Since 2000 when the Healthy Building Network (HBN) was founded, the advocacy group has been researching and making public their findings on environmentally friendly building materials and policies. In 2006 HBN introduced the Pharos Project, to publish information on the environmental impact of building materials commonly used by today’s architecture and construction industry sectors. In 2009, Pharos received an award from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which called the project “a revolutionary on-line tool for evaluating and comparing the health, environmental and social impacts of building materials in a comprehensive and transparent way.” In my series of Q&As about the Health Product Declaration (HPD), I asked Bill Walsh, founder of HBN and executive director, to provide the public advocate’s point of view. Here he talks about some initial victories and the dogged efforts of a small group of dedicated professionals (30 people in all) who have volunteered for the battle to clean up our environment, one building product at a time.
Susan S. Szenasy: Recently you wrote in Healthy Building News that “March 17th marks the 10th anniversary of the EPA order that made it illegal to use the arsenic-based pesticide CCA (chromated copper arsenate) to treat wood intended for most residential uses,” and that, as a result, “the amount of arsenic used in the United States [has dropped] from over twenty metric tons annually to approximately six” since 2003. What do these hopeful numbers tell you about the inroads HPD can make on helping to eliminate toxic materials from our built environment?
Bill Walsh: The Healthy Building Network initiated the effort to create the Health Product Declaration [HPD] because informed customers are the most influential driver of healthier building products. With pressure treated wood, once consumers understood that there were two equivalent types of product on the market – that with arsenic, and that without – the writing was on the wall. Chemical manufacturers voluntarily withdraw their requests to EPA for an exemption to arsenic restrictions. That made it easy for EPA to take the action it did.
As HPDs gain currency, unnecessary, avoidable toxic hazards will be the first thing to go. For example, I expect we will see a steady transition out of chemical flame-retardants in many uses where they are unnecessary, such as below grade foam insulation, and provide no added safety benefit, such as in upholstery foams. Leading manufacturers have also said that the HPD will create an incentive for companies to make quiet transitions in order to avoid disclosing problematic chemicals.
Over the long-term, the HPD is going to create incentives for continuous improvement toward ever-healthier building products. But the first thing the HPD is going to accomplish is a rapid acceleration away from hazards that can be avoided today.
The U.S. EPA, the European Union Commission on the Environment, the State of California are among the government organizations that have come out on the side of healthy materials for our built environment. In addition, there are a growing number of associations and firms engaged in collecting data on toxic materials that should be avoided, sharing their information with the public. They include the Healthy Building Network ‘s Pharos Project, Clean Production Action, Perkins + Will’s Precautionary List, Living Building Challenge and that organization’s Watch List, and the various LEED programs, such as HC and Pilot.
Most recently, the first open standard format for reporting the content and hazards in building products was launched at Greenbuild 2012. Called the Health Product Declaration (HPD) Open Standard Version 1, the program is managed by a non-profit group of collaborators. The HPD Collaborative is lead by the Pilot Project Committee of 29 building product manufacturers and 50 expert reviewers from across the building industry. The collaborative is in the process of developing, maintaining, and evolving the HPD Open Standard to meet the growing demand from the design and specifying community for health information on the many products used in our buildings. Included in this pilot group is the Canadian furniture manufacturer Teknion. In an effort to build the case for HPD, starting from the supplier’s point of view, I asked Tracy Backus, LEED AP ID+C, director of sustainability programs at Teknion U.S. to answer a few questions. Here she talks about what one manufacturer is doing to safeguard human health, and the Earth that gives us life.
Susan S. Szenasy: As a member of the Health Product Declaration (HPD) Working Group, in the manufacturing sector, and with Teknion’s long-term commitment to environmental health, could you tell us why your firm has decided to join this particular group? And what are your hopes for outcomes?
Tracy Backus: We were asked by Google to participate originally. As we looked more closely at our history and how Teknion has already made steps to reduce chemicals from our products, like PVC, it was a natural for us to begin the work of full disclosure to the public. The challenge was developing a method that worked for all manufactures of building materials. That is the work of the HPD.
SSS: I understand you heard about HPD from a client, Google, in search of more transparency in products’ chemical/material content, as these relate to human health effects. What was Google looking for?
TB: Google is aligning its business to protect the health and well-being of it’s employees by building and procuring products that eliminate chemicals of concern, identified by the EPA, Living Building Challenge, and the National Cancer Institute. They are investing and, therefore, expect the same of manufacturers to advance the industry to research and develop safer materials for the built environment. (more…)
My Game Changers profile on Edward Mazria focused on the nature of the architect’s activism. How does an organization of less than five full-time employees have such a big impact? Ed’s genius was in reframing the issue of climate change as a design problem, with easily defined goals (not easy to achieve goals, but with a clear path forward). Just as important, Mazria’s group, Architecture 2030 encourages organizations to take ownership of the issue. There are no better examples than the 2030 Districts popping up all over the country. Each is a local response to a global problem. Recently I talked to Brian Geller, executive director of the Seattle 2030 District about the birth of his organization and the way forward.
