UNITED STATES, Global Business Briefing, September 2015--
The US Green Building Council (USGBC) reports that the global green construction industry reached $260bn in 2013, representing 20% of all new commercial construction in the US. Where much of the initial focus has been on energy efficiency, recyclability, and reducing a building’s carbon footprint, the growing green movement has also brought an increased focus on the chemical ingredients of building components and the health hazards they may present.
The USGBC’s most recent iteration of its Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (Leed) – v4 – includes a new credit for material transparency. The standard’s “Building product disclosure and optimisation – material ingredients” credit is intended, among other things, “to reward project teams for selecting products for which the chemical ingredients in the product are inventoried, using an accepted methodology, and for selecting products verified to minimise the use and generation of harmful substances.”
Similarly, the WELL Building Standard, launched by the International WELL Being Institute in October 2014, lays out a standard that focuses on the health and wellness of building occupants. “Strategies to enhance human health and wellbeing have played a relatively small role in the evolution of building standards,” says the programme’s Standard. “We believe the time has come to elevate human health and comfort to the forefront of building practices.” Toxic material reduction, enhanced material safety, and biocide management are all included in the building standard.
The International Living Future Institute’s (IFLI) Living Building Challenge also incorporates material health into its twenty requirements for achieving certification. Projects being built under the scheme cannot use materials that contain any Red List chemicals, such as perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), halogenated flame retardants, or phthalates.
Increased consumer awareness of potential chemical hazards, together with a growth of transparency initiatives in green construction standards, has led to the development of a variety of tools to assist in inventorying, assessing and disclosing chemical ingredients and hazards. These programmes offer building material manufacturers a structure for disclosing the materials present in their products, provide building designers and specifiers with more information on potential hazards in products, streamline the process for achieving compliance with building standards, and help satisfy consumers’ desires to know more about what’s in the floors and walls around them.
Reaching consensus on what constitutes “green” “transparent” and “hazard” however, has proven a complicated process. Consequently, the building and construction industry faces a number of possible compliance pathways for an array of green construction structures, which can make navigating the process daunting.