TR A NSFORM ATION A L THOUGHT
AND THE EVALUATION OF TECHNOLOGY TR A NSFORM ATION A L DE SIGN
SCALING UP THE MATERIALS PETAL:
NRDCâ€™S NEW OFFICE TR A NSFORM ATION A L ACTION
THE POWER OF TRANSPARENCY AS A CALL FOR ACTION TR A NSFORM ATION A L PEOPLE
ARLENE BLUM NOVEMBER 2014
Jason F. McLennan firstname.lastname@example.org
C ONTRIBU TING EDITOR
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EDITORI A L DIREC TOR
Joanna Gangi firstname.lastname@example.org
A S S I S TA N T E D I T O R
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C R E AT I V E D I R E C T O R
Erin Gehle firstname.lastname@example.org James Connelly, Joanna Gangi, Sarah Kramer, Jason F. McLennan, Greg Norris, Eileen Quigley, Amanda Sturgeon, Bill Walsh, Janna Wandzilak, Sam Wright
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TR A NSFORM ATION A L DE SIGN BY NRDC A ND S TUDIO GA NG
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
Scaling Up the Materials Petal BY NRDC A ND S TUDIO GA NG
Interview with Arlene Blum BY JOA NN A GA NGI
Ecological Ordnung and the Evaluation of Technology: Showing Restraint in an Unrestrained World BY JA SON F. MCLENN A N
The Power of Transparency as a Call For Action BY A M A NDA S TURGEON
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TR A NSFORM ATION A L PEOPLE BY JOA NN A GA NGI
TR A NSFORM ATION A L THOUGHT BY JA SON F. MCLENN A N
Full Disclosure: Portraits of Transparency
Who Will be the Tesla of Healthy Building?
of Trim Tab is made possible by a generous grant from the Martin-Fabert Foundation. The International Living Future Institute is premised on the belief that providing a compelling vision for the future is a fundamental requirement for reconciling humanityâ€™s relationship with the natural world. We created Trim Tab magazine to advance this vision and provide a source for in-depth information on emerging trends and leading edge ideas. We believe that printing Trim Tab will strengthen our reach while also providing an added benefit to our members, who are at the core of our mission. We kindly ask you to pass along the printed version to a fellow green building advocate once you have read it.
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The Power of the Red List
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7,664 LBS of wood, which is equivalent to 24 trees that supply enough oxygen for 12 people annually.
11,191 Gallons of water, which is enough water for 651 eightminute showers.
8mln BTUs of energy, which is enough energy to power the avg. household for 31 days.
679 LBS of solid waste, which would fill 148 garbage cans.
2,324 LBS of emissions, which is the amount of carbon consumed by 27 tree seedlings grown for 10 years.
A LETTER FROM THE EDITOR Creating a materials economy that is non-toxic, ecologically restorative, transparent and socially equitable is no easy task, made all the more challenging by the enormity of the issue: many consumer and building products are riddled with harmful toxic chemicals that pose risks to human and environmental health. To inspire significant and lasting change in the industry, consumer awareness and advocacy is paramount. For example, when I realized that my couch likely contains halogenated flame retardants (HFRs) that are harmful to the health of my family, I began to pay more attention to the composition of everyday products. Increasingly, consumers like me are demanding to know what is in the products they buy and what is in the buildings they occupy. This growing awareness drives demand for healthy products, helping to define a new manufacturing paradigm and materials economy. We have come a long way, but there are still many hurdles to jump over before the world is filled with healthy products. As a significant and integral part of the global economy, the building products industry must play a major role in this transition. This issue of Trim Tab tracks the product transparency movement and spotlights pioneering companies that are actively supporting market transformation by challenging the common perception that the chemical make-up of their products must remain proprietary trade secrets. We showcase progressive regulation that has led to the removal of HFR requirements from furniture in California, and track the resulting industry dynamics. We also highlight the fundamental role of the Living Building Challenge Red List in the increasingly robust healthy materials movement. Collectively, the building materials economy is on the cusp of a progressive transformation. As we enter the next phase of product innovation, the future looks increasingly promising.
JOANNA GANGI International Living Future Institute Editorial Director of Trim Tab magazine
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BY NRDC A ND STUDIO GA NG A RCHITECTS
SCALING UP THE MATERIALS PETAL ALL PHOTOS: COURTESY STUDIO GANG ARCHITECTS Â© 2013 7
T RAN S FO RMAT I O N AL D E S I GN
The purpose of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is to safeguard the Earth: its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. NRDC seeks to establish sustainability and good stewardship of the Earth as central ethical imperatives of human society. In alignment with this mission, NRDC considers the environmental impacts of its buildings. For the past 10 years, they have helped lead the way, nationally and internationally, in the green building domain with LEEDÂŠ certification. Starting with their Chicago office, the environmental action group pursued Living Building Challenge certification as well. Today, they take principles of the Challenge into account during all construction projects. NRDC considers green building certification as early as the real estate search process. Many of NRDCâ€™s offices are located within existing buildings and are tenant improvement projects rather than new buildings. Because of this, when the Chicago office was
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The Midwest Offices, located in Chicago’s historic Civic Opera House, is the first tenant improvement project in the world to achieve certification through the Living Building Challenge.™
originally considering green building certification, sustainability consultant Closed Loop Advisors (CLA) specifically recommended Petal Certification through the Challenge. With Petal Certification, the projects can focus on materials, something that hasn’t been addressed in such depth by other building certification programs. The Materials Petal’s focus on eliminating toxins improves the quality of indoor spaces for employees and visitors. Using locally sourced materials also supports the local economy. Additionally, with less long-distance shipping of goods, NRDC is responsible for fewer greenhouse gas emissions before and during construction. This means NRDC has a smaller carbon footprint when considering embodied and Scope 3 emissions and contributes to improved air quality. Looking for responsibly made products also moves the market by simultaneously supporting environmentally responsible manufacturers and urging noncompliant manufacturers to change.
Another major focus of NRDC’s sustainability goals is the operational impact of their offices, or the ongoing impact of the building while in use, rather than just the environmental impact of construction. This is another reason that NRDC chose a certification program that promotes sustainability throughout the life of the space. CLA was able to help NRDC with this evaluation of the long-term performance of the office as well as the short-term construction. Designed by Studio Gang Architects, the NRDC’s Midwest Office, located in Chicago’s historic Civic Opera House, is the first tenant improvement project in the world to achieve Petal Certification through the Challenge. To achieve certification, Studio Gang focused on the Site, Materials, and Beauty Petals. The Materials Petal in particular proved challenging, especially in tandem with satisfying requirements for LEED© Platinum certification, but the entire project
team was fully committed to the effort—client and contractors, alike. The team, in collaboration with WMA Sustainability Solutions Group, began materials research early in the design process, working to identify and review products that were both capable of meeting LEED requirements and did not contain any of the harmful chemicals and components on the Living Building Challenge Red List. In addition to the Red List restrictions, the Challenge also specifies protocol regarding the amount of carbon emitted in a material’s production and transportation; fair labor and sustainable resource extraction practices; the incorporation of regional and sustainable products and services; and the reduction or elimination of waste during design, construction, operations, and end-of-life.
By taking on Petal Certification, Studio Gang realized that it had essentially joined the movement to require transparency in the content of building materials. Much like the labeling revolution that has transformed the food industry, this movement encourages all manufacturers to declare the content of their materials and the chemicals used in their production. As a method of measuring sustainability, it has the potential to create real change in manufacturing processes and related industries, such as architecture and construction, and ultimately how people choose the environments they inhabit. Many of the materials that the team investigated for the project didn’t comply with Challenge standards, whether because they contained some trace of one of the Red List components, the manufacturer was located outside of the required zone, or adequate information about the material’s makeup or produc-
With the Living Building Challenge as the guide, every material choice was a balance of aesthetic desire and social conscience. The finished space is a tribute to the opportunities born of healthy building practices.
tion wasn’t available, often due to its proprietary nature. For instance, the team was unable to find paint and lighting manufacturers willing to fully disclose their components. In addition to meeting LEED and Living Building Challenge metrics, Studio Gang wanted to ensure that the materials were environmentally motivated, worthy choices for the NRDC. An early thought was to challenge the practice of material reuse as much as possible, to not simply reuse existing materials, but to reveal, reinvent, and re-claim. The design team had hoped to discover a single material that could be translated in a variety of ways while ultimately providing conceptual synergy. The team brainstormed a wide range of basic building blocks—insulated glass units (IGUs), for instance—and experimented with ways to transform these materials into new formations. Unfortunately, as a building material, the IGU was too large, too constructed, and incapable of being broken down
by its components in order to comply with the Red List. The team realized they needed to start with a smaller building block; something natural but flexible, something shapely, textured, and capable of Red List compliance. Wood was a natural choice, and Studio Gang experimented extensively with ways to reclaim, strip, and turn it into something new. Salvaging local baseboards and crown moldings from building reclamation sites, the team painted, mirrored, sliced, stripped, and sanded, ultimately mounting the material in vertical strips, one after the other, and horizontally, back to back. These reconfigurations resulted in beautifully patterned, corrugated walls and screens endowed with hills and valleys, peaks and depressions that catch the sunlight and cast shadows. Additionally, the NRDC was interested in bringing a living presence to the office, and Studio Gang
PROJECT TEAM Owner: NRDC Owner’s Representative: Eileen Quigley, Senior Consultant, Closed Loop Advisors Architectural: Studio Gang Architects Engineering: WMA Consulting Engineers Sustainability Consultant: WMA Sustainability Solutions Group General Contractor: Norcon, Inc Interior Design: Studio Gang Architects Acoustical Consultant: Threshold
explored several opportunities to deploy a living wall. Ultimately, however, the team found these products to be more superficial than actually “alive.” The plastics in their irrigation systems were not compliant with the Challenge, and their versatility was limited by their artificial casing. Instead, the team decided to build their own living architecture by designing several nylon rope structures on custom steel frames. Climbing vines were grown locally from seed and hung inside the nylon gardens; as the plants continue to grow, their vines envelop the ropes. Although this strategy requires regular maintenance, the NRDC was willing to undertake that responsibility. Guided by the Challenge, this series of design decisions highlights the beauty of natural materials, the possibilities of reuse and reclamation, and the power of daylight. With every material choice balancing aesthetic desires and social conscience, the finished space is a tribute to the opportunities born of healthy building practices. After retrofitting the Chicago office, NRDC decided that regardless of a project’s size, all of its facilities would follow principles set forth by the Challenge. The focus then turned to their office located in Beijing, China, where intense air pollution is a problem. Controlling indoor air quality is especially important, making the Materials Petal even
more fitting, with its focus on reducing the introduc- With the Living Building Challenge as tion of unnecessary toxins. the guide, every material choice was a The NRDC project was the second in China to register with the Challenge. As the largest construction market in the world, the greening of Chinaâ€™s construction market is a global imperative. Bringing the Materials Petal to China also helps to move the market toward more environmentally friendly and responsibly sourced products. Through advocacy letters to industry leaders, NRDC is helping to demonstrate demand for safe products. In fact, as a result of advocacy from the team, four products used in the project; Plyboo bamboo, Clestra glass partitioning, Vox carpet and Tangdun gypsum wallboard, now all have DeclareÂŽ labels. GIGA, a Chinese materials research think tank and open source database that served as the materials consultant, was instrumental in shepherding these companies through the Declare process. They now have a comprehensive list of healthy Challenge compliant materials to make the product selection process easier for future projects. By supporting third party certification programs such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and by registering Challenge projects in China, NRDC can also increase awareness of such programs. The mission of the NRDC and the commitment of sustainability-minded firms like Closed Loop Advisors and
