Quartz: healthy product datasets for BIM?

When we know what our buildings are made of, we can make informed choices by selecting materials that are healthier for occupants and have a lesser impact on our environment*

This blog regularly covers the intersection between sustainable, healthy products (for example the Living Building Challenge Red List) and BIM. Indeed the selection of materials and products based on biological health, as well as environmental impact and functional performance within ‘sustainable construction’ should be a no brainer.

We are not so good at using data in construction, and although this is improving as BIM becomes more established, there remains a gap in useful product health data sheets that carry material or product ingredients. Projects that use a rigorous material schedule such as the ILFI Red List often find themselves unpacking designs and material specification in order to understand product recipes and seek safe alternatives.

The Quartz Common Products Database, a collaborative initiative from Flux, HBN, thinkstep and Google was launched at VERGE 2015 at the end of October.  Quartz is an open database of composition, health hazard and environmental impact data for building products. It looks a promising contribution to a greater understanding of material health impacts and, being open source, paves the way for inclusion and alignment with BIM’s and the Product Data Sheets currently being compiled by CIBSE, NBS and others.

“Quartz aims to bridge the gaps between information, knowledge, and action, leading to less toxic, lower-impact building materials”

The Quartz database (www.quartzproject.org) will provide a collection of product profiles for commonly used building materials. Specifically:
● Quartz is a free and open dataset, integrating both LCA and health-hazard data into a single information source using widely accepted and consistent methodologies, such as Pharos Project/GreenScreen hazard screening, TRACI 2.1, and ISO14044.
● Data is vendor-neutral and covers 100 building products across a range of categories, such as concrete, drywall and insulation. Products are compared by composition, health impacts, and environmental impacts.
● Data is licensed under Creative Commons BY 4.0, meaning there is no restriction on the use, redistribution, or modification of the data. This openness will enable the AEC community and the general public to become more educated about the potential
impacts of materials in buildings and communities, and to put this data to creative and productive use.
● Through consistent language and metrics, stakeholders will be empowered to have productive dialogue with building products manufacturers, driving the industry towards increased sustainability  (From Quartz Press Release)

Health profile

Quartz Health Profile for polyvinyl chloride membrane, prohibited by ILFI Living Building Challenge Red List but in common use in construction.

Here in the UK this could be seen as timely launch, with the Considerate Constructors Scheme promoting a Construction Occupational cancer awareness campaign on sites. A welcomed campaign and one that should start with product specification using data such as Quartz to remove such toxic materials from construction.

“Sites need to proactively eliminate harmful substances, when this isn’t achievable working methods and equipment must be substituted for safer alternatives (CCS)”

By focusing only on construction site, we are not learning from the past, and it is the same thinking as we were a few decades ago when the focus was on ‘safe’ handling of asbestos.

In todays climate of CSR, (Corporate Social Responsibility), where Do No Harm is a common-place construction value, specifying, procuring and installing products that cause ill health in production, in installation and in use should be deemed as socially irresponsible.

Note – a very useful guide to Nine Green Product databased for Architects, Specifiers and Consumers was published to Architect Magazine on Nov 10th 

In 2015 we should have a much more mature approach to health – not to be content with one that seeks only to reduce impact on health but an approach that seeks to improve health, through biophilic material inclusion and a salutogenic approach.

*from http://quartzproject.org/

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