Building Industry driving toxic Chlorine and PVC production.

This is why we have Red Lists and transparency programmes such as Declare and material verification schemes such as EPD, REACH, Cradle to Cradle etc …

All people and the planet thrive when the environment is free of toxic chemicals (*)

We talk of sustainable procurement, of healthy buildings, of greater transparency in what we specify and procure and of eliminating toxic materials from construction but, as the recently published Healthy Building Network overview of the global Chlorine and PVC markets demonstrates, we have a long way to go – and its scary. (Part One of the HBN report covers North and South America, Africa, and Europe, with Part Two later this year covering Asia and Rest of the World)

cover.jpg.860x0_q70_crop-scale

As the HBN notes:

  • Chlorine is inherently highly toxic.
  • Chlorine production uses and releases mercury, asbestos, or other highly toxic pollutants. (Mercury use has significantly declined, but the US still imports 480 tons of asbestos per year for diaphragms, primarily from Russia.)
  • Combining chlorine with carbon-based materials creates environmental health impacts that are difficult if not impossible to solve.

And, it is the the building sector is propping up a ‘toxic’ chlorine and PVC global market … 

Market data indicate that, as many industrial uses of chlorine decline due to environmental health concerns, market de-selection, and stricter regulations, the market share of chlorine used in PVC and certain other products has increased. Today, most of the chlorine produced in the world is used to make four plastics: PVC, epoxies, polycarbonate, and polyurethane.

PVC contains nearly 60% chlorine by weight, and most PVC is manufactured for use in building products. Indeed, chlorine and building industry analysts agree that because building trends drive PVC demand, and PVC demand drives chlorine production, it can fairly be said that the building-products industry drives chlorine production levels and its attendant environmental and human health impacts.

pvc-pipe-1172534_960_720

Chlorine Production Technologies

There are four industrial processes that can be used to create chlorine gas. The oldest technologies use either mercury or asbestos. The two newer technologies (introduced in the 1970s) use diaphragms or membranes coated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Most chlorine produced in Europe and Africa comes from PFAS-coated membrane technology. The main chlor- alkali producers in Africa do not use mercury cells or asbestos diaphragms. In Europe, exemptions to regulations that otherwise prohibit asbestos and mercury-based technologies allow the largest chlor-alkali plant to continue to use asbestos, and at least five other locations will continue using mercury into the foreseeable future.

Approximately 45% of chlorine production capacity in the Americas, including 8 of the 12 largest plants in operation, use asbestos diaphragms. Seven of these 8 are located on the US Gulf Coast. The other is in Brazil, which is phasing out asbestos mining. The US plants have relied upon Brazilian asbestos and soon will depend upon asbestos mined in Russia.

Chlorine-Based Pollution:

While all petroleum-based products are associated with industrial pollution, the introduction of chlorine and chlorine-based substances adds an additional pollution burden that is uniquely associated with chlorine.

This begins with the manufacturing of the chlorine itself. Over 400 tons of chlorine gas are released per year by chlor-alkali facilities in the US and Canada. Asbestos and mercury releases are well documented from the plants employing those antiquated technologies, which pollute the environment and poison people throughout the lifecycle, from mining, to distribution, to use, and finally, to recycling or disposal operations.

… “forever chemicals”

The more modern technologies employ machinery coated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are highly toxic and long-lived chemicals that are coming under increasing scrutiny. The Harvard School of Public Health has issued warnings about these “forever chemicals” as used in consumer products such as Teflon, and as stain and water repellents on carpeting and upholstery. Because PFAS are not regulated at the point of use at chlorine manufacturing plants, there are no reported PFAS emissions or waste. However, PFAS have been detected in the effluent from the main US manufacturer of membranes used in chlorine plants.

… the additional burden of PVC production

The use of chlorine for PVC production creates additional burdens, generating organochlorine waste and by products. These chemicals are not broken down by natural systems, and typically last for generations in the environment. Many of them also build up in the ecosystem, including fish, wildlife, and humans, and are toxic at low doses. In addition to polluting the local environment near the facilities that release them, these chemicals can also be transported around the globe. One of them, carbon tetrachloride, is an ozone-depleting chemical and potent global-warming gas.

Additionally, PVC plastic production plays a role in the growing concern about microplastic ocean pollution through the factory discharge of PVC resins, in the form of small plastic pellets, into waterways.

Moving Forward: “When we know better, we can do better”

While environmentalists, building owners, architects and designers, and building-product manufacturers differ in their opinions on the avoidance of PVC, there is widespread and growing support for the elimination of mercury and asbestos from the supply chain of PVC and other chlorine-based products. A public global inventory of chlorine and VCM producers, and associated documented pollution, is a necessary first step for taking action.