balance of aesthetic desire and social conscience. The finished space is a tribute to the opportunities born of healthy building practices. Studio Gang Architects work together to continue the international growth of buildings that use healthy, non-toxic and locally sourced materials that are ecologically restorative. Co-authored by EILEEN QUIGLEY and JANNA WANDZILAK of Closed Loop Advisors (CLA) and SARA KRAMER of Studio Gang Architects. EILEEN is a Senior Sustainability Consultant and project manages sustainable fit outs. JANNA is a Sustainability Analyst and is excited to begin her focus on green buildings. SARAH is Publications Director for Studio Gang Architects
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BY JOA NN A GA NGI
T RAN S FO RMAT I O N AL P E O P L E
Summiting the world’s highest mountain peaks takes incredible strength, bravery and perseverance. Arlene Blum has climbed many of the world’s highest and most challenging mountains. She planned the first allwoman ascent of Denali in 1970. She led the first American, and first allwoman, ascent of Annapurna I, one of the world’s most dangerous peaks. She was also the first woman to attempt Mount Everest. It is clear that Blum is no stranger to a challenge, which makes her a perfect candidate to help make the world a better, healthier place. Arlene Blum has spent a large portion of her life trying to protect human health and the environment from toxins that infest many consumer products. When she sees something as harmful as toxic flame retardants in home furniture, nursing pillows, highchairs and strollers, where there is clearly no fire safety benefit and a huge potential for harm, she feels compelled to try to solve the problem. Her research and advocacy helped ban chlorinated Tris, a flame retardant and cancer-causing chemical, from baby clothes in the 1970s. Her most recent success came earlier this year when furniture flammability standards changed in California so that harmful flame retardants are no longer needed in couch foam. Blum is currently working with her colleagues at the Green Science Policy Institute to change building codes to reduce the use of unnecessary flame retardants in foam insulation and other building materials. She considers her work of reducing toxins in consumer products more difficult than climbing the world’s most dangerous mountains, but she draws on her mountaineering experience: “Mountain climbing is very similar to the work of moving to healthier products, healthier chemicals and healthier buildings. I do think with a good team, a lot of persistence and a vision of the summit, a healthy world is within grasp.” Arlene Blum, a
biophysical chemist, mountaineer and author, spoke with us about her vision of a healthy and just world. Trim Tab:
Why is it so important to remove toxic chemicals from consumer products? Arlene Blum:
When toxic chemicals are in consumer products with high levels of human exposure that offgas they end up in our environment and in us. And these chemicals can contribute to health harm for humans, wildlife, and the environment. TT:
There is no (or little) safety benefit, and there are obvious health concerns, in the use of flame retardants in products. Why is it so hard to change regulations? AB: In general, the biggest obstacle is the chemical pro-
ducers. They tend to profit from old chemicals that they’ve made for a long time. Many of them are petrochemicals, and they’re part of various supply chains. So, it really comes down to profits of the chemical producers. It is important to note that some chemicals could be harmful and still important for products. Others aren’t needed. If they’re not necessary and they’re likely to be harmful, they shouldn’t be used. If the function is something that is really needed and they’re harmful, then there should be an alternative strategy or safer alternative chemicals. TT:
What kind of opposition have you encountered from the chemical industry? AB: Oh, my goodness. The Chicago Tribune published
a series in 2012 that talks about the chemical companies and Big Tobacco waging deceptive campaigns. The flame-retardant producers are very energetic in defending their current markets and creating new ones that are independent of whether or not chemicals do provide a fire safety benefit in certain uses. They create front groups like Californians for Fire Safety and Citizens for Fire Safety. And they make new flammability standards that lead to the use of their
own chemicals because using their chemicals is often the cheapest and most effective way to meet the standards. They are very energetic in working to create and promote fire safety standards that would increase the use of flame retardants independent of whether or not these standards provide a proven significant fire safety benefit. TT:
You were successful in removing TRIs in baby clothes in the ’70s; then in 2006, it was discovered that flame retardants were in sofas, and the recent win earlier this year on changing the regulation. Do you see this movement gaining momentum? And what challenges remain? AB: I think more people are aware that there are harm-
ful chemicals in their products, and that the EPA currently does not have the authority that it needs to in order to protect us. I think people used to believe that
if something was in an everyday product, surely someone was making sure it was safe for our health. We have learned that in America, food, drugs and pesticides—things that really go directly into our mouths—are regulated. You could argue about how well, but they are regulated. However, other chemicals have minimum regulation, and there were myriad chemicals grandfathered in 1976 when the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) reform passed. It stated that more than 60,0000 chemicals then in use were grandfathered as okay, which included substances like asbestos. The EPA spent a number of years trying to regulate asbestos and did not succeed. We don’t currently use asbestos in products (we hope), but it’s not because the EPA regulates it. It’s because of lawsuits. Mostly everyone who wins an asbestos lawsuit dies of mesothelioma, which is not a good way to regulate.
um and mercury are very harmful. There’s been a lot of work on bisphenol A and phthalates in products and there has been a big effort to reduce formaldehyde and other VOCs in healthy buildings. Now, the harm from some flame retardants is becoming well known, but there are still many other challenges. California’s furniture flammability standard, that’s followed across most of the country, recently changed so that flame retardants are no longer needed to meet the new standard. However, there’s pushback in the current development of an NFPA open flame standard, which could lead to more flame retardants in our nation’s furniture. It’s by no means a permanently done deal. The movement is inching. Flame retardants are being removed from the nation’s furniture and baby products because there was no significant fire safety benefit and a huge potential for harm. But the other side has not given up, by any means. TT: Do you think advocacy is the answer, or one of the an-
swers to help? AB:
We [at the Green Science Policy Institute] think that good science, clearly communicated to decision makers, can really help. We have a Six Classes webinar series on classes of chemicals of concern that I think can educate government regulators, manufacturers and organizational purchasers to make better choices. If purchasers of chemicals or other decision makers think in terms of reducing the use of entire For example, there was a long-term effort to phase out classes of harmful chemicals, rather than individual Decabrominated Diphenyl Ether or DecaBDE. When chemicals, the problem of regrettable substitution of the Deca Ether finally was being phased out, the re- a banned chemical with chemical cousins can be preplacement of Decabrominated Diphenyl Ethane was vented. Educating anyone else who specifies chemiused, which is similarly persistent, bio-accumulative cals to address substances with similar chemistry and appears to have similar toxicity. Lack of EPA au- and/or function as a class can minimize the risk of thority and unfortunate substitutions to the chemical such regrettable substitution and drive the developcousin with similar properties is a huge problem. ment of safe and healthy green chemistry solutions. Given the current gridlock on TSCA reform for safer But we are having some successes. The health harm chemicals in the United States, this innovative apand lack of fire safety benefit of flame retardants as proach can provide a more immediate way forward they were used in home furniture is now very well toward safer chemical use, which can benefit human known. We’ve learned that bisphenol A, lead, cadmi- and environmental health. So there are a ton of unregulated older chemicals in use, and there is not a requirement for information for newer chemicals. It’s a huge challenge. With great effort, there have been a small number of chemicals that have been banned or phased out. But often the almost identical chemical cousin is used as a substitute.
What are you doing about HFRs in foam insulation AB: It’s really not about flame retardants. It’s about and other building products? the standards. One of our goals is to help industry reduce the use of harmful chemicals. The new California AB: In the 1970s, laws were passed for both furniture furniture standard doesn’t forbid, ban or prohibit the and building insulation that led to the use of flame chemicals; it just says they’re not needed. The good retardants. No one questioned if there was fire safety news is that the foam manufacturing industry is makbenefit and if the chemicals used to meet the standards ing more and more non-flame-retarded foam. So, it were harmful. For insulation, just like for furniture, seems to be going in a good direction. we learned there is often no fire safety benefit and a lot of health harm. There will never be green buildings We now are focusing on our work with sixclasses.org. if these chemicals are used. Alternative materials can We’re particularly interested in fluoridated stain rebe used to make a healthy building. But other insula- pellents, which are persistent and toxic chemicals. In tion materials tend to be more costly so that across the terms of the chemistry the carbon fluorine bond is population, that’s unlikely to be the market majority one of the strongest bonds in the periodic table. Such unless codes are changed so chemicals are no longer de molecules never break down, so your grandchildren facto required. What needs to be changed are the In- and future generations will be exposed to the fluoriternational Residential Codes (IRC) and International nated chemicals that you use. And the chemicals will Building Codes (IBC). In 2012, in collaboration with still be around 20,000 years from now. There’s an David Isenberg from Development Center for Appro- EPA report that begins saying, “They’re toxic, they’re priate Technology (DCAT) and others, we made an ef- everywhere, and they never go away.” They are used fort to change the IRC to allow a choice about whether in cosmetics, food wrapping paper, Teflon, outdoor or not to use flame retardants below grade or behind clothing, and carpets. Many products that are stain or thermal barriers where there is not a proven fire safety water repellent will often have these chemicals. benefit. This effort got a lot of attention and started educating people. For example, an obvious place would be between the slab and the soil, and inside walls with thermal barriers. There’s no fire safety benefit if you have a 15-minute thermal barrier, which is required by code; by the time the fire burns through the sheetrock and reaches the insulation, the flame retardant isn’t going to make much difference. It actually makes the fire more toxic and is harmful for firefighters. We’re currently working on a code proposal for the IBC, and we’re looking for code professionals and colleagues to help with this proposal and testify at the hearings. TT:
Following the success of changing flammability standards to remove flame retardants from couch foam in California, what is the next target for you and the Green Science Policy Institute?
Flame retardants are not bound to foam.
They off-gas from foam and often settle into dust. We’re very interested in educating people to make different choices. If you tell a mother that the stain-repellent carpet she wants has chemicals that are harmful and may be in her baby for a very long time, the mom might choose not to have the stain-repellent carpet. But, on the other hand, if she really wants that functionality, there ought to be ways to design carpets to be stain repellent without persistent chemicals.
Dust is then ingested through hand-to-mouth contact. about the newest regulations and requirements for those products? AB: Until January 1, 2014, those products were all con-
sidered furniture, and California requirements were best met with flame retardants. The good news is that all the products except car seats no longer need flame retardants. We’re still in the transition zone though. Stores are selling off the old products, but gradually baby products will not have flame retardants in them, except car seats. It will be a while for car seats since there is a transportation requirement. It does not provide a proven fire safety benefit, but once you have a fire requirement, it is very hard to change it.
We’re also extremely concerned about what’s going to happen to millions of pieces of flame-retarded furniture in America, because furniture has several owners of 10 to 15 years each. This means that low-income communities may have this toxic furniture for generations, which becomes an environmental justice issue. We have a pilot foam exchange in the Bay Area where TT: You’re a leader in two male-dominant fields, mountainpeople can swap out the foam in their cushions for safe eering and biochemistry. What has allowed you to not just foam without flame retardants. And then, when they participate but to lead for decades in these particular fields? pass their furniture on, it’s nontoxic. AB: I spent 20 years answering that question in my TT: As a mother, I’m particularly interested in baby memoir Breaking Trail. I grew up thinking that if products like car seats and changing pads. Can you talk somebody told me I couldn’t do something, that was
their problem, not mine. I also had a huge desire to make the world a better place and to solve problems. When I see something as purposeless and harmful as toxic flame retardants in home furniture, nursing pillows, highchairs and strollers, where there’s clearly no fire safety benefit and a huge potential for harm, I just feel compelled to try to solve the problem.
TT: What advice do you have for those of us that aspire to
make positive change?
