Tag Archives: redlist

Bringing wellbeing to construction with Red List compliant, biophilic net-zero site accommodation.

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… making sure our employees in the field have the same wellbeing …

Readers of this blog, attendees at my presentations, and those I consult and audit with, will recognise my advocacy for implementing wellbeing aspects (that we increasingly build into our projects), for those who are constructing the projects – and into the site accommodation.

It is extremely encouraging to catch up with news from Chicago-based Pepper Construction who unveiled its Net Zero Jobsite Trailer in November at Greenbuild show at the end of last year.

The Net Zero Jobsite Traile is a 12×60-foot structure ‘designed to focus on the human experience, productivity, and quality from every aspect to make sure employees in the field have the same wellness features as those in a traditional office setting.

“Most people spend about 90% of their time indoors, and that environment has a significant impact on our health,” says Susan Heinking, AIA, LEED Fellow, Pepper’s VP of High Performance and Sustainable Construction, who led the project. “That philosophy also applies to the men and women working on our jobsites. We want our trailer to match our values.”

The ‘trailer’ is fitted out with RedList compliant furniture and materials, with recycled felt over the conference room providing sound absorption incorporating biophilic patterns through organic patterns.

Read more here.

If we in the construction sector are serious in delivering healthy buildings, then surely this approach must become commonplace on all projects – certainly those delivering to Well Build Standard, The Living Building Challenge or platinum LEED or BREEAM projects?  And of course should form a part of these standards itself, as a socially just approach.

I will be visiting Future Build in London in March, and look forward to seeing similar innovative approaches from construction organisations  (and by the way I am talking on the 5th)

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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)

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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.

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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.

Materials in Buildings: the impact on health of those who work, learn and play within them.

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“the next phase of market transformation for the built environment is going to be led by material performance …” 

Health and wellbeing issues relating to the materials we specify, purchase, build with and dispose of has been increasingly arising in discussions of late. These may be within CSR, Environmental ISO workshops or in events such as the Specifi series (recent London). Indeed it is unusual for wellbeing in relation to materials not to be on the agenda for sustainability events.

In addition, within sustainability related meetings with clients, contractors and facilities management organisations, the issue of material health raises, often in reference to Grenfell, asking the question – do we really know the wider impacts on what we specifi, build with, maintain, replace  or dispose of?

Alongside this there is a rapidly growing interest in health related material standards such as Declare, RedList, Portico Fitwell and Well

A welcome addition to the debate is the (forthcoming) Materials Wellography from the Well Build people at IWBI. Below is an extract from their recent blog release which provides a very useful insight to the importance of materials and products we work with day in and day out.

Materials WELLography; your guide to the connection between the materials and products that make up the built environment, and the effect they have on the health of those who work, learn and play within them.

Materials make up our world. Much of the industrialized world is built from man-made, industrial chemicals. The chemical industry converts raw materials into more than 70,000 different chemical substances that make up our world. As the global population increases and urban centers expand, so do both the demand for manufactured goods and the rate of chemical production, which is projected to grow three times faster than the global population and to double every 25 years.1

The quantity and variety of chemicals on the global market makes the task of tracking chemical hazards both critical and extremely difficult. An estimated 95% of chemicals, used largely in construction, lack sufficient data on human health effects.,2 Although various countries apply their own framework for the management of chemical production and use, these are not harmonized globally, so different chemicals are regulated to different extents in different countries.

Life cycle of building materials and exposure hazards. Exposure to harmful chemicals can happen at various stages in the lifecycle of a commercial material or product. Below is an example of this lifecycle:

  1. Exposure can occur when contaminants are released into the environment during manufacturing or materials extraction.3, 4, 5, 6
  2. Throughout occupancy of a built space, chemicals used in furniture, furnishings, paints, adhesives and coatings can off-gas and end up in indoor dust, compromising air quality. 7,8,9,19 Proper ventilation practices and materials selection can help minimize indoor air contaminants. For more information on the benefits of adequate ventilation, refer to the Air WELLography
  3. Finish, maintenance and renovation work often involve dust-laden contaminants, fumes, solvents and gases. This is especially problematic in the absence of the exposure and ventilation controls typically required in production or construction settings.
  4. Construction and demolition work often include exposure to large amounts of dust (made up or and carrying chemical substances), as well as solvents, and other hazardous substances, for example those  associated with use of diesel-powered heavy equipment 10,20. Fortunately, improved awareness of exposure risks in maintenance, renovation and demolition has prompted additional work safety measures through various voluntary standards.

