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Google Gives $3 Million for Toxicity R+D

By Paula Melton

This article originally appeared on BuildingGreen.com.

January 08, 2013
Google has a long history of creating healthy indoor environments designed to enhance comfort and productivity. The idea for this project emerged from our own work, explains the companys green team lead, Anthony Ravitz.
Photo courtesy Google
Google has a long history of creating healthy indoor environments designed to enhance comfort and productivity. The idea for this project emerged from our own work, explains the companys green team lead, Anthony Ravitz.

On November 14, 2012, at the Greenbuild convention in San Francisco, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)  announced a $3 million grant from Google.org, the philanthropic arm of the Internet search giant, for researching building material hazards and identifying healthier alternatives. The grant will  build on a growing trend toward publishing product ingredients and hazard information through programs like the Health Product Declaration (HPD), according to Brendan Owens, P.E., director of LEED technical development at USGBC.

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Proposed LEED v4 credits would reward the use of tools like the HPD, which allows full ingredient disclosure in a standardized format (rather than the more common marketing move of identifying what’s not in a product). But as more companies take this path, interpreting all the data could prove daunting for building professionals, Owens says. “We’re not conceiving that a project team is going to be able to discern from HPD information in its raw state what are good decisions and bad decisions,” he says. Instead, Owens is hoping that new tools will develop to help teams filter data and make it useful. USGBC, he said, would be acting as a “convener,” working with partners to spur software development. Noting that similar efforts in the past have taken three to four years to get off the ground, Owens says, “This grant from Google is directly intended to help us short-circuit the development timeline that those programs take.”

One of the ways in which Owens envisions development proceeding is providing health information as background data in building information modeling (BIM) software. This could work in much the same way that product attributes like recycled content and regional sourcing can already be tracked and documented—mostly behind the scenes—in BIM.

He emphasizes, though, that tools for interpreting product information will only be as good as the data that goes into them: “If there’s no data, then there’s no output. You also have to get manufacturers feeding the engines.”

Disclosure: Nadav Malin, the president of BuildingGreen (GreenSource's editorial partner) is on the board of the Health Product Declaration Collaborative, a not-for-profit that manages the HPD format.

Copyright 2013 by BuildingGreen Inc.

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