AB: Find a vision of the world you want. Take the time
to decide what you care about and what you can do, then find a team of people who share your vision of a better world and be incredibly persistent. Keep taking one step at a time and realize there are going to be setI’m a Himalayan mountain climber, and as one I tend backs and obstacles. With persistence, and by working to have acute optimism and huge persistence. It’s quite together, we can make a difference and make the world dangerous to make a career of Himalayan mountain a healthier and better place. climbing; about half of the elite climbers die climbing. So, you have to be very optimistic and very persis- If you are interested in the code work the Green Scitent to continue plodding up the mountain in spite of ence Policy Institute is doing contact Avery Lindeman. storms and avalanches. email@example.com I led the first American assent of Annapurna I with an all-women team, This peak has the highest fatality rate of any of the world’s highest mountains and is considered one of the most difficult. I feel like what I’m doing now in reducing toxics in consumer products is much harder than climbing the world’s most dangerous mountain. More important, and very similar, is having a team of people focused on an important goal. The International Living Future Institute is on the team. And our summit is a more just and healthy world. It’s a worthy goal, and we have to persevere. Mountain climbing is very similar to the work of moving to healthier products, healthier chemicals and healthier buildings. I do think with a good team, a lot of persistence and a vision of the summit, a healthy world is within grasp. TT: What in nature inspires you?
JOANNA GANGI works for the International Living Future Institute as the Editorial Director of Trim Tab.
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All of nature. I am inspired by the beauty when I reach a high mountain summit, the clouds at my feet and the other mountains poking out. It’s the most beautiful place on the planet. I’m also motivated by wanting to help killer whales and other marine mammals that have the highest levels in the world of flame retardants in their bodies. I often think about the chemicals that are in wildlife, children and the environment that shouldn’t be there. Wanting the world to be healthy and just inspires and motivates me. inspire interpret integrate trim tab
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B Y J A S O N F. M C L E N N A N
ECOLOGICAL ORDNUNG AND THE EVALUATION OF TECHNOLOGY Showing Restraint in an Unrestrained World
advantages of a technology outweigh its disadvantages, they carefully and thoughtfully introduce that technology into the framework of their society. If, however, a technology poses potential negative consequences If you know nothing else about the Amish to their culture or beliefs—such as the use of way of life, you are likely familiar with its sewing machines, which might threaten the slower-than-mainstream embrace of mod- sense of community and craftsmanship that ern conveniences. Though you are mistaken are characteristic of a quilting circle—then if you assume that the Amish reject technol- the device is deemed undesirable. ogy outright. Horse-drawn buggies often have electric taillights, and cordless drills The key is in the deliberation, and the are sometimes used at barn raisings. Why? deliberation stems from the Ordnung. Because when the Amish decide that the
T RAN S FO RMAT I O N AL T H O U GH T
What is the first image that pops into your head when you think of Amish communities? Horse-drawn buggies? Barn raisings? Interiors bathed in candlelight? Hand-sewn quilts?
“It is not enough that you should understand about applied science in order that your work may increase man’s blessings. Concern for the man himself and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors; concern for the great unsolved problems of the organization of labor and the distribution of goods in order that the creations of our mind shall be a blessing and not a curse to mankind. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations.” ALBERT EINSTEIN, 1931 1
Ordnung is a German word that conveys the concept of order, discipline or rule. Ordnung is also the expression commonly used to define the Amish and Mennonite ways of life. In these cultures, the Ordnung is an unwritten set of rules and regulations that helps to protect the communities’ time-honored traditions, including those that reject many modern conveniences. The Ordnung is designed to maintain a balance between the old and the new, to “slow or prevent change if a given technology is seen to be a threat.”1 The Amish feel that some modern technologies might diminish one’s connections to family, community and the value of hard work. “The Amish blueprint for expected behavior, called the Ordnung, regulates private, public and ceremonial life. Ordnung... is best thought of as an ordering of the whole way of life... a code of conduct which the church maintains by tradition rather than by systematic or explicit rules... The Ordnung evolved gradually over the decades as the church sought to strike a delicate balance between tradition and change.” DONALD B. KRAYBILL THE RIDDLE OF AMISH CULTURE
It is remarkable that the North American Amish have been able to maintain their preferred pace of life and commitment to a non-consumerist culture while being literally surrounded by the world’s most consumer-oriented, technology-hungry and change-driven societies. The Ordnung guides the Amish to take the time to make thoughtful decisions when it comes to what they want for themselves and for their communities, regardless of outside influences. It should remind the rest of us that such mindfulness is possible. The Amish have proven that societies of people can come together to make collective choices about how technology, materials, products and processes affect culture.
When it comes to finding the sweet spot between indulgence and restraint, we can learn much from the Amish Ordnung—even if we do not share their particular ideals or a desire to slow the pace of change to the extent that they do. In our increasingly fast-paced, sometimes frantic, modern world, we are bombarded with technological innovations and new products that are quickly made obsolete by improved versions, which then are eclipsed by even newer approaches. There seems to be virtually no end to what we can invent and mechanize, so we continue to innovate because we can, not necessarily because we need to, or should. As recently as 25 years ago, in-home computers were relatively rare, and WiFi was non-existent. Today, many adults and children cannot imagine going a day without using a computer. In the same time period, telephones have lost their rotary dials and the curly cords that once tethered them to kitchen walls; phones are now “smart” and have found their way into the pockets and purses of people around the world—including in developing nations. Looking back even 100 years, a mere blip on the timeline of human existence, the change has been nothing less than revolutionary, encompassing the wholesale reinvention of modern civilization., transforming communications, education, medicine, transportation, entertainment and more. We have only in the last few decades begun to understand that some of our technologies are now changing the entire fabric of life on the planet and leading to potentially catastrophic pollution, species loss and climate change. Admittedly, many of these changes have benefited humankind, at least in the short term. I do believe, for example, that the innovations of Silicon Valley and other global tech hubs, while not completely innocent, are generally helping move us toward a better world by informing us and bringing us closer together. That said, other technologies, including the energy sources that are powering the computer and telecommunications revolutions, have had significant negative and unintended consequences. What is clear, regardless of the sector or technology, is that we have no reliable checks
“I T IS REMARKABLE THAT THE NORTH AMERICAN AMISH HAVE BEEN ABLE TO MAINTAIN THEIR PREFERRED PACE OF LIFE AND COMMITMENT TO A NON-CONSUMERIST CULTURE WHILE BEING LITERALLY SURROUNDED BY THE WORLD’S MOST CONSUMER-ORIENTED, TECHNOLOGY-HUNGRY AND CHANGE-DRIVEN SOCIETIES.” and balances in place that encourage us to pause and ask: Should we do this? Is this a good idea for the betterment of humanity? Unfortunately, there are many moments in human history where I wish we had been able to call upon a sys-
tem of safeguards and had decided not to go forward with a technology. Learning how to split the atom provided the knowledge to invent nuclear power, but it also led to its notorious byproduct, the atomic bomb. I would argue that this is a genie most of humanity wishes it could put back in the bottle. Granted there are some positive applications for the technologies that followed, however, too many have suffered and died because of this technology to justify the shortterm advantages, and too much is at stake to risk future accidents and violence. Another example of technology that the world would be better off without is hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas. “Fracking” is already causing significant long-term problems affecting groundwater in many locations, and the catastrophic ecological effects on the water table and nearby aquifers may not be fully known for generations. And what of the booming chemical, pesticide and pharmaceutical industries, which present selected advantages (particularly related to health
and longevity) but have profound effects on the food chain and potentially on life itself? Genetically modified organisms and foods, and countless other “discoveries” are further examples of innovations that are foisted upon us with little to no rigorous deliberation and debate. The same could be said about many other seemingly innocuous technologies that permeate our communities and our daily lives.
“In recent years social scientists have framed concerns about the changing character of American society in terms of the concept of ‘social capital.’By analogy with notions of physical capital and human capital tools and training that enhance individual productivity - the core idea of social capital theory is that social networks have value. Just as a screwdriver (physical capital) or a college education (human capital) can increase productivity (both individual and collective), so too social contacts affect the productivity of individuals and groups. ...Social capital turns out to have forceful, even quantifiable effects on many different aspects of our lives. What is at stake is not merely warm, cuddly feelings or frissons of community pride. We shall review hard evidence that our schools and neighborhoods don’t work so well when community bonds slacken, that our economy, our democracy, and even our health and happiness depend on adequate stocks of social capital.”
The very things that bind us together culturally— the types of connections people have to one another and to nature, which the Amish work so hard to protect—are the things that technology has the power to remove from our social framework. Televisions, computers and cell phones work together to dull us as they pull us apart, separating us from one another physically and socially. Those of us who exist with modern conveniences spend a disturbing amount of our time in virtual worlds where the real is supplanted by the impersonal. We’ve uploaded our collective FROM BOWLING ALONE: THE COLLAPSE AND knowledge to “the cloud,” but it is a soulless source of REVIVAL OF AMERICAN COMMUNIT Y human intelligence and experience. What will be the BY ROBERT D. PUTNAM long-term effect on humanity from the generations that spend more time interacting with technological When it comes to technological innovation, there is no devices rather than directly with people and other democratic system through which big-picture quesliving things? tions are asked and holistic decisions are made. Such
PHOTO: ISTOCK 33
“W E LIVE IN AN AGE OF TECHNOLOGICAL HEROISM, IN WHICH INVENTORS AND FORWARD-THINKING COMPANIES ARE FETED BEFORE THE REAL OR POTENTIAL IMPACTS OF THEIR DISCOVERIES ARE TRULY CONSIDERED.” exploration is typically reserved for the corporations and shareholders that will benefit materially once a new discovery is broadly implemented. The “deciders” in society tend to be corporate entities, boards that take action according to market dynamics rather than human or ecological consequences. We, the consumers, rarely have a say in what is foisted upon us, nor do those at-risk populations who stand to suffer the most through poverty, hunger or displacement in the wake
of these market successes. The argument that consumers in a free market economy have the power to accept or reject any product doesn’t hold up here for several reasons: first, it is not enough to opt out of a purchase decision when the product and/or its use changes the very fabric of society like technological secondhand smoke; second, the market serves as a false proxy when it comes to sweeping decisions made by few but affecting many; and third, powerful product marketing campaigns are very persuasive in getting people to buy things that might not even be good for them, although consumers might not see the ill effects until years or decades later. This process is not democratic; it is tyranny under the guise of democracy. We live in an age of technological heroism, in which inventors and forward-thinking companies are feted before the real or potential impacts of their discoveries are truly considered. The present day economy is
being built around a technological and mechanistic future, to the extent that even questioning the wisdom of this approach makes a person seem old fashioned. Do those of us who are concerned about the continuing march of technology and manufactured goods deserve to be labeled as out of touch, or is there a way to find balance between celebrating the positive contributions of technology while recognizing that not all technological innovations should be accepted without first applying the precautionary principle?
But I always ask two important qualitative questions while weighing the value of any new technology, the answers to which determine whether I will embrace the innovation enthusiastically or resist it actively: 1. Does the technology have the capacity to enrich my life or that of my family in some way?
2. Does the technology have the capacity to improve the world on an environmental, social or My own choices (my personal Ordnung) help illuscultural basis, or will it diminish it? trate the complex nature of this discussion, as I am actually a classic early adopter of new technology. I jumped on the iPod bandwagon from the very beMost of the time, I am curious about the latest tools ginning and loved the experience of having a diversity and gadgetsâ€”especially those that are designed with of music at my fingertips, delivered by a device that beauty and eleganceâ€”and intrigued enough by them is beautiful, and efficient. I believe the technology to want to explore. brought joy to people by exposing more individuals to
“I F THE AMISH ORDNUNG IS STRONG ENOUGH TO KEEP TECHNOLOGY AT BAY FOR COMMUNITIES COMPLETELY SURROUNDED BY THE MODERN WORLD, WHY CAN’T THE REST OF US ADOPT EVEN A PARTIAL SET OF GUIDELINES THAT WOULD FUNDAMENTALLY ASSIST US IN EVALUATING THE IMPACT OF SOME OF OUR OWN IDEAS?”
realign our technologies and products in ways that allow us to honor our inventive instincts and our stewardship responsibilities at the same time. We currently have very few systems in place that help us filter what we unleash on the world. If we can invent, build, automate or digitize it, we go for it, engaging in almost no intelligent societal discourse about the wisdom of doing so. The potential consequences and ramifications of our inventions go more or less unaddressed. There is a certain underlying assumption that the crunching forward motion of technological innovation is inevitable, that we have no say in the matter, that all things new are better than what came before.