Environmental and Health Impacts. Chemicals used in building materials and byproducts made during their manufacture can persist in the environment. Even small concentrations of these chemicals can find their way into organisms in high enough doses to cause damage. The accumulation of toxicants in water or soil has implications for human health as these chemicals can advance up the food chain and accumulate in human tissue. 14

Long-term, large-scale biomonitoring studies have helped to show the impact of policy changes on human exposure risks. For example, a Swedish study involving long-term testing of human breast milk for the presence of the pesticide DDT and its residues has shown a significant decrease of the chemical following its restriction and later ban. A gradual decrease in PCB is also evident, likely due to efforts to move away from the chemical across the European Union. In contrast to the decline of these two chemicals over time, concentrations of the flame retardant PBDE was found to increase along the same timeline, consistent with increased across EU states. 21

Market forces at work. As evidence of the environmental hazards and health issues related to chemicals accumulates 15, an increasing number of hazard assessment tools emerge in the building material sector. These evaluation tools are being introduced and used in the marketplace as means to differentiate products and ingredients with lower hazards and to certify greener chemical ingredients in consumer products. Despite gaps in data and regulation, the good news is that we have a growing repository of tools at our disposal that can provide direction in understanding the tradeoffs of materials and products over their life cycle.

Careful evaluation and selection of building materials and products is an important and effective first step to identifying safer materials across installation, use, maintenance and disposal. In the long run, the call for the prioritization and responsibility of advancing safer chemicals and sustainable materials can lead to an improved, data-rich market, comprehensive regulations and policy reforms and a shift towards safer chemicals and investment in green chemistry.

Access the full IWBI article here. And download the excellent Well App for news and articles.

References noted above can be found via the IWBI article.

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

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/

Do we really need ‘Green BIM’?

My understanding of BIM is that it is another important step on the built environments journey of improvement, integrated approaches and increased collaborative working. I find it rather disappointing then to see concepts of Green BIM or Sustainable BIM emerging.

If we are serious about holistic improvement then we should see sustainability and green issues baked in to BIM – not as a bolt on. BIM changes everything commented John Lorimer in our PPP event and Collaborative Working document earlier in the year. It must also change our thinking on sustainability as a core improvement issue.

BIM could force direction and set the pace on  wider sustainability and circular economy issues – so for example when selecting materials from BIM libraries into a model procurement decisions can be made on:  Transparency of product composition detailing the chemicals and ingredients, the ability to filter red list compliant materials, check the responsible sourcing issues relating to the product/manufacturer (think BES 6001 or JUST)

BIM, as an industry improvement tool, will fail if it permits the design of buildings that incorporate toxic materials (either in production, construction handling or in use) or socially unjust practices in manufacture or construction. Think Qatar World Cup football stadium design and construction.  Although BIM designed we are now, as an afterthought applying a sustainability and responsibility sticking plaster.

PAS1192 Part 3 (BIM in operational phase) is out for consultation at the moment. The proposed standard focuses on hard FM- asset management and not people orientated soft FM. There is the danger we will not address the health issues of occupants within BIM development and particularly through material selection and management. Health only gets one mention in the proposed standard, and associated with Safety – under risk – there because we always use the word health when we use the word safety – without really thinking through the huge consequences. The draft doesn’t mention the word sustainability at all. (Note see The NBS article on the proposed standard here for more detail)

Just this week the USGBC released LEED v4 at GreenBuild 2013 – significant and controversial in that it includes health transparency issues in material and product selection. As this is the direction sustainable and resposnible construction is heading (think Google HQ and the Red List, think Living Building Challenge)  it is only a matter of time before BREEAM addresses the issue.

This blog has been written as background thinking to supporting the Midge Hole UK Living Building Challenge design phase and my BIM Changes everything presentation to the Lancs Best Practice BIM event on 27th Nov, and supporting my Time to Heal the Future thinking.

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