Can JUST label bring social justice to building materials?

What is the human toll for our purchases? Do the organizations we support care about their employees? Do they support the local community? How is their money invested?

These are some unanswered questions leaders in green building design say we have not addressed as we have developed ways of evaluating green buildings through certifications, such as the International Living Future Institute's Living Building Challenge (LBC) and the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED certification.

The Living Building Challenge, launched by Jason F. McLennan and the Cascadia Green Building Council in 2006, requires a stringent accounting for energy, materials, water, waste and beauty. Just as LEED evolves with new versions -- and now has begun to address materials more rigorously -- LBC continues to adjust and ratchet up requirements. A year ago, LBC launched Declare, an ingredient label for building products that answers questions such as where it is made, what's in it and where it goes at the end of its life.

At the Living Future's annual conference last week in Seattle, McLennan and BNIM founder Bob Berkebile launched the JUST label, an extension of the Declare label that addresses social justice and equity issues, such as as diversity, worker rights, health care and employee happiness, occupational safety and stewardship practices, including investments and community involvement.

Both Declare and JUST are part of a push for greater transparency for products materials in green buildings.

"There's now a strong movement afoot. We are not satisfied with not knowing what we are buying," McLennan says. "If we are going to eat on it or sit on it, we have a right to know what we are exposed to. This transparency is one of the key pieces that is missing."

Says Berkebile, also one of the founders of the Living Building Challenge, "The truth is that equity and social justice have not been part of the conversation."

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Bullitt Center image by John Stamets.