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Corey Squire

THE VALUE OF TRANSPARENCY

Posted by on 5/6/15 at 04:07pm

Do you know what materials make up the building you’re currently occupying? Are these materials safe? In our foray into pursuing the Living Building Challenge (LBC) for the Dixon Water Foundation Josey Pavilion, we gained new insight into building materials and their impact on human health and the environment. We are excited make our material matrix public and share what we have learned.LBC, the most advanced sustainable building certification program, is built on the philosophy that every act of design and construction should make the world a better place. An LBC-Certified building is evaluated in seven holistic performance categories, called Petals.

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© 2014 International Living Future Institute

Arguably the most challenging and impactful performance category of LBC is the Material Petal. The ultimate intent of the Material Petal is to create a regenerative and socially equitable materials economy, where no material in the built environment has negative impact on human and ecosystem health. To that end, the strenuous Material Petal requires that every material used to build Josey Pavilion discloses 100% of its chemical components, contains no red list (harmful and LBC forbidden) chemicals, and must prove that it was extracted or manufactured within a certain radius of the project. In our exploration to find compliant materials, we made some useful discoveries. Formaldehyde free plywood isn’t manufactured in Texas, and only limited sources exist anywhere. Bronze is made of copper and tin, but up to 5% of lead is often added to improve malleability. A roofing screw gasket could be made of either PVC (potentially harmful) or Polypropylene (generally stable and safe). Satisfying the Material Petal requires teams to identify which materials might contain hazardous chemicals and either eliminate them from the building or seek out safer alternative products.

Declare is the Living Future Institute’s public ingredients label for building products. It provides public access to an online database of products that have been thoroughly vetted and confirmed to be either red list free or red list compliant. Declare relies heavily on transparency to create a more sustainable materials economy. If products are required to disclose their chemical components, consumers can make informed decisions and the entire economy will shift towards healthier products.

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When we started work on the Josey Pavilion, only about 20 products were listed on Declare. Over the project, the number of products “declared” has increased five fold, with more products being added all the time. Once this database is populated with enough products to construct a building, the investment of time and money for material research, one of the highest barriers to a Living Building, will be eliminated. We hope that our publication of our matrix helps to speed up this process.

Lake Flato has been leading the charge on material transparency. Beginning last year, we required all manufacturers who present to our office to have a HPD, EPD, or Declare label for their products. Our efforts have caused a few manufactures to declare their ingredients just for the opportunity to present to us. When specifying materials for all of our projects, we give preference to manufactures who value transparency and each year, the list of products we use becomes healthier and more transparent. We encourage all architects to join our efforts and advocate for transparency through the material chooses that they make.

Our team dedicated countless hours toward researching and thoroughly vetting all 186 materials that comprise the Josey Pavilion, which you can read more about as part of a series we will be posting in the next few weeks. We have documented them in a material matrix and we’re confident that no stone was left unturned in our pursuit to create one of the healthiest buildings existing today.

Both our commitment to material transparency and our belief that our research should benefit the entire industry and all future building occupants have compelled us to make our material matrix available to the public. We invite you to download it below and learn more about the materials we used to build Josey Pavilion.

Josey Pavilion Material Matrix

Read the next story in this series: Trail toward Transparency: the process