Greenbuild 2013: Focus sharpens on health and transparency

Greenbuild 2013: Focus sharpens on health and transparency

Longwood green wall by musical photo man via Flickr

This week, an anticipated 40,000 green building professionals and enthusiasts are in Philadelphia for Greenbuild, the U.S. Green Building Council’s annual gathering that is described as the largest conference and expo dedicated to green building in the world.

With high-profile speakers including Hillary Clinton, more than 100 workshops, presentations and informational sessions, almost 30 green building tours, a performance by Bon Jovi and an exhibit hall that includes booths as far as the eye can see, things can get overwhelming. And Greenbuild often does.

But one thing is clear this year: The momentum around materials transparency and health in the built environment is becoming more important than ever.

Here are some examples of recently unveiled initiatives that may propel this important green building movement forward to new levels.

LEED v4

The latest version of the LEED green building rating system has some serious boundary-pushing Materials and Resources (MR) credits. Notably, project teams pursuing LEED v4 certification should not only specify environmental and socially responsible materials and building products that encourage improvement in manufacturing and in the sourcing of raw materials, but also verify it using a quantitative approach. The new LEED also includes credits assessing potential impacts on human health, whole building life cycle impacts of construction and building product disclosure and optimization.

Although parts of the new MR section are still not well defined and somewhat controversial, an architectural design tool is already being launched to address the new life cycle and materials impacts credits. Expect LEED v4 MR credits to be a hot topic this week in Philly.

New alliances and partnerships

Just yesterday, the U.S. Green Building Council and UL Environment announced an exclusive partnership to “increase disclosure and awareness of building material products and processes to better inform building professionals and consumers.”

Described as “the first of its kind in the building and certification industry,” the partnership is meant to “roll out several target initiatives focused on increasing disclosure, awareness and transparency of building product composition and the manufacturing processes.”

The first initiative is the creation of a joint Environmental Product Declaration (EPD), a standardized way of quantifying the environmental impact of a product or system. The hope is that these joint EPDs will be “a solution to increase transparency in building materials and products that are used in buildings, homes, schools, hospitals and other structures.”

Another significant partnership seeking to accelerate this movement is the new Building Health Initiative from the USGBC’s Northern California Chapter. Unveiled in October, the initiative includes companies such as Google, Adobe, Genentech and Salesforce as well as contractors, architects, designers, vendors, academics and healthcare professionals. The intent is "to raise awareness about the health effects of the built environment and shift the market in favor of products and services that not only do less harm but promote human well-being."

By engaging so many stakeholders in buildings and health, this effort has the potential to make this movement bigger than just a green building issue. As Dan Geiger, USGBC-NCC’s executive director, put it in a GreenBiz story breaking the news, "I think everybody sees it coming from a movement standpoint and a market standpoint. ... I think we have a lot of power to change the market.”

Top image of Longwood Gardens green wall by musical photo man via Flickr