The growing demand for transparency in buildings

The selection process must include the products’ environmental and material health attributes. Photos ©
The selection process must include the products’ environmental and material health attributes.
Photos ©

The standard is built around concepts of air, water, nourishment, light, movement, thermal comfort, sound, materials, mind, and community and optimizations, which are analogous to the credits within LEED. The most recent version of WELL, v2, is in the pilot phase, and several preconditions and optimizations are focused on material transparency and health within the “Materials” concept.

LBC v3.1 and v4.0

Developed by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI), LBC is a performance standard focused on creating buildings that are:

  • regenerative spaces connecting occupants to light, air, food, nature, and community;
  • self-sufficient and remain within the resource limits of their site (living buildings produce more energy than they use and collect and treat all water onsite); and
  • healthy and beautiful.

The standard is built around seven petals—place, water, energy, health and happiness, materials, equity, and beauty—and 20 imperatives, which vary between v3.1 and v4.0.

The one imperative most directly related to material optimization is referred to as the Red List. According to ILFI, the Red List contains the worst classes of chemicals or materials found in building products. These chemicals or materials are known to pollute the environment, bio-accumulate, and potentially harm individuals with significant exposure to them, including construction and factory workers. Examples of Red List chemicals or materials include asbestos, cadmium, halogenated flame retardants, lead, phthalates, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and added formaldehyde. While there are a couple of temporary exceptions to the Red List, the overall requirement to qualify for this imperative in v3.1 is that the building project cannot contain any of these chemicals or materials. In v4.0, projects must avoid the use of the Red List chemical classes on the updated list in 90 percent of the project’s new materials by cost.

Deconstructing myths

Although the requirements in each of these rating systems can vary, some common misconceptions can limit their implementation and the drive for buildings where products are transparently disclosed and optimized.

There are not enough environmental and material transparency documents available to meet the rating system requirements

While this may have been true in the past, the recent increase in demand for transparency and optimization has pushed manufacturers to publish documentation for their products. This includes building controls, lighting, electrical and digital infrastructure, and A/V products that are necessary for high-performance buildings.

Even if there are enough documents, it is too difficult to find them for differing product categories

There are a number of trusted sources for finding transparency documents, ranging from the databases managed by the organizations administering the documents, like the HPDC Public Repository, Declare Products Database, UL SPOT Database, Cradle to Cradle Certified Products Registry, and Material Health Certificate Registry to platforms compiling varying forms of documentation across a host of building products, like Mindful MATERIALS, Sustainable Minds, BuildingGreen + Designer Pages, Ecomedes, and the recently released Better Materials website from the Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI). The website allows users to search across several leading platforms.

There are no existing forums for built environment stakeholders to collaborate on driving the industry forward on transparency and optimization

While there are certainly others (including materialsCAN), one of the organizations taking the lead on this front is the Living Product 50 (LP50), a group of manufacturers. Run by ILFI, LP50 is committed to investing in product transparency and reductions in environmental and human health impacts. Through conversations and collaboration with the design community including through their Materials Pledge group, the LP50 is looking to advance the case for specifying products that are transparently disclosed and/or optimized.


The drive for environmental and material transparency and optimization has come a long way over the past few years, encompassing the increasing number of product categories required to meet advancing building performance and sustainability standards. However, it is incumbent on all the built environment stakeholders to play their part in advancing this effort, from suppliers who provide material and component level data and manufacturers who publish disclosure documentation and design improved products to members of the design community who specify and select products that are disclosed and optimized. If the industry is going to meet its efficiency, optimization, and carbon management goals, stakeholders must work together using a systems-based approach.

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