HBN is providing this report, and accompanying online materials, spreadsheets, and map, as full open-access content. This data can help manufacturers to avoid chemicals derived from toxic technologies, scientists to fill gaps in understanding on the material flow of pollutants like PFAS and carbon tetrachloride, and communities to connect with others who, like them, face daily pollution from the chlorine and PVC industry.


(*) HBN Vision: All people and the planet thrive when the environment is free of toxic chemicals

The HBN Report can be downloaded and read from here. 

See also the excellent Lloyd Alter detailed article in TreeHugger:

Report from Healthy Building Network slams PVC production

Making vinyl and other plastics releases dangerous pollutants. Do they belong in green buildings?

PVC, often called vinyl, has long been controversial in the sustainable design and green building worlds. It’s red-listed in the Living Building Challenge and the Cradle to Cradle certification system, and the attempt by the LEED people to limit its use in buildings almost brought down the whole certification system.

Regenerative Disruption: Construction Materials, from Linear to Circular.

This is not Sustainable.

Echoing themes from Cradle to Cradle and FutuREstorative on impact of construction waste and materials … namely

An industry that demands over half of humanities resources

Contributes to a third of global waste

The single largest source of waste in the UK, generating over 100 million tonnes of waste every year

32% of all waste, 13% of which is new or unused.

… the YouTube promotion from Enviromate below, calling for Circular Economy approaches to material management contains powerful messages and makes an important contribution to progressing a circular economy in construction.

the enviromate mission

Designed with one core mission; to disrupt and revolutionise construction and DIY through enabling and accelerating the reuse of surplus and leftover building materials. Helping build a future where we share, upcycle and reuse surplus, reducing the impact the industry has on our environment and building toward a more resourceful, circular economy.

Blockchain: Explainer and Grenfell relevance.

In relation to transparency and responsibility in the material supply chain we have covered material passport on a few occasions on this blog and in event workshops, (Cradle to Cradle, LBC Declare etc)

 

censorship-free-social-network-akasha-aims-to-tackle-internet-censorship-with-blockchain-technology-950x528

 

Emerging Blockchain technology, the technology of trust is redefining the way we transact. Combining the internet’s openness with cryptography security,  Blockchain can give everyone a faster, safer way to verify supply chain transactions, verify key information and (re)establish trust. 

pw tweet grenfell

Being able to verify everything we specify, procure and install on building projects will go a big way to removing the uncertainty highlighted in the Grenfell Tower materials issue.

 

Blockchain can provide that certainty.

Blockchain is designed to store information in a way that makes it virtually impossible to add, remove or change data without being detected by other users.

 

But what is Blockchain?

This Blockchain explainer from Goldman Sachs is one of the best introductions (despite its clunky format!)

blockchain
Image: http://www.goldmansachs.com/our-thinking/pages/blockchain/

22 Must Read Sustainability Books

FR_Visuals_FINALOne of my aims in writing FutuREstorative was to explore and encourage new thinking for sustainability in the built environment. In turn, inspiration for the book has, in part, come from a number of classic writers and books over the last half century or so, woven into FutuREstorative and into built environment sustainability potentials.

In addition to these books being powerful in shaping my thinking towards sustainability, they  often articulate alignment between nature, the outdoors, wildness and business sustainability.

The Bibliography in FutuREstorative gives a complete listing, but below are a sample 21 of the best, all worthy of making a great sustainable reading or gifts to inspire, as indeed would FutuREstorative!.  (Note the wonderful Icelandic tradition of giving books on Christmas Eve, simply as an additional gift to inspire)

Image 8.1a Book Shelf

Let my People go Surfing – Chouinard, Y.
Three books in one here, a biography, a mountain & surf adventure and a business sustainability philosophy. This is a must read for reluctant business CSR people.

Sand County Almanac – Leopold, A.
Recognised as the godfather of ecology, Sand County is the classic land ecology book. Classic quotes form Sand County include Thinking like a mountain and We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain.

Silent Spring – Carson, R.
First published in three serializsed excerpts in the New Yorker in June of 1962,this is the book that in many ways triggered the 1960s environmental protest movement. Still as valid today as we deal with persistent chemicals within the built environment materials

Cradle to Cradle – Remaking the Way We Make Things – Braggart, M. and W. McDonough Groundbreaking for the circular economy thinking, challenging the way we make and dispose of things.

Ecology of Commerce – Hawken, P
An important text that aligned ecology and environmental concerns with mainstream business. “if you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.”

