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Five Takeaways from Greenbuild 2017

By Jasmine Madson on December 27, 2017

Greenbuild is the largest global conference and expo devoted to green building. Zeroing in on the materials track, below are five noteworthy takeaways from Greenbuild 2017. Even if you never select building materials, the factors at play in healthy materials selection reach far beyond recycled content and off-gassing, and into the practices of everyday life.

1. mindful MATERIALS buzz

mindful MATERIALS: These two words seemed to be everywhere at Greenbuild 2017. Created at HKS in 2014, mindful MATERIALS is now an industry-led initiative whose mission is to make it easier for designers to select building materials that lead to healthier environments for us all. mindful MATERIALS is run by a collaborative group of individuals from various firms, and housed in a cloud-based data hub called Origin, powered by GIGA. It’s free to all and is a source for transparency, optimization documentation and certifications. Not a certification in and of itself – it’s a tool utilized to make more informed product selections.

2. Reexamining churn

What’s churn? Churn is planned obsolescence – things designed to set or coincide with trends, go out of style, and be discarded. This cycle began after World War II to keep factories operating and women in the workforce, a prime example being the colored appliance trends of the decades that followed. With the predicted volume of plastics in the ocean equaling that of fish by 2050, designing to reduce waste at all scales is something we need to approach with a sense of urgency.

3. Insight from HKS’ chief operating officer

Kirk Teske, HKS’ chief operating officer, spoke on a market harmonization panel that addressed the business case for sustainable building practices. As Construction Specialties’ senior sustainability consultant, Howard Williams, said during the presentation, “No change is effective until it becomes economic change.” Teske explained the driving forces behind the creation of Mindful MATERIALS, namely the role healthy materials have in improving life for everyone.

4. Taking it outside

The healthy materials conversation is becoming less focused on interior materials and more focused on the full lifecycle of all products. It’s no longer just about air quality, but about the epidemic of thyroid disorders, learning disabilities and autoimmune diseases attributed to persistent bioaccumulative chemicals, chemicals that never break down in the body or in nature. In enormous quantities, they’re being released into the ecosystem – our ecosystem, the source of the water we drink and the food we eat – as we produce the materials with which to construct buildings.

5. Harvard is blazing a (material) trail

Harvard University has set goals to eliminate chemicals of concern from flooring, wall base, window treatments and furniture, using the Six Classes approach and a recently published cognitive effects study, showing the immediate impact of working in a healthy interior environment. Harvard’s first step in approaching material selection is one we should learn from: when in doubt, follow the precautionary principle of a health-first mindset.

In the words of Robin Bass, Google’s [e]Team lead, “now that you know, you can’t pretend that you don’t know.”

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