We now need to selectively realign our technologies more music and culture and helped bring At the same and products in ways that allow us to honor our inventime, my wife and I try to limit our children’s screen tive instincts and our stewardship responsibilities at time and nurture their connections to the natural en- the same time, given both the rate of change and the vironment because we want them to experience the severe environmental consequences that are emergcritical balance that prioritizes nature over technology. ing. We must be more deliberate and thoughtful in our approach to technological progress, incorporating Admittedly, this is a constant battle. healthy civic dialogue that allow us to question: Does Also, I was such an early proponent of electric cars that this innovation serve the greater human and environI owned one (Corbin Sparrow) before the technology mental good? To repeat something my father used to had really been refined. I believe so strongly in the always say to me, “just because you can do something need to do away with the internal combustion engine doesn’t give you the right to do it.” and the oil industry that underlies it that I wanted to lend my support to a relatively untested approach even One thing we know to be true is that the rate of change if it meant purchasing a vehicle that wasn’t really ready will keep increasing as technology serves itself before it serves us. So we need to advocate for life and people for prime time. and culture as we map out our technological future, The arc of human invention offers an interesting his- stopping to ask: What will be the impacts of our inventorical backdrop. Early humans were subject to the tions? How can we be more strategic with what we crevarying forces of nature, thus early inventions typically ate? Are there ways to achieve the same result with a reworked in concert with natural rhythms and systems. generative rather than degenerative series of impacts? Given that balance, humans’ impact on the environ- How can we pursue a modern lifestyle while also healment for most of our evolutionary history was light. ing so much of the world we’ve harmed? Do we really But as we “advanced” our technologies, we pulled our- want a future where everything is done for us, or one selves and our material inventions further from nature in which our cities, buildings, materials and products to the point of exploitation, disconnecting us from our crowd out the natural world? responsibilities as the planet’s stewards. Given both the rate of change and the severe environmental conse- In his book What Are People For?, author and poet quences that are emerging, we now need to selectively Wendell Berry ponders where our automated society
will eventually take us. If we end up capable of building machines so sophisticated that everything could be mechanized, would we? Is that what we really want? Are we striving for a society that makes humans extraneous? Berry’s position, of course, is that to be human means to have purpose, to stay engaged, to know the satisfaction of creating something with one’s own hands. He argues that idleness is problematic for the human species, yet our technological pursuits make us increasingly idle.
Such a system would offer us a set of sound principles and metrics by which to guide our actions thoughtfully—built around a shared vision of the future we all wish to see. There has to be discernment, and the process has to be democratic and transparent.
Any technologies or materials that present even modest environmental impact should be subject to a true, and often slow, scientific and democratic review, as should any innovation with potentially broad cultural implications. At the same time, we should accelerate the progWhat’s missing is a particular type of Ordnung— ress of technologies that advance education, foster globcultural and ecological—that would help modern so- al citizenship and elevate impoverished cultures. cieties assess technologies and products according to how the innovations may benefit living things, not just The key is finding balance—putting the brakes on the how they serve the forward march of progress or the potentially damaging technologies while punching the pocketbooks of a few. If the Amish Ordnung is strong accelerator on the universally beneficial ones. It will not enough to keep technology at bay for communities be easy, and we will make many mistakes along the way, completely surrounded by the modern world, why but what better use for our democracy than encouragcan’t the rest of us adopt even a partial set of guidelines ing its citizens to really think through the consequences that would fundamentally assist us in evaluating the of its actions? Some good innovations may end up being impact of some of our own ideas? unintentionally stifled, but only in service to the greater
“S OMEWHERE ALONG OUR PATH TOWARD MODERNITY, WE DECIDED THAT RESTRAINT WAS ANTIQUATED.” good. Many ‘good’ technologies are already stymied through an unfair economic system. An ecological Ordnung will help to minimize or avoid future technological disasters like the ones we’ve already created (Fukushima comes to mind). Somewhere along our path toward modernity, we decided that restraint was antiquated. As a result, we are speeding through the modern era, paying little attention to the future we are mapping out for ourselves. There is no black and white solution to the issue of managing human technological innovation. We certainly can’t forget what we’ve learned how to do. However, now that the stakes are as high as they are and the rate of change so rapid, the time has come for us to be more deliberate when we evaluate what types of technologies we can and should weave into our societal framework. We need to approach technology from a more mature perspective, taking the time to explore the long-term implications of our discoveries from every social and environmental angle.
people or the environment should be very difficult to get approved.
We already impose certain limits on our capabilities. Drugs are subject to FDA approval. Products are subject to UL safety listings. Manufacturers are subject to EPA and other guidelines. These examples show that we sometimes understand the wisdom of restraint (usually only after some sort of disaster). We need to Because technology is here supposedly to serve us and extend deeper and have similarly intelligent dialogue not to diminish us, the underlying question must al- about a broader range of topics. ways be: Does this human construction create positive conditions for life? Our modern inventions have been I acknowledge the inherent challenges in finding the made possible by the countless others that preceded balance between invention and oversight, but a socithem. The idea that any one invention is truly novel ety without restraint is not a society at all. We apply is likely untrue—more accurately, we have a system restraint when we parent, when we obey laws, when where all the benefit goes to the first to patent instead we behave civilly in public. There are certain rules we of to the culture that makes innovation possible. The know to follow and limits we know to observe; honorcollective wisdom of humans across all generations ing such boundaries enables us to protect others and and in all societies has made these innovations possi- ourselves while retaining our places in civilized soble, so it is only right for all of humanity to benefit from ciety. It is generally understood that no one person’s what technology has to offer. The reverse, then, is also rights should impede the rights of others. Doesn’t natrue: technology that could harm living species should ture deserve the same treatment? Shouldn’t we restrain be up to all of us to judge, and anything that exploits our actions that threaten other living systems?
I am encouraged by the availability of information in the digital age because it democratizes knowledge in (mostly) positive ways and is an example of the type of technology that should not be overly constrained. Used wisely and productively, information that is truly available to all—regardless of social, gender, economic, ethnic or geographic distinctions—can only enhance the enlightenment of the human race, freeing those held captive by ignorance and isolation. We should utilize technological channels to enable full transparency of those decisions that are made by a few but affect the masses. Leaders from the public and private sectors would no longer be able to take far-reaching action without first hearing from the populations that might experience some impact.
Following the same logic, information technology should be used to educate the human race—the whole human race. The better educated we all are, the better we will be able to make informed decisions about things that affect all of us. A broad knowledge base made available to all would create global communities of well-rounded generalists, empowering people to grasp the nuances and the measurable facts of important issues. The less we have to rely on the opinions of a handful of experts, the more democratic and sane our global decision-making process can become. Our modern-day Ordnung could inform our collective decisions with regard to technology. In its ideal, such a standard—a set of simple criteria, broadly
applied—would guide us toward innovations, takeover of our modern societies, lest we habituate systems and solutions that: this passivity to the point of surrender. With surrender, I fear, will come a world devoid of natural, organic, • have an impact only where we want them to; living systems. • have largely predictable outcomes; • will have positive effects on our culture and way of life; • will not have adverse effects on the poor, the disadvantaged, children and future generations; • do not impoverish or enslave any populations; • have no lasting and significant undesirable effects on other species (from the plankton to the whale); • cannot ‘get away’ from us or ‘escape’ into other systems like invasives; • offer potential side effects that are proportionally smaller than the benefits; • stay within the boundaries of disconnect2 that describes our ability to understand and relate to the scale of the invention, technology or system; • require the approval of a diverse assembly, with a focus on seniority and wisdom, ensuring the input of those who can remember what came before. We can learn important lessons from the Amish and their Ordnung when it comes to simplifying, connecting to nature and resisting inevitability. They have proven that their belief system works harder for them than technology ever could. Individually and collectively, we have both a choice and a voice. It is incumbent upon us to use both to question the uncontrolled technological and mechanistic 2 For more on the Boundary of Disconnect, see page 24 in the January 2013 issue of Trim Tab.
We can become a regenerative species with the power and the technological acumen to create a living future. To reach our potential as true global stewards, we must place limits upon ourselves when our discoveries have potential negative impacts on living species. Nothing with the capacity to broadly affect people or nature should be considered unstoppable. If a technological or material innovation threatens basic human rights or delicate ecosystems, it should never be thought of as inevitable. Our role is not to use technology to elevate ourselves above nature, but to elevate the human experience within the context of a natural world. We are smart enough to question our own brilliance and put it to its sanest use. We will only achieve a living future if we put our inventions to work to protect the living present. “We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims. [The challenge is] to make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time, with spontaneous cooperation and without ecological damage or disadvantage of anyone.” BUCKMINSTER FULLER
“[Design Science is] the effective application of the principles of science to the conscious design of our total environment in order to help make the earth’s finite resources meet the needs of all humanity without disrupting the ecological processes of the planet.” BUCKMINSTER FULLER
JASON F. MCLENNAN is the CEO of the International Living Future Institute. He is the creator of the Living Building Challenge, as well as the author of five books, including his latest: Transformational Thought.
BY A M A NDA STURGEON
THE POWER of TRANSPARENCY AS A CALL FOR ACTION
T RAN S FO RMAT I O N AL ACT I O N
As the new Executive Director at the International Living Future Institute, I am in the fortunate position of guiding the launch of a new era of action focused on products. Since the launch of the Red List as an Imperative of the Living Building Challenge in 2006, the movement toward public disclosure of ingredients in products has accelerated. Knowledge is power; elegantly communicated information can transform the world. These are the principles on which Declare and the soon-to-be-released Living Product Challenge are founded. Over the last four years of directing the Living Building Challenge program, I have seen first-hand the impact individuals have when they ask tough questions and challenge standard design and construction practices. Every person involved in a Challenge project is an advocate for change, and nowhere is this harder than when seeking compliance with the Materials Petal. Early project teams pursuing the Challenge were pioneers in changing the materials industry and were faced with the difficult task of navigating uncharted waters. It would be an interesting exercise to count the hours that early project teams dedicated to finding Red List compliant and regional productsâ€”it would certainly be quite a significant number. Several team members have shared that they thought of these hours as community service because they saw how every question they asked changed the manufacturing paradigm. It is impressive to see the impact that these early adopters have had on the building product world. Today, asking manufacturers for an ingredients list is much easier and more effective than it was five years ago. The introduction of the Declare database and the revised Local Economy Sourcing Imperative in the newly released Living Building Challenge 3.0 has also made meeting the requirements of the Materials Petal a little easier, while accelerating the product transparency movement. The call for action continues as we ask everyone who supports the mission of product transparency to request that manufacturers join Declare. As the number of products listed in the database increases,
“It is impressive to see the impact that these early adopters have had on the building product world. Today, asking manufacturers for an ingredients list is much easier and more effective than it was five years ago.” Challenge project teams will be able to dedicate their time and energy to new innovations instead of to product research, and the demand for Red List free products will continue to grow.
