It has taken the green building movement almost twenty years to begin investigating the human health impacts of the chemical ingredients that make up building products. Alas, the latest version of the US Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEEDv4) rating system is beginning to drive the market towards broadening how we define ‘green’ materials in relation to their human health impacts. LEED is the most internationally recognizable metric for measuring holistic sustainability measures in new and existing buildings in the world today. Far in its history, LEED has defined ‘green’ building materials simply through the material’s attributes; including salvaged materials, recycled content, those that are classified as ‘rapidly renewable,’ contain FSC-certified wood, are highly reflective (exterior materials), and/or contain no or trace amounts of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) (interior finishes, furniture, and furnishings).
The new LEEDv4 rating system continues asking projects to aspire to these criteria in conjunction with several new concepts, the most controversial of which are codified within three new credits under ‘Building Product Disclosure & Optimization.’ Regarding human health impacts, MR credit 4: ‘Materials Ingredients’ encourages projects by awarding points for selecting products for which the ingredients are inventoried using a combination of accepted methodologies to verify minimal harmful substances. This all sounds simple; however, this concept has created a large backlash from both proponents and opponents of LEED. It represents a learning curve for designers, owners, and manufacturers who all must upgrade their practices to meet the more stringent standards of LEEDv4.
Anticipating the need for a large-scale shift within the building industry, several local sustainability leaders are planning an event to target New England design, business, and institutional communities to spread awareness of these trends. The other reasons for planning an event include initiating tools and resources and to promote these new concepts within our regional built environment. Other cities, including Chicago, San Francisco, DC, and Dallas, have held similar summits that spearheaded through local USGBC chapters. For example, the Northern California Chapter initiated a 2-year challenge amongst USGBC membership that targeted client and product representative education on Health Product Declarations (HPD’s), promoted worker job-site safety strategies, etc. The DC Chapter held a series of ‘open-house’ events at different member’s headquarters, allowing local experts to present their knowledge.
The Boston summit seeks to utilize the synergy codified by ABC’s Challenge for Sustainability scorecard by adding criteria for healthy materials into the system, making the summit relevant for stakeholders. It will feature a half-day ‘un-conference’ event, which invites leaders from the business, design, and institutional communities to get together. These leaders will work together to learn concepts, brainstorm strategies, and set a regional agenda for healthy materials. This ‘un-conference’ will begin with a panel of interdisciplinary healthy materials experts and will break out into group sessions with focused 30-minute talks with local leaders and panelists. Discussions from these conversations will be captured in real-time and posted at the end of the event to quantify key takeaways, areas of focus, and synergies amongst peers. Our hope is this event will equip these diverse communities with the tools they need to move forward in a way which promotes healthy buildings and generates a demand for healthy materials regionally. Boston and New England are uniquely configured to lead the promotion of healthy buildings, as we are one of the largest cities in the US; we have the highest per capita percentage of designers in the US and our economy hinges on stakeholders who value and promote human health (hospitals, universities, corporations). In short, we are one of the greenest cities in the world.
Our thanks to ABC, Bergmeyer Associates, BuildingGreen, DBA-W Architects, Gensler, Goody Clancy, MA USGBC, Payette, PDT Architects, Symmes, Maini & McKee Associates, Tsoi/Kobus & Associates, TRO Jung Brannen, and Wilson Architects, for their help in initiating this exciting event. For details on sponsorship, serving as a panelist, attendance, etc., please reach out to the author via the ‘New England ‘Healthy Buildings Summit’’ Group on Linked-In.
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