Brian Geller, executive director of Seattle 2030 District
Martin C. Pedersen: Ed Mazria calls his group, Architecture 2030 a “seeding organization.” Your effort in Seattle is certainly a good example of that.
Brian Geller: It’s true. It’s interesting to note that when your “Architects Pollute” issue came out in 2003, I was in architecture school in New York, and it was something I vividly remember. That story had a big impact on me, on deciding where I wanted to go with my career.
MCP: How did the Seattle 2030 district begin?
BG: It started about three years ago. I was working as a sustainability specialist at ZGF Architects. I was working at the Seattle office. Bob Zimmerman, the managing partner of the office, had just come back from a conference in Chicago and was telling me about this de-carbonization study that Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill had worked on. Bob said: “It sounds fascinating. I’m surprised that Seattle hasn’t undertaken something like that.” I took that little nugget back to my desk and was thinking it over. It sounded like a great idea. But I thought that if we wanted to do something like that here, it seemed that a study was not the right approach. So I made this map. I started with Seattle’s steam distribution map. We’ve got a small district steam utility here in downtown. They were in the process of building a biomass boiler that would reduce the carbon footprint of their entire operations by 50 percent, and the heating-related carbon footprint of the two hundred buildings attached to them by half as well. There was other great stuff going on, too. There were a number of large building owners undertaking portfolio-wide certification, putting together important tenant engagement programs. The city was about to pass a disclosure ordinance, requiring building owners to benchmark their properties and disclose some of the data to the city. All of this stuff was happening, but it was happening somewhat siloed. So I took their map, put on the ten largest property owners and managers that I knew downtown, who were all doing cool things, and went to a few people in the city, and other architects and engineers, and said, “Look, this is what they’re doing in Chicago. They’re doing a study. But if we did something like this here, and instead of doing a study, invited these people on this map in, we would cover a lot of downtown. We could get all of these large entities measuring their progress the same way, united around one set of goals.” I told them, “You’ll get a lot farther together than you would on your own.” They’d learn a lot from each other. They wouldn’t be duplicating efforts. Hopefully, they’d be generating more work for everybody in the city. People liked the idea.
If something between $467 million to $504 million were about to be spent in your back yard, wouldn’t you want to know what those dollars would buy and add your voice to the discussion?
Map of the Gowanus Canal Superfund Study Area, courtesy EPA
Those dollar amounts reflect the estimated cost for cleaning up the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, NY. The canal, an EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency) Superfund site, is an extremely polluted body of water with hazardous materials like coal tar, oil, metals, and other toxins. These contaminants are resting in the sediments at the bottom of the canal. The EPA’s job is to study the area, determine who is responsible for the contamination, create a plan for clean up, and oversee the clean up, which is paid for by the responsible parties. The EPA does this with the objective of removing risk to human and ecological (plant and animal) life in and around the canal.
January 23rd Carroll Gardens EPA Public Meeting, photo by Ryan A Cunningham
To help them achieve that objective, the EPA has defined a series of 9 criteria for evaluating the alternatives for clean up. Many of these criteria focus on common sense things like smart, efficient, and safe actions; but there is one very key criteria that you should care about, “Community Acceptance”.
January 23rd Carroll Gardens EPA Public Meeting, photo by Ryan A Cunningham
Community acceptance is what makes this a great time to speak up. Right now the EPA is in the Proposed Plan Comment Period, which is the time when the agency is required by law to take comments on its proposal for how to clean the canal; and they must respond to these comments in documented form.
Why comment? Here are a couple of reasons.
- Everyone is listening – Politicians, businesses, and the media are all watching very closelyhow the various groups involved, including the community, are responding to the plan.
- It’s on the record – Community groups, mission driven organizations, and concerned citizens not only can know they are being heard, but will actually see their comments (or similar ones), answered in written form by the EPA.
- Now is the time – The public comment period is the primary time that the community has to comment on the proposed plan. It’s open till March 28, and after that, there will be a lot less attention paid to the comments and questions surround the plan.
As part of our involvement in the AIA 2030 Commitment Program and to support our commitment to designing high-performance buildings, we at HOK are applying energy modeling strategies on the majority of our projects. In 2011 our AIA 2030 report included more than 39 million gross square feet, with modeling performed on over 68 percent of that space.
Our firm has been conducting energy models on projects since the 1990s; an early example of this is the National Wildlife Federation Headquarters in Reston, Virginia. In 2000 that building was added to the US Department of Energy’s Database (DOE) for High Performance Buildings and became a DOE-2 energy model. We also did energy modeling for the US Environmental Protection Agency’s new campus in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina and SC Johnson’s Commercial Products Headquarters in Racine, Wisconsin. That same year we published The HOK Guidebook to Sustainable Design; it features a section on integrating energy performance.
By quantifying energy reductions through early architectural and engineering interventions, we can reduce the size and budget of mechanical and electrical systems. This allows us to apply those resources to architectural measures that enhance our clients’ spaces.