As we increase the number of transparent materials available to the public, we recognize that addressing the connection between Red List ingredients and health is only one piece of the extensive materials puzzle. Consumers are now beginning to grapple with the With strong demand from consumers, we hope for a ability to assess the carbon and social equity impacts of time when healthy products are not only readily avail- a product while considering the health impacts at the able but also affordable. The Institute will shortly same time. To facilitate this comprehensive product release a Pathway to Affordable Housing report that assessment, consumers will benefit from a simple and will outline the barriers, opportunities and strate- standardized platform that elegantly communicates gies for affordable housing, multi-family projects to such complex metrics. achieve the Challenge. The report focuses on the three Petals that are most difficult to meet: Water, Energy and The Living Product Challenge will provide a frameMaterials. The report’s findings, together with our work to address materials health while simultanedirect engagement with several registered affordable ously analyzing carbon, social equity, energy, water housing projects, will provide the resources needed to and beauty, changing the way we think about the bring healthy regional materials to everyone. products we make and buy. Based on the philosophy and structure of the Living Building Challenge, it will ask: what do good products look like? Stay tuned for the launch in 2015. As we see more manufacturers participate in programs like Declare, willingly list their ingredients, and actively support market transformation, we also must recognize the dedicated work of our members, Ambassadors and project teams—the results of their advocacy are visible in the continued success of the product transparency movement. I encourage you all to continue this important work toward a sustainable, healthy living future.
AMANDA STURGEON isis the Executive Director of the International Living Future Institute.
IMAGE DEPICTS A ‘BLANK’ LABEL PRIOR TO CUSTOMIZATION BY MANUFACTURER
Your ingredients here.
Declare your product and stake your claim in the transparent materials economy. Consumers are demanding a new kind of information about the products they buy. They want to know what’s in the air they breathe, the food they eat and the buildings they occupy. Declare. It’s an ingredients label for the building industry, and it lets you connect with your market on a whole new level.
WATER THE KEY TO EVERYTHING
WWW.CITIESALIVE.ORG NOVEMBER 12-15, 2014, NASHVILLE, TN PRESENTED BY
AT THE OMNI HOTEL & RESORT GREENRISE TECHNOLOGIES
We thank our industry partners for their support in envisioning a living future. ANGEL SPONSOR
B U I L D E R S
STEWARDING SPONSORS Ankrom Moisan Architects
Green Roofs for Healthy Cities
Mary Davidge Associates
Terrapin Bright Green
Coughlin Porter Lundeen
Forbo Flooring Systems
Phipps Conservatory &
SUPPORTING SPONSORS 2020 Engineering 7Group Balfour Beatty Construction Bettisworth North Architects & Planners BNIM Brightworks Building Envelope Innovations Building Stone Institute CDI + Mazzetti Chesapeake Bay Foundation Construction Specialties dbHMS ECI Hyer GBL Architects
Guttmann & Blaevoet HKS, Inc. Hourigan Construction Hughes Condon Marler Architects In Posse Integrated EcoStrategy Integrus Architecture Johnson Braund KMD Architects Lake Flato Architects LHB LMN Architects Lord Aeck Sargent MacKenzie
Mark Horton Architecture McLennan Design McCool Carlson Green Meyer Wells Otak Pickard Chilton Puget Sound Energy Schemata Workshop Sellen Construction Unico Properties Walsh Construction Weber Thompson The Weidt Group Willamette Print and Blueprint
COMMUNITY PARTNERS Alloy Design Group Charissa Snijders Architect David Baker Architects
Green Canopy Homes JD Fulwiler & Co. Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects
Northwest Environmental Business Council Rocky Point Engineering Sierra Club
BY SAM WRIGHT
FULL DISCLOSURE: PORTRAITS OF TRANSPARENCY Since the phrase “sick building syndrome” became common currency in the mid-1980s, consumers have been taking an increasingly active interest in the content and composition of the buildings in which they live and work. No longer satisfied with annual sustainability reports or the opacity of the myriad eco-labels on the market today, many consumers are asking a simple question: What’s in the product I’m buying? The answer, unfortunately, isn’t always quite as simple. Many manufacturers, especially those with complex supply chains, may not know what’s in their products; suppliers are often loath to disclose the information. Others claim that their products are healthy but that the ingredients are proprietary, trade secrets that garner them a crucial edge over their competitors. However, savvy manufacturers understand that transparency is an opportunity to secure a competitive advantage.
NATIONAL RENEWABLES ENERGY LAB (DENVER)
PHOTO: Fall 2014MOHAWK GROUP
With the growth of the Living Building Challenge™ and the inclusion of transparency credits within LEED®, there has been growing demand for healthy materials and ingredient disclosure. Below is a shortlist of innovative products bound by a common thread: each manufacturer has done the hard work of removing toxic chemicals from their products, thus demonstrating their willingness to defy industry convention by embracing ingredient transparency.
MOHAWK INDUSTRIES NXT RED LIST FREE FLOORING Mohawk Industries is the largest supplier of flooring in the world. Their operations are guided by a commitment to sustainability rooted in pragmatism: historically, the company has pursued efficiency in energy, water, and material inputs because it makes good business sense. About five years ago, the company’s commercial division, Mohawk Group, began offering products free of EPA Chemicals of Concern, anticipating the trend toward toxic chemicals avoidance. According to Rochelle Routman, Mohawk Group’s Director of Sustainability, the company wanted to develop a carpet backing that blended an improved sustainability profile with superior performance. Their solution was to release NXT, a carpet backing system made from polyolefin rather than polyvinyl chloride (PVC). In a 2006 Life Cycle Assessment Ranking, 1polyolefin earned the top spot of all petroleum-based plastics, while PVC received the lowest score. The report stipulates that polyolefin is not listed as a carcinogen, mutagen, reproductive or developmental toxicant, endocrine disruptor, or persistent bioaccumulative toxin. Additionally, NXT is 40% lighter than PVC backing, reducing the embodied energy associated with transportation.
“Architects have a greater ability to improve public health than medical professionals.”
In addition to innovating, Mohawk Group also learns from the past. Their Woven SD Nylon Carpet derives its structural integrity from its woven construction, reflecting the oldest method of textile manufacturing. Mohawk’s product literature touts the durability of it’s woven line, which lasts up to three times longer than tufted carpet. The longer lifespan results in fewer resources expended to make and transport replacement product, and ultimately, less carpet in the landfill. To educate consumers about these sustainability initiatives, Mohawk Group has embraced the Declare program,2 which is notable for its capability to easily and economically communicate complex ingredient information. Mohawk Group has nine Declare labels representing over 180 products, with more on the way. This commitment to transparency and toxic chemicals avoidance has been driving sales: Rochelle reports significant demand for Red List Free carpet from large, environmentally conscious corporations, as well as from leading architectural firms that promote healthy design. Mohawk Group looks forward to those sales increasing as more consumers learn of their Red List Free options. “The biggest hurdle [to product uptake] is education,” Rochelle asserts, “and Declare is such a simple, clear way to educate people.” It is not in Mohawk Group’s pragmatic nature to make rash decisions. In aligning their business strategy with the Living Building Challenge and the Declare program, the company’s leadership has made a strategic decision that anticipates growing demand for transparency in years to come.
1 www.healthdesign.org/chd/research/creating-safe-and-healthy-spaces-selecting-materials-support-healing 2 www.declareproducts.com trim tab
IMPERIAL PAINTS LLC ECOS AIR PURE PAINTS According to Dr. Claudia Miller of the University of Texas School of Medicine, “Architects have a greater ability to improve public health than medical professionals.”3 Her logic is that doctors can only treat one patient at a time, whereas architects can specify materials that protect the health of a great number of people. Perhaps that’s why Julian Crawford, CEO of Imperial Paints LLC (Imperial), says that he feels a duty of care to his customers. Imperial manufactures ECOS, a line of paints and stains that contain no Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), no solvents, and no toxic chemicals. Competing brands have tried to improve the health profiles of their products by removing toxic ingredients and replacing them with other, more innocuous substitutes. As the consumer reports will attest, this almost invariably results in a performance compromise. That’s because toxic ingredients are added to paint to serve a particular purpose, whether for performance or aesthetics. Because ECOS was formulated from scratch rather than using a remove-and-replace method, Julian reports that its lack of toxic ingredients involves no such performance compromise. In fact, some customers purchase ECOS for its performance alone: British Rail, for instance, uses it to paint the yellow lines on rail stations. Others, such as Paris’s Louvre Museum, use ECOS to safeguard the indoor air quality of their sensitive environments. ECOS Air Pure paint is not only VOC-free; it also cleans the air of VOCs introduced by other building materials for up to five years after it is put on the walls. The paint contains zeolite, a microporous aluminosilicate “sieve” that traps organic compounds while allowing smaller molecules like oxygen to pass uninhibited. Traditionally, manufacturers of innovative products like this have closely guarded their recipes, but Imperial’s leadership maintains a different philosophy. THE LOUVRE PHOTO: FILIPE SOARES
Imperial Paints LLC is currently the only paint company to disclose its ingredients through the Declare program. Manufacturers of assembled goods are often willing to reveal their ingredients; it is their manufacturing process that they want to remain proprietary. Paint manufacturers, on the other hand, are notoriously tight-lipped, because making their products generally requires little more than a thorough mixing. So why did Imperial Paints decide to release its prized formulation? Julian responds unassumingly, “Because it’s the right thing to do.”
3 w ww.metropolismag.com/Point-of-View/May-2013/Its-Show-and-Tell-Time-for-Building-Product-Manufacturers/
THE GOOGLEPLEX PHOTO: ALEXANDRE FUGITA
PHOTO: KNAUF INSULATION
KNAUF INSULATION ECOBATT Insulation is indisputably crucial to energy conservation in the building industry. However, that does not make all insulation sustainable. There is an array of insulation options: fiberglass, foam, rockwool, natural fiber (like sheep’s wool), cork, and recycled blue-jean cotton batts, to name a few. There are even futuristic options like aerogel, the lightest, lowest-density solid on earth with an R-value of better than R-10 per inch. Knauf has managed to stand out in this crowded market by offering EcoBatt—at first glance, a standard fiberglass batt insulation. What makes EcoBatt novel is what’s in it—or rather, what isn’t. Foam insulation is laden with toxic halogenated flame retardants, and most fiberglass insulation uses formaldehyde as a binder. EcoBatt, by contrast, is the first insulation to use an inert, biobased polymer: dextrose. While the Environmental Protection Agency and the American Chemistry Council were quibbling over whether formaldehyde was a confirmed carcinogen or merely a suspected carcinogen, Knauf took the better-safe-than-sorry route and replaced the toxic binder with sugar. Of course, not all of the aforementioned products can be directly compared. There are some limited applications, such as under-slab insulation, for which fiberglass insulation is not appropriate. However, now that nontoxic insulation exists, there is no reason to be installing rigid foam or formaldehyde-bound batts in a wall cavity, and indeed the Living Building Challenge does not allow the use of either for that application. Knauf is actively reducing the impact of the products they produce. In fact, their stated long-term goals, as yet unachieved by any manufacturer, are to achieve zero carbon production, zero waste to landfill and zero wastewater discharge. Additionally, they are reaching beyond their manufacturing facilities to develop recycling programs in communities without such infrastructure. Not only do these programs provide jobs, but it also preserves raw material input, resulting in a less carbon-intensive product. These are laudable achievements, but do they make business sense? In August, Knauf acquired Guardian Insulation, more than doubling their production capacity. Sustainability is undoubtedly a growth industry.
“While the Environmental Protection Agency and the American Chemistry Council were quibbling over whether formaldehyde was a confirmed carcinogen or merely a suspected carcinogen, Knauf took the bettersafe-than-sorry route and replaced the toxic binder with sugar.”
