The following post was provided by HMFH Architects.
In 2019 HMFH Architects signed on to the AIA Materials Pledge. Signing this pledge demonstrates our commitment to the ecosystem, human, climate, and social health along with equity and the circular economy when selecting products that go into the schools we design. Building on this commitment, HMFH is collaborating with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) to develop a new standard for material transparency in K-12 public schools. Currently in design, the new Bristol-Plymouth Regional Technical School is serving as the pilot project for this program.
A healthy interior environment is foundational to a child’s education—by the time a student graduates high school, they will have spent more than 15,000 hours in a school, which is the second longest indoor exposure time after their home.¹ Therefore, it is essential that educational facilities provide the best possible environments to support student wellness, growth, and development. A key piece of this is understanding the impact of building materials on health and well being.
Drawing from over 50 years of experience designing K-12 public schools, HMFH is researching and vetting hundreds of materials to develop a baseline list of products that contribute to a healthy learning environment and are optimized for K-12 school architecture. The intent of this research is twofold: first, to provide a list of building materials to serve as a reference point for future projects, and second, to push manufacturers to disclose the chemical makeup of their materials and ultimately eliminate chemicals of concern in those products.
Based on the goal of identifying and specifying materials that fully disclose ingredient and manufacturing information, the Bristol-Plymouth team selected the Declare label standard and is prioritizing products that are free of LBC Red List chemicals. Declare is a certification for manufacturers to provide information on the chemical makeup of their products and compliance with standards such as the Living Building Challenge (LBC) Red List and LBC Watch List, which limit materials, chemicals, and elements harmful to human health and the environment.³
Focusing first on touch surfaces in K-12 schools—which encompass materials from furniture to door hardware—the Bristol-Plymouth team looked at commonly used products to confirm they do not contain harmful ingredients. The research showed many products do already meet the desired standard, but for those that do not, HMFH’s designers investigated non-toxic equivalent products that meet the same standards for function, durability, and accessibility. The materials and manufacturers vetted through this research are being used to develop a comprehensive list of touch surface materials that targets LBC Red List Free products (and Declared products where Red List Free is not feasible) for all HMFH projects moving forward.
The Bristol-Plymouth Regional Technical School will be a model for healthy schools in Massachusetts, establishing product standards for MSBA-funded schools. Our goal is to eliminate chemicals of concern from school building materials to ensure that all students across the State have access to healthy interior environments.