During bid and concept phases, we initiate energy benchmarking to guide the design team and owner through a discussion of energy use and metrics. We discuss CBECS (Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey) benchmarks and the typical loads of the equivalent building type, develop an Energy Star target score and formalize LEED goals.
As a designer who enjoys traditional architecture — both new and old — yet chose modernism for his own house, I hope I can offer an evenhanded reaction to Philip Nobel’s uncharacteristically misleading analysis of the Eisenhower Memorial kerfuffle.
It was disappointing to see Nobel fall into the old trap of implying that Nazi Germany was unique in its embrace of classicism during the mid-20th Century. His question, “should we remember the man who led the defeat of Nazism with the same forms that inspired Albert Speer” betrays an ignorance of the buildings that Americans were erecting at the same time. Perhaps Nobel has seen the Jefferson Memorial, the National Gallery of Art (West Wing), the Supreme Court, or the gargantuan offices of the IRS, EPA, or Department of Commerce? All of these buildings, completed around 1940, would have done Speer proud. We may or may not love them, but they confirm that most architectural styles since the 19th Century have been international styles, whatever their name. Only in rare cases can a “look” be associated with a regime, and classicism certainly is not one of those cases.
If you want to peer into the future of architecture and infrastructure, try comparing the impact of two vastly different maps of the same place.
For this post, I am using a map of the United States; but you could use just about any map of any country on the planet.
Map of the United States
Looking at this map, you will see what you typically think of as the United States, with the lines that divide the landmass of regions into our familiar states. These boundaries were politically inspired, and whether influenced by natural features or not, the lines don’t heed to the ecological realities on the ground or in the water.
This process of artificially delineating land with straight lines continues as you zoom further into the map— states divide into counties and then cities, towns, villages, subdivisions and even further into individual property lines. Real estate developers, engineers, designers, and architects define their project sites against such lines and from there we get houses, office buildings, restaurants, hospitals, campuses, and neighborhoods. As this process fleshes out, the ecological functionality of the place is often dismantled in an effort to accommodate the infrastructure required to “serve” the location. That’s one way of looking at a map… and so far, it seems to be the only way.
Brownfield Site, photo from wikipedia
With the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spending $69.3 million to remedy brownfields across the United States, I was curious to find out how the American Institute of Architects (AIA) is involved with this important program. I emailed my questions to national AIA headquarters in Washington, D.C. Almost overnight the following responses arrived:
Susan S. Szenasy: The EPA recently announced an award of $200,000 to clean up a toxic, abandoned tribal administration building for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Tribe in Belcourt, North Dakota. In fact, there are now 245 EPA grantees, getting a total of $69.3 million EPA Brownfield grants. Are you aware of these programs and, if yes, how is the AIA involved in the restoration renovation projects?
Andrew Goldberg and Joel Mills: The AIA has long supported EPA brownfield programs, advocating to Congress for additional funding and for legislation to expand tax incentives for cleanup and redevelopment on brownfield sites. Although the AIA does not directly get involved in specific EPA grantee projects as an organization, AIA members are frequently involved in working with communities that receive grants.
Recently at the Living Future event in Portland, Oregon, I had an opportunity to explore “lives of green” with eight other women working in the sustainable design space, as it is often called. We followed the Pecha Kucha format (my first time with the 20-seconds-for-each-of-20 slides).
Barbra Batshalom, a Boston-based “recovering architect” talked about her path toward transforming organizations, to transform practice, collaborate more deeply, and inspire change in the sustainable design world. “Our research has shown that most organizations, even those known for good green goals, are not making wholesale change. More likely, they are experiencing what we sometimes call ‘random acts of sustainability’.” This prompted the founder of Green Roundtable to launch the Sustainable Performance Institute, a certification program for organizations.
This was one of several recurring themes in this session (which, as our moderator Lance Hosey noted, mirrored the themes that turned up in Women in Green: Voices of Sustainable Design, the book that he and I wrote together a few years ago): Find ways to think bigger—much beyond single buildings. And if your current career path isn’t allowing that, change course. Almost every single presenter described a non-linear career, what author and anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson might call “lives of improvisation,” theme she explored deeply in her book, Composing a Life.
U.S. Green Building Council
It has become widely accepted across the commercial real estate world that LEED certification has the potential to add value by presenting a number of benefits including higher rental yields, …
Brendan Owens, LEED AP, P.E.
Vice President, LEED Technical Development
U.S. Green Building Council
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Charlie Miller, P.E., has been fomenting a quiet, green roof revolution in this country for years. So quiet that you may not have heard of it, or him.
It’s a steep climb up narrow, carpeted stairs to the modest Roofmeadow office on historic, cobble-s…
Grist news agency posted a frightening assessment of what effects a Government shutdown would have on the environment in the United States. To break it down basically all the employees of the EPA would be furloughed and head home. Hazardous wastes and environmental monitoring would be nonexistent and let’s not talk about nation’s Zoos.