SMITH & FONG, LTD. PLYBOO For years, bamboo was considered a paragon of sustainability: it is rapidly renewable, requires inherently low-impact harvesting and sequesters more carbon per acre than hardwood. Then, abruptly, environmentalists turned a cold shoulder on the fastgrowing plant. Life cycle analysts and wildlife advocates reported that growing demand contributed to overharvesting, destroying panda habitat and crippling forests’ ability to regrow to the same density. Toxicologists chimed in, citing potential health impacts of the formaldehyde-based adhesives used to make bamboo flooring. Smith & Fong’s Plyboo bamboo flooring managed to weather this storm because the company did not deny these accusations or question their provenance, but instead listened and responded. Since the company’s inception in 1989, Smith & Fong’s leadership has enjoyed the challenge of producing a lowimpact product. Dan Smith, founder and CEO, relates that it
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PHOTO: SMITH & FONG
PHOTO: FLICKR USER ALEXANDRE FUGITA
CONT. FROM PREV. PAGE >
“Transparency equates to integrity, to the credibility that you are ultimately looking for as a manufacturer.”
became something of a game: “Every time critics set the bar higher, we’ve jumped right over it.” This approach has simultaneously addressed complex and diverse issues, from sustainable forestry management to chemistry, toxicology and manufacturing. Under Dan’s direction, Smith & Fong worked with a third-party certification group to achieve Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification of their bamboo forest in China. Ultimately, the process took two years and garnered Smith & Fong a first: no other bamboo company in North America offered FSC-pure certified flooring. Their FSC certification—the gold standard in sustainable forest management—assuaged many of bamboo’s critics. Dan was subsequently able to stop defending Plyboo and pursue innovation in other areas, such as making the product 100% formaldehyde-free. To that end, Smith & Fong substituted emulsion polymer isocyanate (EPI) adhesive for formaldehyde, becoming the first bamboo flooring company to do so. The product conformed with California Section 01350, the most rigorous emissions testing protocol available. Though EPI is inert when cured, and so poses far less risk to occupant health than does formaldehyde, Smith & Fong sought further innovation.
When Dan learned of a soy-based adhesive manufactured by Ashland Inc., he persuaded their top research & development people to come to China to see if they could come up with a formulation that would bind bamboo. It took three years, but eventually Smith & Fong was able to abandon EPI in favor of Soyad®. Dan is proud of the synergy achieved by combining two edibles, bamboo and soy, into a building product, and also of the fact that Plyboo’s already industry-leading emissions score has improved. Today, Smith & Fong is continuing to use innovative design and function to expand their potential consumer demographic and extend the reach of their sustainable, healthy product. Their strategy is to be agile, either anticipating consumer demand or responding as it emerges, a tactic that is suffused with a commitment to reducing impact at both ends of the supply chain. Beyond that, Dan is happy to tell consumers what goes into Plyboo: “Transparency equates to integrity, to the credibility that you are ultimately looking for as a manufacturer.”
mance. They embrace not just transparency, but the accountability that comes with it. The Declare program The vanguard of the transparency movement is offers a clear path forward: as transparency and toxic surprisingly broad: large, publicly traded multination- chemicals avoidance becomes not best practice but stanals are participating, as are nimble, privately owned dard practice, persistent, bioaccumulative toxins will no businesses. That’s because, as the innovative manufac- longer be so pervasive in the built environment. turers profiled above continue to demonstrate, transparency and toxic chemical avoidance are good for All this future relies upon is that consumers, including human health, environmental integrity, and profitabil- materials specifiers, reward responsible manufacturity. Mohawk Group uses Declare to inspire an honest ers by consistently purchasing their products, thereby conversation about their products—they’ve got noth- sending a clear message to their less progressive coming to hide. Imperial Paints is able to reveal that they petitors. After all, with apologies to Rachel Carson, are in a class of their own where their customers’ health why should we tolerate a diet of weak poisons? Who is concerned. Knauf’s dedication to transparency would want to live in a world that is just not quite fatal? is just one part of their broader commitment to lowimpact manufacturing. For Smith & Fong, transparency is the latest in a series of exciting innovations that SAM WRIGHT, is a Technical Coordinator for the Living Building allows them to stay ahead of their competition.
These manufacturers, and others like them, are laying the foundation for a new generation of building products that prioritize human health without sacrificing perfor-
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B Y B I L L WA L S H
WHO WILL BE THE TESLA OF HEALTHY BUILDING? On June 12, Tesla Motors announced that the company would permit competitors to use its patents. Motivated by Tesla’s vision of dramatically reducing carbon emissions by accelerating the world’s transition to affordable electric vehicles, CEO Elon Musk framed the move away from proprietary information this way: “It is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis. By the same token, it means the market is enormous. Our true competition is not the small trickle of non-Tesla electric cars being produced, but rather the enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day.”
There has not yet been a Tesla moment in the quest to stem the flood of toxic materials pouring out of the world’s factories every day, in both products and industrial waste. The urgency and clarity of Musk’s statement should be an inspiration to initiate and support efforts in the building industry that foster greater transparency and collaboration in tackling this grand challenge of transparency and market transformation. Transforming “chemistry” to “Green Chemistry” is a goal just as audacious, and necessary, as the creation of a global electric vehicle infrastructure.
commercial and public interests can converge when the strategy for addressing environmental crises can open up expanded market opportunities for the entire market sector. This opportunity exists in the building products industry, where massive material flows provide enormous potential for “benign by design” and green chemistry innovations.
The Tesla announcement, said Musk, was motivated by the determination that “Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.” This Tesla is the latest and most visible example of open is the precise rationale of the Health Product Declarainnovation,1 a strategy for accelerating and improving tion (HPD), which for the first time is providing the innovation by creating global, collaborative and open building industry with a common platform for comresearch. Recent examples from software to pharma- municating information about chemicals and related ceuticals are demonstrating the power of this approach health hazards. The HPD helps manufacturers and to overcome historical stumbling blocks to collabora- their customers to focus together on the “true comtion, such as proprietary information protection.2 The petition,” not other healthy products, but rather the success of open innovation also demonstrates how avoidable hazards that neither manufacturers nor customers want in their products. The HPD Collaborative 1 O pen Innovation was first explained by Professor Henry Chesborough in has put forward its vision of creating an “ecosystem” his seminal book, Open Innovation. Harvard Business School Press, 2003 in which all participants in the building industry can 2 I RIN HEALTH: “Sharing ‘Open Innovation’ Risks and Rewards,” 30 July 2012, www.irinnews.org/report/95970/ HEALTH-Sharing-open-innovation-risks-and-rewa
“Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidlyevolving technology platform.” PHOTO: ISTOCK
use HPDs to expand the market for healthy products to benefit all. Scores of manufacturers are already engaged in the HPD Manufacturers Advisory Panel, and a new advisory panel on construction and engineering companies is in the works.
Building owners are also using the HPD to drive open innovation to reduce health hazards in the products they use. In the Bay Area, the Northern California Chapter of the USGBC has organized the Building Healthy Challenge. In phase one of the initiative, Google and others have pledged to develop procurement practices and processes that utilize the HPD and other aligned disclosure tools the Living Building Challenge Red List and Declare programs, and HBN’s own Pharos Project as a means of incentivizing healthy materials innovation.
New York and Parsons The New School For Design. A hallmark of this initiative, which includes a new healthy materials curriculum and public lecture series at Parsons this fall, is working groups where major real estate owners discuss healthy product innovation strategies with their vendors. These groups are investigating ways to remove hazardous flame retardants from foam insulation, and to address concerns about heavy metals in the coal ash used in wall board and concrete. The first public lecture on September 17th featured an unprecedented dialogue between Dr. Phil Landrigan, an internationally recognized expert on the impacts of toxic chemicals on child development, Dr. John Warner, a founder of the green chemistry movement, and Gavin McIntyre, a founder of Ecovative, a naturally flame resistant, mycelium-based replacement for many applications of polystyrene.
In the red-hot New York City real estate market, the Durst Organization, developer of the first LEED Platinum high-rise, Bank of America Tower at 1 Bryant Park, is spearheading the new Building Product Ecosystem project in conjunction with City University of
We know that customer-driven innovation works to create healthier products. The latest evidence comes from, of all places, the vinyl industry. A recent analysis by my colleagues at the Healthy Building Network concluded that the non-phthalate plasticizers that are now
MDF/PARTICLEBOARD TRENDS 120
% OF 2005 LEVELS
FORMALDEHYDE AIR EMISSIONS
Graph by J. Vallette / Healthy Building Network, MDF/particleboard production and formaldehyde emission rates indexed to the year 2005
being phased in to many flexible vinyl products are a positive advance, avoiding the asthma and endocrinedisrupting hazards of the phthalates they replace. The use of phthalates in building products is unregulated. Informed customers drove this change.
cernible in the building industry. Some manufacturers are still resisting the disclosure of proprietary formulas of paints, caulks and dyes claiming innovation will be stifled and profits lost. That’s because they are thinking about evolving, not transforming their products to create breakout products and new markets so big, It is still too early to calculate the total impact of replac- that like Tesla, one company will not possibly be able ing phthalates in vinyl materials, but we have a grow- to meet the demand. ing body of evidence documenting positive societal impacts from reducing hazardous substances in build- A week after Tesla released its proprietary information, ing products. The move to no-added-formaldehyde its stock had risen more than 10%. By September it was engineered wood products has produced a 50% drop in trading 36% higher, an all-time high, even before securformaldehyde emissions from manufacturing facilities, ing over $1 billion in estimated tax breaks to locate its benefiting not only building occupants, but construc- Gigafactory in Nevada. Who’s thinking big? Which tion workers, manufacturing workers and the commu- company will be this industry’s Tesla? nities that are home to these factories. The phase-out of arsenic in many pressure treated wood applications led to a dramatic drop in U.S. arsenic use, greater than BILL WALSH is Executive Director, 15,000 metric tons annually, much of which was ultiHealthy Building Network mately headed to our watersheds as pressure-treated wood degrades over time. Product transparency is still in the earliest stages, but already a nascent open innovation movement is dis-
ENERGY + WATER CONFERENCE
JANUARY 22-23, 2015 HYATT REGENCY SAN FRANCISCO, CA living-future.org/ netpositive
BY GREG NORRIS
ENVIRONMENTAL HANDPRINTING It is a tall order for humanity to become healers of the planet; in order to do so, people need to tap into new avenues of influence that are not yet sufficiently explored and identified. Tools for tracking and reporting negative environmental impacts (our environmental footprints) are becoming increasingly more sophisticated. But if reducing our own footprint was all mankind could do for the planet we would never be able to create a regenerative future together.
