Simplifying the Path to Material Health through Harmonization

By Stacy Glass

Tags: material health (6) , leed v4 (1) , harmonization (3) , green building (2)

Earlier this year, the USGBC initiated The Summit on Green Building & Human Health to assess and advance the state of the green building movement as it relates to human health concerns. The Summit sought to raise the intensity of the conversation around how human health factors can be woven into buildings.1 Read the report from the Summit here.


While concern for the potential health impacts of building materials has always been an integral part of the US Green Building Council’s green building assessments, LEED® v4 is raising the bar by including credits based on programs that evaluate material health more broadly than VOC emissions certification programs.


Specifically, the Materials & Resources Credit 4, Building Disclosure and Optimization—Material Ingredients, encourages project teams to choose products whose chemical ingredients are inventoried and to select products verified to minimize the use and generation of harmful substances.


Several tools exist to assist manufacturers with the challenge of inventorying, screening, assessing, and disclosing chemical ingredients and associated hazards. With the variety of tools and programs, it can be challenging for manufacturers to choose the most appropriate path given their sustainability objectives, and it can be confusing for specifiers to digest the reporting of this information in order to make informed decisions about product selection.


In an effort is to simplify the process for manufacturers and provide quality information for consumers and specifiers to make informed decisions about material health, the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute (C2CPII), Clean Production Action (CPA), Healthy Building Network (HBN), and the Health Product Declaration Collaborative (HPDC) formed a task group to explore the potential for the harmonization of inventory and assessment protocols.


The Task Group was charged with comparing the leading product inventory and material health assessment programs for building materials to identify similarities and differences in their methodologies. The goal of this project is to find opportunities to create synergies through harmonization and data sharing that will support implementation of the LEED v4 material health credit2 and accelerate progress in the industry toward the manufacture of inherently safer products.


The Task Group analyzed information requirements of the product inventory and material health evaluation protocols in the following five programs (three of which are referenced in the LEED v4 material health credit):


  • C2CPII’s Cradle to Cradle CertifiedCM Product Standard (C2C)
  • CPA’s GreenScreen® for Safer Chemicals (GS)
  • HBN’s Pharos Chemical & Material Library & Building Product Library (BPL)
  • HPD Collaborative’s (HPDC) Health Product Declaration (HPD)
  • International Living Future Institute’s (ILFI) Declare


The analysis indicates that all of the programs define procedures for content inventory of product ingredients and list screening against certain health hazard and restricted substance lists. GS and C2C go further to define methodologies for full hazard assessment utilizing direct research into the scientific literature and modeling data. The C2C hazard assessment results are used toward assessment of material health as part of the C2C certification program. The results from the GS assessment procedure may be used independently and are also referenced in the Pharos BPL and the HPD.


The programs represent a diversity of approaches to material health evaluation and disclosure. Underlying the five programs, however, are many similarities in the inventory requirements, the use of lists for screening and the data used for hazard assessment. These underlying similarities can provide the basis for improving program efficiency through shared information and hazard data platforms and for consistency of signaling through further harmonization. The detailed results of the analysis are presented in this report that was prepared for the USGBC.


The Cradle to Cradle Certified program is a multi-attribute assessment that considers how a product is designed—emphasizing design for reutilization and producer responsibility, what it’s made of—reducing and eliminating harmful ingredients, and how it’s made—considering water stewardship, renewable energy, and social fairness.  While Cradle to Cradle encompasses all of these concepts, it is the material health assessment methodology that is particularly relevant to the current movement in the built environment.


At the Institute, we believe that harmonization and alignment of the tools analyzed in this report is critical to accelerate adoption of material health evaluation practices and that working together with these leading organization, we have the collective potential to initiate a tipping point in the industry. We are committed to a fundamentally shared vision with these organizations to help create better products for our world.


Further Reading:

1January 2013, Report from The Summit on Green Building and Human Health

2USGBC LEED v4 - New Construction - Building product disclosure and optimization - material ingredients MRc4

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