Talk About It
Bright Green Knowledge leads to Healthier Buildings
As designers, we have a unique responsibility to understand and articulate the big picture folded within environmental issues and their effect on our planet and humanity. After all, everything we design has a far-reaching, long-term impact on the environment and the people who interact with the buildings we design.
Over the past decade it has become common knowledge that the built environment has a vast impact on us and our world, consuming over 40% of all energy we use, using up to 30% of all raw materials on earth, and polluting the air we breathe.
More recently, there has emerged a robust awareness within our profession that building materials affect human health. The chemicals and compounds that comprise many building materials, finishes, and furnishings have a range of harmful effects on human health and the environment. Far too many building materials are comprised of known carcinogens, reproductive and developmental toxicants, endocrine disruptors, and neurotoxicants. None of us have escaped the impact of the diseases tied to these substances (if we haven’t been personally impacted we have loved ones that have suffered their effects).
Reversing this practice and transforming the building materials market is a 21st century opportunity that requires vision, modern approaches and leadership. It’s our role to elevate our knowledge of this issue, modify our material selection processes, and lead the building materials industry toward sustainable and healthy alternatives. This starts by understanding the broad categories of health hazards in our world today; understanding the types of chemicals found in building products that cause health concerns; and understanding what products are better to specify than others based on chemical content.
Understanding the broad categories of health hazards in our world today:
Understanding the types of chemicals found in building products that cause health concerns:
Understanding what products are better to specify than others based on chemical content. There are a number of accurate, impartial and scientifically-based information sources on building product content and associated health data. Some go-to resources include:
• BuildingGreen, Inc.
• The Healthy Building Network / Pharos Project research tool
• The Health Product Declaration (HPD) Collaborative
• Living Building Challenge
These credible and recognized organizations are dedicated to the ongoing improvement of the building industry’s ecologic and health performance and the transparent disclosure of materials in the building product supply chain.
Ideally, our materials selection process should begin with a thorough hazard or risk assessment, comparing conventional building materials to healthier alternatives, weighing and analyzing performance and durability qualities against toxicity and exposure risks. The findings can then be used to select and recommend building materials that deliver the best balance of overall value, performance, and optimized environmental and human health.
Although there are no perfect building materials, we should aspire to ultimately remove all hazardous chemicals and substances from our projects known to be detrimental to human health and the environment. We should all work toward a future where green design and healthy materials are common standards for all projects we undertake. Such bright green design processes and practices will indubitably transform the building materials market toward healthier alternatives.
* Tables 1 and 2 are excerpts from from the report “Avoiding Toxic Chemicals in Commercial Building Products,” copyright BuildingGreen, Inc. Used by permission.