Exposing the Secret Ingredients

Jan 9, 2013 by

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Healthy building materials—and a transparent system to evaluate them—are the keys to healthy buildings.

By Susan S. Szenasy

Posted January 9, 2013

Human health and well-being were center stage at Greenbuild 2012. Discussions ranged from ways to support lives and communities with clean energy and green jobs, to bringing daylight into hospitals where the staff seldom experiences the beneficial, full-spectrum light that keeps our species healthy and alert. Among the most encouraging developments, for the record 35,000 of us gathered at San Francisco’s Moscone Center, was the news that two organizations will be watching, recording, and making public the often-hidden ingredients in our built environments.

The formation of a new action group, the Health Products Declaration Collaborative, unites building owners and operators, construction and design firms, manufacturers, and philanthropic foundations to disclose the contents and chemical hazards in building products. At the heart of the Health Product Declaration (HPD) Open Standard Version 1 is the growing need to make our sick buildings healthy, which, in turn, will slow down the steady deterioration of our planet.

This effort will not be easy to realize. The complexities of our modern materials make this daunting task almost Herculean. Add to that some powerful opposition: a lobbying group called the American High Performance Building Coalition, comprised of a number of less-than-green manufacturers (think coal and petrochemical companies, among others). According to a broadside distributed at Greenbuild by the Healthy Building Network, the coalition has targeted for elimination “the proposed credit in LEED v4 that would reward specifications that are transparent and avoid chemical concerns.”

This somewhat predictable opposition doesn’t seem to concern the architect and green activist Bill McDonough. In fact, he’s looking to harvest the energy of conflicting views. He proudly announced that his newly reenergized Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute is ready for “a new type of conversation,” one that puts a chemical company in the same room as a manufacturer and a designer—all of them challenged to work on constant improvements to human health and well-being. The Institute, he says, is inviting those who will “invent new materials… that will only release clean water.” He sees all this as a “destination,” a way for every participant to find “a new sense of purpose.” And that’s hard to oppose.

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