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Sustainability Project Showcase 1 of 3

Smith College Neilson Library Healthy Materials The Smith College community (Northampton, Massachusetts) envisioned the school’s new central library as a boon to the academic pursuits of its students and faculty – and as a model and agent for positive change. The sustainable design of this iconic facility, the largest capital project in the college’s history, entailed a deep dive into the industry’s burgeoning focus on healthy building materials. In 2016, the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health published “The Impact of Green Buildings on Cognitive Function,” which confirmed a positive correlation between enhanced indoor air quality and higher cognitive-function scores. This will be welcome news for anyone planning to study in the new Neilson Library. Early in the design process, the college and the design team drafted a sustainability charter that prioritized energy efficiency, along with health and well-being. They then hired Thornton Tomasetti to devise and implement a road map for meeting the charter. We recommended the creation and implementation of a targeted material health and transparency initiative and pursuit of LEED Gold certification under the v4 rating system because of its inclusion of the lifecycle health impact and transparency of toxins in materials.

Manufacturers are sometimes reluctant to alter the composition of their products if they are unsure of the demand, so we suggested that the project team compose a commitment letter, or healthy materials statement. This letter affirms the architects’ intention to use healthy materials, not only in this project but in future projects as well.

The International Living Future Institute’s Red List comprises 22 classes of toxic chemicals found in building materials, among them bioaccumulative toxins, endocrine disrupters and carcinogens. These can linger for long periods in the environment and have serious implications for the health of both humans and ecosystems. Working with Maya Lin Studio, in partnership with Shepley Bulfinch, our Sustainability practice assisted the design team in specifying Red List-free products from more than 100 manufacturers and helped formulate the architects’ and the school’s commitment to eliminating toxic chemicals from future projects. Approaching the Red List can be intimidating, because it calls for the removal of approximately 800 chemicals prevalent in building materials. To kick off the healthy materials initiative, we performed a specification review to define the scope of our materials advocacy work. Then we examined the product types to identify the worst offenders with regard to human and environmental health. We also screened for cost and ascertained how critical each product type was to the character and performance of the building.

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2017 Sustainability Report: Envisioning an Enduring Organization  

We believe that practicing corporate responsibility and sustainability is the right thing to do. Read our 2017 sustainability report to lear...

2017 Sustainability Report: Envisioning an Enduring Organization  

We believe that practicing corporate responsibility and sustainability is the right thing to do. Read our 2017 sustainability report to lear...