When LEED first launched, trying to find out how much recycled content a product had wasn’t easy. In fact, until the 1990s products that used a lot of recycled material did their best to hide that information out of fear it would be perceived as a sign of inferior quality. How attitudes have changed! Now recycled-content information is built into calculators on hundreds of websites, and no one is surprised when a designer or contractor asks about it.
But recycled content itself was never really the goal—the goal is to use products that are better for our health and for the environment. Recycled content (along with criteria for materials such as “regional” and “rapidly renewable”) is just a relatively accessible indicator of those presumed benefits. But we can do better than such indicators now. That’s why the Living Building Challenge and now LEED v4 are pushing the building-materials industry way beyond its comfort zone.
Illustration by Daniel Bejar
Many of the tools and resources needed to support the new product-selection criteria are just emerging; check out “Made of the Right Stuff?” for details on the new frameworks for ingredients and materials. Green-building pioneers are already applying these new criteria, even if they have to forge their own way and invent their own tools for doing so.
Fortunately for the rest of us, some of these pioneers have chosen to give away the fruits of their labor to help the industry progress more quickly. We have the benefit of transparency.perkinswill.com, where you can find details on the firm’s Precautionary List and other ingredient warnings, and smithgroupjjr.com/transparency, featuring an extensive database of products tagged according to whether they meet the Living Building Challenge Red List and other criteria.
In line with this growing interest in sustainable products, we begin the new year with the addition of “R+D”, a regular column highlighting research and development of these materials and systems, which are revolutionizing the way we design and build. Our first innovator is Doris Kim Sung, an architect and professor investigating the potential of thermo-bimetals.