Biophilia – Wilson, E.O
Part autobiographical and personal, Wilson’s introduction to the love and relationship with nature, that introduced us to the concept of biophilia. “Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even wellbeing. …”

Transition Handbook – Hopkins, R.
The original handbook for the now-global Transition movement, addressing actions required in transitioning to a post peak-oil economy. “… by unleashing collective genius of those around us to creatively and proactively design our energy descent, we can build ways of living that are more connected, more enriching and that recognize the biological limits of our planet.”

Wildwood – A Journey through Trees – Deakin, R.
Living with trees, an autobiography from one of the UK’s foremost environmentalist writers. “To enter a wood is to pass into a different world in which we ourselves are transformed

Revolutionary Engineering – Miller, M.
How the international engineering firm Intergral approach restorative sustainability. Included are case studies from their Living Building Challenge projects. Intégral: Revolutionary Engineering is for trailblazers who care about advancing the building and construction industry toward greater occupant health and happiness, and stronger resilience and regenerative systems.

Design with Climate: BioClimatic Architecture 2015 update – Olgyay, V.
Reprint of a classic 1960s text that inspired and promoted architectural design based on biology and climate. I was not fully aware of this important work until researching for a commissioned review

Biomimicry in Architecture, 2nd Edition – Palwyn, M.,
Insights into the amazing world and future potentials of biomimicry within the built environment

Feral – Rewilding the Land, the Sea and Human Life. Monbiot, G.
Inspiration for restorative and regenerative environmentalism and conservatism through  Monbiot’s experience and passion on rewilding themes.

Tools for Grass Roots Activists. Gallagher, N. and L. Myers, P Brilliant collection of essays and tools from over two decades of the Patagonia invite-only Tools Conferences

Walden – Thoreau, H.D.
Recognised by many as being the classic work on environmental and conservation thinking. “We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”

Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder – Louv, R. 
Why we need biophilia in our and in our children’s everyday lives. “We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories”

Confessions of a Radical Industrialist: How My Company and I Transformed Our Purpose, Sparked Innovation, and Grew Profits – By Respecting the Earth – Anderson, R.C. and R. White,
The guide that shaped and continues to inspire the values and ethos of Interface Inc. to take nothing from the earth that can’t be replaced by the earth

Landmarks – Macfarlane, R.
Why language and words are important to understanding our relationship with nature and landscapes. Certain books, like certain landscapes, stay with us even when we left them, changing not just our weathers but our climates.”

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate – Klein, N.
How capitalism and our economic structures are at the root cause of climate change.“So we are left with a stark choice: allow climate disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate. But we need to be very clear: because of our decades of collective denial, no gradual, incremental options are now available to us.”

Responsible Business – Chouinard, Y. and V. Stanley
Background to the responsible business values and approaches at Patagonia. “At Patagonia, making a profit is not the goal because the Zen master would say profits happen ‘when you do everything else right.’”

Reinventing Fire – Lovins, A.
A route to a non fossil fuel future in four industries that includes the built environment. Reinventing Fire will require tapping, in particular, the two biggest motherlodes of energy, efficiency and the Sun.

Eden – Smit, T.
Background to the development and principles of the Eden Project in Cornwall, UK. “…. construction is a culture that depends on warfare and fault finding that is not compatible with collaborative partnerships …”

&

FutuREstorative: Working Towards a New Sustainability Brown, M.
Focuses on the emergence of a net positive and restorative sustainability, as a more rounded social, wellness, health and healthy buildings debate “We can and must reignite sustainability, set the sustainability soul on fire, make sustainability fun and exciting, and inspire a new generation – not only for a vision of sustainability that is regenerative but a vision that also acknowledges the damage of the past and makes amends, healing the future

 FutuREstorative : is available via RIBA Bookshops and other online book services!

Sustainability, Sharing and Success

Below is my keynote presentation given to the UCLan Teaching and Learning conference recently, where the theme of the conference was Sustainability, Sharing and Success.

My keynote covered development of sustainability thinking, from the throwaway dreams and society  of the 1950’s to the circular economy, from the ubiquitous Brundtland definition to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, from sustainable buildings to healthy, biophilic and salutogenic buildings that heal. The keynote explored sharing through social media, and successful, ‘just’ sustainability leadership.

All themes covered  in detail within FutuREstorative published end of August 2016.

Circular Economy and the Built Environment

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Updated: Ready for a Circular Economy?

This coming week sees a number of circular economy events, for example Green Vision 10th Feb  (#GVis2016) in Bradford and ConstructCE 12 Feb (#cethinking) in London. Also see the Build Well 2016 Feb 10/11 event in the USA.  If you are at all interested in learning more about Circular Economy and its current popularity in construction, get along to at least one for these, and, engage via their twitter streams

This blog has mentioned and covered concepts of Circular Economy, Cradle to Cradle and related themes on many occasions, including the 2008 Constructing Excellence Lancashire Waste is Stupid event and presentation for that asked the question when did the construction Take Make Dump become acceptable, and why it remains so.

