notes from the session—at which about half the attendees were product manufacturers—when asked whether product transparency was here to stay, the question “received a confident ‘yes’ from panelists while about two-thirds of the audience demurred.”

But when Horst then asked: “Who thinks a future in which we all want to live is possible?” the reporter said “nearly everyone raised their hand.”