Thankfully, there is more each of us can do. While shrinking our individual and collective footprint, we can also grow our environmental handprint—an equally compelling measure of our positive impacts. Our footprint is what we take from the planet when we consume, but conversely, our handprint is what we give to the planet when we directly (not just by buying “ carbon offsets”) create change for the better. Handprints and footprints are measured in the same units of impact—like tons of carbon dioxide released to air, or gallons of water withdrawn from the earth. If our handprint exceeds our footprint on any such impact, we are are creating Net Positive impact. From Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) we learn that every product and every citizen in every industrialized country, has a footprint. Why? Because of economic “ripple effects,” and the negative environmental (and sometimes social) impacts of most processes in our modern economy. Each product we purchase has to be produced, so our footprint includes the resources consumed by the producer and the pollution released while making that product. The manufacturer also needed to purchase the necessary resources to make that product, so our footprint includes the impact of the production of those resources, and so on up the supply chain. Our total footprint, then, is the sum of all the negative impacts of pollution released and resources consumed over the entire supply chain and life cycles of all the products we buy and use. Footprint calculation is now supported by software and databases that provide us with increasingly comprehensive, credible estimates of the environmental impacts and health impacts of many products. Life Cycle Assessments follow internationally standardized guidelines, where the most visible assessments are subject to independent peer review. Footprints have multiple dimensions: carbon, water, toxic, biodiversity, and even poverty, to name a few. Each of us generates a footprint at home, and we participate in the creation of (and therefore we must take responsibility for) the footprint of the organizations we work for or the institutions we attend. While we can and should use tools like LCA to guide us in doing all we can to shrink our footprint, the most difficult thing to accept is that we will never get it to zero. Even if individuals eat vegetarian, heat and cook with solar energy, ride their bicycles, and buy only secondhand clothes, a footprint will remain. After all, our homes or residences need maintenance and repair; veg-
etarian food has to be grown, washed and brought to our tables; and solar energy needs to be harnessed using photovoltaics or other technologies. Bicycles have to be built and repaired, and secondhand clothes still need to be washed. Even the greenest among us has a footprint. Fortunately, along with shrinking our footprints, we can also create environmental handprints. While we consume, we can also innovate, and we can help one another along the way. We cannot live without taking, but we can give more than we take—resulting in a Net Positive lifestyle. There are three steps to this positive handprinting. The first is something many people are already working hard on, both at home and at work: reducing their footprint. This is the most essential and best place to start. Unfortunately, however the reduction of our individual footprints is where most sustainability efforts end. Stopping there, and focusing only on the reduction of the harm we are now causing means that we are severely limiting or constraining the good we could actually realize.
The second step in this positive impact handprinting is to ask, “How can we support and help others reduce their footprints?” Asking this question transforms our sustainability power; suddenly, humanity’s footprint is our sandbox since many of the goods and services that organizations provide are poised to create positive change. This shift can align an organization’s sustainability and “business” missions, whether they are forprofit or not. The third step in handprinting involves “thinking outside the foot” entirely: taking generative actions, which really don’t have anything to do with footprint reduction, but do address the same types of impact categories for which footprints are causing harm. Planting a tree and growing a garden are generative actions that bring Net Good into the world. While the second step dramatically increases our sustainability power, the third step leaves it unbounded. A simple example of handprinting at home is installing LED lights in our neighbors’ residences. Each LED will create a net benefit for the planet, avoiding much more pollution over its lifetime than was caused in the
extraction of the necessary raw materials, and in the fabrication of the LED. The act of buying and installing LEDs in our homes shrink our own footprint while buying and installing them in our neighbors’ homes shrinks their footprints. And to the Earth, it’s all handprints. If our generative initiatives inspire some of our neighbors to act in a similar fashion, the positive ripple effects start to grow exponentially. Next, take handprinting to work. Product designers and manufacturers have huge handprint power. Let’s say your business sells carpet, and you come up with a creative idea to make carpet products more durable and sustainable resulting in a huge handprint for you and your company. Or you find a clever way to increase actual recycling of carpets, both your own carpets and competitors. As long as this carpet recycling brings net life cycle environmental benefits compared to discarding those valuable materials in a landfill, all the additional carpet recycling is handprints for you and your company. Handprinting is built on the same LCA foundation that supports footprinting. We draw on the same databases, and make use of the same software. But we also extend footprinting in some significant ways, most importantly by expanding our awareness of the full field of possible sustainable action.
footprint. Both of our footprints contain portions of the footprints of the companies that manufactured the laptop’s components, and all of our footprints contain portions of the footprint of the electricity used by each company. Any actor whose production or consumption was co-responsible for creating a negative impact shares responsibility for that footprint. This kind of accounting brings with it the stipulation that we cannot simply sum the footprints of all actors in an economy to get the economy’s total footprint: that would result in a gross overestimate. Footprint accounting is done this way to alert each co-responsible actor—and their stakeholders—to the possibility that they could do something to reduce the footprint. Just as footprinting embodies the principle of shared responsibility, handprinting embodies the principle of shared credit. We rarely act alone. Most events have multiple causes, and so it is with handprints. When we calculate our total handprint at the end of a year, this accounting will bring us face to face with another wonderful fact; the positive and thankful recognition of all of the people and organizations without whose co-efforts we could not have created our handprint. This tangible, quantifiable result is called Handprint Gratitude.
Handprinting can expand the missions of organizations and our sense of our own lives, moving us from a mindset that focuses on minimizing the harm we cause to one of being Net Positive healers of the planet. I have seen this shift re-energize the sustainability acPeople often ask me who receives the credit for a handtions and passion of individuals and companies alike. print action. In our first example above, if an individual If handprinting also reframes our relationships with puts LEDs in her neighbor’s light sockets, are the benone another as co-creators of this healing, and clarifies efits added to her handprint or to her neighbor’s handthe gratitude we share for each such accomplishment ... print? The answer is that they are part of both. “Isn’t that shift will bring an even more empowering energy, that double-counting?” comes the immediate followjoy and clarity to all that we do. up. Absolutely. Consider for a moment: footprinting has double counting built in by design—in fact, we hyper-count. Our footprint is an assessment of our full, and shared, responsibility. For example, my footprint includes the footprint of the laptop I am using to write these words. Those impacts are also part of laptop manufacturer’s
GREG NORRIS is Chief Scientist at the International Living Future Institute. He also Co-Directs SHINE (the Sustainability and Health Initiative for NetPositive Enterprise) at Harvard University where he teaches Life Cycle Assessment.
B Y J A M E S C O N N E L LY
THE POWER OF
THE RED LIST
When it was launched in 2006, the Living Building Challenge was the first green building standard to substantially address material toxicity through banning 14 “worst-in-class” Red List chemicals. By integrating material health into a holistic framework for regenerative design, the Red List fundamentally changed the conversation about healthy materials by asking a simple yet profound question: does high-performance building require the use of toxic chemicals? Nearly a decade after the program’s inception, it is instructive to look back at the impact this question has had on the industry and the incredible transparency movement it has sparked.
In 2000, the Healthy Building Network urged the green building industry to think beyond indoor environmental quality to the broader impacts of materials selection on the environment and society. They understood that the volume of building materials produced is so vast that the decisions we make about products have significant impacts on public health and the global environment. In collaboration with leading organizations like the Healthy Building Network, the Living Building Challenge (the Challenge) created the Red List, prioritizing the pervasive toxic chemicals in the built environment, with a focus on persistent bio-accumulative chemicals. Based on the precautionary principle, the intent of the Red List was to move beyond ineffective chemical regulations in the United States and to inspire a leap forward in the industry, to protect occupant health, and to eliminate the most egregious
chemicals from production so that they never have the opportunity to enter our environment.
solution to other Living Building Challenge project teams around the world.
The first projects that attempted the Challenge were venturing into unmarked territory. Meeting the Materials Petal rapidly emerged as the most difficult aspect of the Living Building Challenge requirements. Compliance with the Red List was not just an engineering problem like those posed by the Energy or Water Petals. Rather, the Materials Petal required a transformation of the materials industry especially when combined with local and regional sourcing requirements.
In both cases, a single, high-profile customer, making simple, clear requests inspired manufacturers to reconsider their manufacturing processes. Now these products are available for other consumers to purchase, whether they recognize the environmental and health benefits or not.
Google gave a huge boost to the transparency movement when they announced in 2011 that they would be using the Red List framework for all their new commercial office space. Suddenly manufacturers were RED LIST SUCCESS not only hearing about the Red List from individual The successful transformation of the building materi- high profile projects, but also from large corporations als economy is now underway, thanks both to the advo- with millions of square feet under development. cacy of Living Building project teams and to advances in the green building movement overall. Simply asking New tools are now supporting these project teams’ manufacturers what is in their products has begun to efforts and accelerating the industry adoption of change minds, and preferential purchase away from transparency and toxic chemical avoidance. Since its products with toxic chemicals has now begun to shift launch in 2012, Declare, the Institute’s ingredients labusiness practices. A few inspiring examples: beling program, has produced over 150 labels representing hundreds of individual products. The simple, The Bullitt Center—the Challenge’s flagship com- easy-to-understand label offers a compelling platform mercial project in Seattle, WA—exemplifies the for manufacturers, and an easy tool for specifiers to power of a single dedicated project team to inspire make decisions. broad change. The team notified Prosoco, the maker of the liquid-applied air and water barrier that was a At the same time, by providing a common language critical part of their Net Zero Energy strategy, that to share materials content and hazard data, the they were not going to purchase the product because Health Product Declaration has simplified the disit contained phthalates, a Red List chemical. Prosoco closure process and greatly expanded the number of not only scrambled to remove phthalates from their companies who are willing to engage in the transproduct in time to meet the Bullitt Center’s aggres- parency movement. The hard work of everyone in sive construction schedule; they went further, remov- the materials transparency community has recently ing the endocrine-disrupting and asthma-inducing led to the incorporation of an ingredients disclosure chemical from their entire product line. credit within LEED© V4, bringing the simple question of, “Do you need toxic chemicals?” to the billions Teknion, one of the world’s leading office furniture of square feet registered under the LEED program. companies, also developed a new Red List compliant However, this credit is optional in LEED, while full workstation option for the Bullitt Center that elimi- disclosure and toxic chemical avoidance are a renated PVC edge-banding and replaced the formalde- quirement of the Challenge. hyde-laden laminate with linoleum. Teknion is now offering a complete Red List Free systems furniture
Through new technology platforms and programs like Declare that centralize data and facilitate information sharing, each new project pursuing the Materials Petal has their impact multiplied across the entire ecosystem of the building industry. We are now nearing the theoretical crossover point, wherein the integrated value of each project team pursuing the Materials Petal is generating beneficial impact for the market far in excess any projects individual effort—and that value is growing fast.
There has also been significant regulatory change. In 2013, the Green Science Policy Institute led by activist Arlene Blume, renowned mountaineer and toxic chemical campaigner (also featured “Transformational People” on page 19), was successful in removing halogenated flame retardants (HFRs) from California’s fire code requirements. These changes to California’s regulation are critical, since California’s huge market tends to drive manufacturing decisions across the industry. Soon after these regulatory changes were made, major purchasers, including the $50 billion health care company Kaiser Permanente, declared that they would no longer purchase furniture containing these toxic additives. As profiled in “Full Disclosure” on page47, many companies are embracing the transparency movement, and the industry is shifting as a whole. Manufacturers that two years ago were claiming they could never disclose their formulations are beginning to build their entire business strategies around transparency disclosure and product innovation.
CLESTRA HAUSERMAN TAICANG ARCHITECTURAL PRODUCTS CO., LTD. DECLARE LABELED PLEINAIR GLASS PARTITIONS
THE NETWORK EFFECT TAKING HOLD There are now more than 225 groundbreaking projects around the world pursuing the Living Building Challenge and successfully demanding disclosure from manufacturers. The recent proliferation of resources and technology platforms such as Declare and GreenWizard, an online database of healthy products, are reducing the time required to find healthy materials and providing an easy market to connect buyers and sellers, thereby catalyzing change in the movement. Meeting the Materials Petal is evolving from a “flying goose” model (where each project goes through significant effort to make it a little bit easier for the next project) to a model of globally integrated, technology-enabled collaboration.
