Healthy Materials

Pam Anderson, Joan Klein, Suzanne Morin, and Allison Zuchman of PDT attended the Healthy Materials Summit in Boston in November. The Healthy Materials Summit, the first to be held in New England, was a giant leap in broadening the dialogue about making a greater positive impact when choosing building materials and products. By requiring full disclosure and transparency of material composition for each product that goes into our buildings, we can challenge manufacturers, designers, specifiers, and end-users to make informed decisions not only about the environmental qualities of materials but also about how materials we choose impact human health and comfort. At the Summit, industry leaders Nadav Malin (BuildingGreen), Bill Walsh (Healthy Buildings Network), Denis Darragh (Forbo Flooring Systems), Tracey Powel (ASSA ABLOY), Heather Henriksen (Harvard Office for Sustainability), and Melissa McCullough (Environmental Health & Safety, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute) spoke about where the market is now, the opportunities and challenges around driving the marketplace toward health product declarations, and the branding of their own organizations around material transparency and sustainability.

Twenty years ago the industry started promoting green materials. That translated into a myriad of products with varying degrees of recycled and regional content. Toxins were addressed most commonly with low- or no-VOC products. Today a more holistic approach is needed to also address life-cycle costs and the health impact of materials. EPD’s (environmental product declarations) and HPD’s (health product declarations) are two tools being adopted by the industry that move us in that direction.

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An EPD is a summary of the environmental characteristics of a product based on its life-cycle assessment. The life-cycle assessment is based on information from sourcing and transportation of raw materials, to product installation, durability and maintenance, all the way to repurposing, recycling or disposing of the material at the end of its life.

A health product declaration (HPD), the focus of the Summit, is a nutrition label for a building product. A HPD reports a product’s contents and each ingredient’s relationship to the bigger picture of human and ecological health. A HPD increases transparency by disclosing ingredients and their potential health hazards and reduces redundancy by referencing existing hazard lists, EPD’s and other information that is available industry-wide. Unlike the EPD, the HPD has a standard, fixed reporting format which creates consistency, makes clear which information is reported and which is not, and is free to use.

For more information see the following resources: Health Product Declaration Collaborative Perkins+Will Transparency List Pharos Declare