440306 The Need for Materials Transparency in the Marketplace

Monday, November 9, 2015: 8:30 AM
258 (Salt Palace Convention Center)
Michael H. Deane, Turner Construction Company, New York, NY

The green building movement has been primarily about environmental sustainability. The first versions of the LEED® Rating System was concerned first and foremost with reducing the negative impact of buildings on the natural environment. The only credits pertaining to chemicals harmful to humans were for avoiding VOCs in building products and systems and appropriate venting of hazardous gasses and chemicals from interior spaces.

In recent years human health and wellbeing has become increasingly important in green building.  The latest version of LEED includes credits regarding the disclosure and avoidance of chemicals of concern; the Living Building Challenge (LBC) has a list of chemicals (the “Red List”) that cannot be used in a project, and there is an entire rating system (the WELL Building Standard) devoted to human health and wellbeing.

Today it is increasingly important that building products be not only functional and safe for the environment, but also safe for the human beings who come into contact with building products throughout their entire life cycle (including harvest, manufacture, transport, installation, use and disposal).

At the same time, chemists such as John Warner have noted that chemists are trained to develop new compounds that meet functional requirements but are not generally trained in toxicology or to be aware of the impact of their creations on people. 

Today as building owners, developers and occupants are increasingly aware of the impact of the build environment on human health, chemists must work to remove harmful chemicals from building products and materials and replace them with benign chemicals that function as well or better than the harmful chemicals they replace.  Doing so will create business opportunities.  Not doing so will result in loss of market share and reputation and may result in increased liability that could threaten entire companies.  Think Asbestos.  Voluntary rating systems, building codes, and market demand are all driving consumers away from harmful chemicals.  Enlightened self-interest should drive chemical engineers to create safe and effective products free of harmful substances for the building industry and to transparently disclose the contents of their products so owners and occupants can make informed decisions about which materials to use and which to avoid.

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