The network effect, first recognized in the field of communications technology, states that “the systemic value of compatibly communicating devices grows at the square root of their number.” In other words, as new units are added to an interconnected network, the value of each individual unit increases exponentially as connections proliferate. As applied to human networks, the network effect implies that the value of any individual’s participation in an interconnected community that allows free communication increases exponentially as the number of individuals grows, while the cost of participation remains the same (or even decreases). Through new technology platforms and programs like Declare that centralize data and facilitate information sharing, each new project pursuing the Materials Petal has their impact multiplied across the entire ecosystem of the building industry. We are now nearing the theoretical crossover point,
Transparency helps eliminate the issue of regrettable substitution
wherein the integrated value of each project team pursuing the Materials Petal is generating beneficial impact for the market far in excess any projects individual effort—and that value is growing fast. From formaldehyde to lead, and from arsenic to mercury, we can now point to overall reductions in the total amount of toxic chemicals used in the building product industry as evidence of the movement’s success. Formaldehyde, one of the first chemicals targeted by the green building movement, is a prime example. There has been an ongoing campaign to recognize the health impact of formaldehyde by the Healthy Building Network, Pharos and the Living Building Challenge (formaldehyde is an item on the Red List). Early LEED indoor air quality credits also targeted formaldehyde. These efforts culminated in legal restriction imposed by the California Air Resource Board on formaldehyde emissions in composite wood in 2009, which has been a remarkable success story for the industry. Research by the Healthy Building Network has shown that formaldehyde emissions from 18 composite wood manufacturing locations have declined over 80% percent from 2005 to 2010.
THE NETWORK EFFECT
THE FUNDAMENTAL ROLE OF THE RED LIST
Some have criticized the Red List as only a first step— an exercise in whack-a-mole where a toxic chemical is removed, only to be replaced by something similar with equal or even worse environmental impact. This concern, known as regrettable substitution, has been problematic for chemical bans in the past. For example, asbestos was replaced with polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), a toxic flame retardant. After PCBs were banned globally, they were replaced with Arsenic, a common ingredient in chromated copper halogenated flame retardants (HFRs), another toxic arsenate (CCA) wood preservatives and on the Red chemical that is under-regulated to this day. List, provides another great example of the success of the precautionary principle approach. Since its However, removing Red List ingredients from buildinception, the Healthy Building Network has advoing products that represent known worst-in-class toxcated for the removal of arsenic treated wood from all ins, not safe in products at any level, is a critical step residential uses, eventually resulting in an EPA ban forward for the industry – while some substitutions in 2003. Research by the Healthy Building Network are still not ideal, they invariably are an improvement found that arsenic imports to the United States have – and often significantly so Most Red List chemicals declined from over 20 in 2003 to just 6 in 2011. already have safer alternative with documented human and environmental health benefits. Innovative products like Knauf insulation, which uses sugar as a binder instead of formaldehyde, or Accsys For example, the recently released Plastics Scorecard Accoya wood, which uses the preservative properties of by BizNGO found that a switch from PVC to polyvinegar instead of arsenic, beg the question: why were olefin could reduce the number of Chemicals of Conwe ever using these toxic chemicals in the first place?
The Red List and Declare offer a clear and proven path to safer materials selection
TEKNION DECLARE LABELED LIVELLO TABLE
cern in a plastic from five to zero. PVC itself not only has serious lifecycle concerns (dioxins, one of the most toxic chemicals, are released during production and if the product is ever combusted) but PVC products are also frequently combined with other dangerous chemicals like phthalate plasticizers. Imagine the potential reduction in the amount of toxic chemicals released into the environment overall if the entire building industry made the switch from PVC to polyolefins or other safer plastics. Another significant goal of the Challenge is to change the nature of the discussion with the manufacturing community signaling the idea that true success relies not on ‘managing’ potential exposure, but in eliminating the possibility of exposure. Overtime the Red List will continue to be expanded until we can envision a future where products are truly safe in any use phase regardless of how they are managed by consumers or producers. Further, the Living Building Challenge Red List was not only intended to remove a list of the worst toxic chemicals, but just as critically provoke a transparency dialogue about the ingredients in building products, with the potential to transform the entire
materials market through honest and open communication. The secrecy so pervasive in the building products industry that has allowed product manufacturers to hide behind proprietary claims is now being overturned by the success of transparency programs like Declare—even the paint and carpet industries that that have clung tightly to proprietary claims are now embracing the label and opting for full disclosure. To date, Declare is the only product label and transparency platform on the market that requires full and public disclosure of ingredient information. Transparency helps eliminate the issue of regrettable substitution because substitutions also have to be disclosed in Declare. As new chemicals are developed, programs such as the GreenScreen® for Safer Chemicals—a chemical assessment protocol that can be used to determine the potential impact of a new chemical—are important to ensure that substitutions are demonstrably less harmful than their replacements. However, the need for assessments of chemicals with unknown impacts does not negate the need for full ingredient transparency or banned lists of toxic chemicals like the Red List. Chemical assessment is an important
From formaldehyde to lead, and from arsenic to mercury, we can now point to overall reductions in the total amount of toxic chemicals used in the building product industry as evidence of the movement’s success.
ply chains and industrial processes as they eliminate toxic chemicals. For instance, Alpar Architectural Products has introduced a bio-based PVC alternative that has a dramatically reduced environmental impact without sacrificing performance. They are now looking to share this technology with other plastic industries. Ecovative, an innovative start-up, is growing mushrooms to produce insulation board. They intend to compete with the fossil-fuel-derived, HFRladen plastic foam boards that are ubiquitous in highstep in the process of remaking the materials indusperformance building projects. try, but unless ingredients are made public and chemicals assessment are placed within a decision making At first blush, mushroom-based insulation may seem framework like the Red List their will be confusion in far-fetched. However, viewed from a different light, the market, which leads to inaction. our current fossil-fuel-based manufacturing industry is also quite staggering and has taken exceptional Architects are looking for a clear tools and framehuman and technological feats to achieve. Is growing works and often don’t have time to research and anamushrooms to insulate our buildings any crazier than lyze in-depth hazard analysis of each product and its drilling 35,000 feet below the ground to access oil in an chemical composition. The Red List and Declare ofocean drilling rig like the Deep Water Horizon—esfer a clear and proven path to safer materials selection pecially considering the very real environmental and based on the principle of full transparency that has safety risks? demonstrated success in pushing the market forward. With the launch of the Living Product Challenge, the Institute is now providing a framework for manuWe are entering the next phase of product innovafacturers to consider industrial processes within the tion: companies are completely rethinking their supcontext of the broader ecosystem and our network of human communities. This framework urges manufacturers to create products out of widely available or renewable resources, and to adopt manufacturing processes with a positive impact on the environment and society. The transparency movement that began with the simple question “Do you need toxic chemicals?” is now entering its second act, with the goal of remaking the entire industrial process for the betterment of people and the environment.
THE NEXT STEP
JAMES CONNELLY, is the Declare Manager for the Living Building Challenge and manages materials research and project consulting for the International Living Future Institute.
MOHAWK GROUP DECALRE LABELED SD NYLON MODULAR CARPET TILE ON ECOFLEX NXT.
LIVING FUTURE 2015 APRIL 1-3, 2015 SHERATON SEATTLE SEATTLE, WA
COMMUNITY THE END OF INCREMENTALISM and the BEGINNING OF BEING living-future.org/unconference2015
MOVING UPSTREAM TINY HOMES. HUGE DIFFERENCE.
NEW STRATEGIC ADVISOR, OLD FRIEND
Portland’s tiny home scene has recently taken off.
Bob Berkebile is an institution in the green building
to build one of these compact abodes within city limits.
the creation of LEED, and has been an important actor
They’ve even passed new legislation to make it easier Through this process, it became clear that tiny homes could have enormous potential for solving the city’s
homelessness problem--learn how they are turning this idea into reality.
movement. He hosted the first conversations that led to in advocating for sustainable and restorative design. As a principal at BNIM, and long-time friend of the Institute, we are excited to have him lend his expertise in the
development of the Living Community Challenge and Living Product Challenge.
A NET ZERO APPROACH TO PUBLIC HOUSING Public housing in the Netherlands is getting a Net
Zero makeover. The work is being spearheaded by
THE FIGHT AGAINST HFRS HAS BLUM’D
Energiesprong, a non-profit, through their Transition Zero
Arlene Blum is a fantastic role model to everyone who learns
retrofitting a large number of units in a short time frame.
most dangerous mountains in the world, she is a dedicated
campaign. Learn more about their efficient strategies for
HEALTHY FURNITURE FOR HEALTH CARE Halogenated Flame Retardants (HFRs) are toxic, red list
about her unyielding spirit. Apart from summiting some of the scientist who has confronted large companies and legislation in the pursuit of healthy products. This New York Times
article outlines the highs and lows of the past thirty years of her fight against harmful chemicals.
chemicals that are found in furniture and other household items. This summer, Kaiser Permanente, a large non-
profit health management company, took a much-needed stance to refuse purchase of any furniture containing HFRs. Although a seemingly logical move, this is a powerful and progressive stance that will hopefully inspire other large companies to follow suit.
MAKING PROGRESS? Do you have a lead on cutting-edge green building progress in the region? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with “Moving Upstream News Lead” in the subject line.
FWD: READ THIS! CLICK
WHEN THE WELL RUNS DRY
The California drought presents a sobering threat to society that extends far beyond the state’s borders. Even after four years, the outlook for the near future doesn’t offer much hope of reprieve. The social, environmental and economic reprecussions are very real, and will only continue to worsen--the Pacific Institute has developed a site to provide detailed information and an up-todate status of this dire situation.
What if your smartphone was self-charging? With the development of transparent solar cells, that compelling notion may not be a too-distant reality. For those of us with nearly unbounded access to electrical outlets, this feature would merely be an added convenience. The potential for self-charging cell phones in the developing world, however, could be very impactful.
FWD: READ THIS! If you have something that should be included here please send it to us at email@example.com.
HARRISON FORD IS THE OCEAN
Hollywood’s biggest voices are playing an unique role for Conservation International’s Nature is Speaking campaign. This beautifullyexecuted, short video series anthropomorphizes the natural world to to deliver an important message.
THAT’S A WRAP
When it comes to food storage, there are very few options that don’t include plastic. Many of us turn to the sandwich bag, and then reuse it several times so we can feel better about the inevitable waste. This small farm in Vermont combined their love for fresh food and the environment to create an ingenious alternative, with a little help from the honey bee.
THAT THING NOBODY TALKS ABOUT
It’s common knowledge that sitting for 8+ hours a day is detrimental to a person’s overall health. Designer David Manning crafted a sleek, fullycustomizable standing work space that would fit in even the smallest studio apartment.
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP is proud to sponsor the International Living Future Institute.
It’s time to make social justice your business. SM
Organization Name: Super Paint Corp. Organization Type: LLC Headquarters: Amherst, NJ Satellite Facilities: Portland OR, Houston TX, Montreal CAN Number of Employees: 3,220 Social Justice and Equity Indicators:
Non-Discrimination Gender Diversity Ethnic Diversity
Worker Happiness Employee Health Care Continuing Education
Local Control Full Time Employment Local Sourcing Pay-Scale Equity Employee/Union Friendly Living Wage Stewardship Gender Pay Equity Responsible Investing Family Friendly Community Volunteering Positive Products Safety Charitable Giving Animal Welfare Occupational Safety Transparency Hazardous Chemicals
JUST™ is an innovative social justice transparency platform through which organizations can shed light on their operations, including how they treat their employees and where they make financial and community investments. JUST provides participating organizations a succinct way to demonstrate how they measure up in terms of the JUST label’s social and equity indicators. JUST also works seamlessly with the International Living Future Institute’s Declare™ materials label and the Living Building Challenge™. Your organization can contribute to the creation of a better, more equitable world. Become a JUST organization today by visiting justorganizations. com or by filling out the form below.
THE SOCIAL JUSTICE LABEL SPC-001
INTERNATIONAL LIVING FUTURE INSTITUTE justorganizations.com MANUFACTURER IS RESPONSIBLE FOR LABEL ACCURACY SM
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