Whilst we see an increase in interest and a hunger to understand, an occasional interface with mainstream sustainability (as represented by BREEAM) and with BIM (GreenBIM), circular economy thinking struggles to gain any real traction within the built environment.

Research shows that the circular economy could be worth up to £29billion to the UK economy. It remains unclear how much of this would be construction related, but is this another area we can apply the rule of thumb 40% factor to, making a significant impact on the sector?

The Living Building Challenge provides a great framework for circular economy thinking, requiring for example, Conservation Plans not just Site Waste Management Plans, and pulls on the DfD (Design for Disassembly or Design for Deconstruction) principles as a guide for material selection and management within Living Building Challenge projects.

And it is DfD principles that will form the core of my talk at the Green Vision circular economy with examples from recent visits in the UK, Europe, Canada and the US.

Circular Economy and DfD principles present great opportunities and challenges for todays design and construction within the world of BIM. Can we for example design buildings with materials and components that have a secondary designed life after the first? and, how can we incorporate materials and components that are already insitu within existing buildings? The Alliander company ‘new’ HQ building in the Netherlands demonstrates it is possible, using concepts such as Material Passports to incorporate 80% raw materials from existing buildings and have designed re-use potential for 80% of the new building.

However, if we are serious in designing and constructing buildings with circular economy thinking, with a planned lifetimes reaching to 250 years, as for example in the case of Bullitt Centre, is it acceptable or responsible to specify or include unhealthy or toxic chemicals or materials?  We would be potentially locking risks into many years of use and potentially many future buildings. A good place to start is to ensure the buildings are LBC Red List compliant. The Bullitt Centre has demonstrated toxic material free buildings are possible in six-storey, city centre commercial buildings.

The era of just harm reduction should really be history, and, in an age of responsible construction, the Precautionary Principle (to do no harm where evidence of health or ecological risk exists), should be forefront in design. And if unhealthy or toxic materials are really unavoidable, then project Deconstruction Plan’s must detail the designed replacement rationale and methodology as soon as healthy alternatives become available.

FR_Visuals_FINAL

Circular thinking and DFD are explored within my upcoming RIBA publication FutuRestorative as inspirations and challenges for a new sustainability in the built environment.

Event Links:

Green Vision 10th Feb   Hashtag #GVIs2016 @lsigreenvision

CE Thinking 12 Feb  Hashtag #CEthinking @constructCE 

Build Well 2016 Feb 10/11 @BuildWELL_EBNet

Avoiding PVC health hazards through substitute materials.

Aside from building materials that present obvious and accepted hazards to health (asbestos, leadpaint etc) it is PVC that generates the most discussion when exploring the Materials RedList imperative in Living Building Challenge training or workshop sessions. To design and construction buildings that are PVC free seems impossible to many, but LBC projects are doing just that through viable alternatives.
PVC imageThe Perkins+Will white paper, Healthy Environments, Whats New (and Whats Not) with PVC published last week (16th Nov) reviewed why PVC is on their ‘precautionary list’ in light of recent advances in PVC chemistry and manufacture. The white paper, a collaboration with the Healthy Building Network, to promote health in the built environment, concluded that despite advances in production, PVC should remain on their precautionary list.

Influential materials rating systems, including the Living Building Challenge building certification and Cradle to Cradle product certifications recommend avoiding PVC. Influential building owners such as Kaiser Permanente and Google have adopted PVC avoidance policies. Perkins+Will, an international architecture practice with about 1,000 architects, included PVC in its Precautionary List as a substance for which to seek alternatives.

“Exposure to a single PVC fire can cause permanent respiratory disease… Due to its intrinsic hazards, we support efforts to identify and use alternative building materials that do not pose as much risk as PVC to fire fighters, building occupants or communities.”  Richard M Duffy, International Association of Fire Fighters139

This does not mean that Perkins+Will has eliminated the specification of all PVC-based products. Instead, in keeping with the precautionary principle, when evidence indicates a relevant adverse finding as it relates to human health or negative environmental impact, Perkins+Will seeks to, where possible and appropriate, present alternatives to building owners for their consideration. The goal is to empower design teams to make informed decisions, recognising that this is an issue where scientific certainty is elusive.

Perkins+Will includes PVC on the Precautionary List because it presents hazards to people and the environment, beginning with its synthesis and continuing through its manufacture into products, use, and additional significant hazards during its disposal or recycling.

The white paper includes detailed analysis on the Health Hazards Associated With PVC and Hazardous Emissions from PVC, but the section on Avoiding PVC hazards through substitute materials will be of great help for those seeking PVC free constructions.

Avoiding PVC hazards through substitute materials