Google’s Green Frontier

Make the Switch to Healthy Materials
If you can’t implement substitutions for every substance right away, start with the low-hanging fruit. For example, switch to greener furnishings gradually when it’s time to replace older items with coatings that contain VOCs.

From there, the cooperation of your vendors will be absolutely vital. Not every company has the market leverage Google does, but its strategies can certainly help you make headway. Try these four steps to gradually green your building materials:

  1. “The first question is to ask what ingredients are in their products,” Sturgeon advises. “Asking is often as easy as taking the red list and saying ‘Do you have any of these in your products?’ It’s an important first step.”

  2. Emphasize transparency for all products, regardless of where they fall on the green spectrum, Ravitz adds. Make it clear to your vendors that you need detailed information on what’s in each product and its possible health and environmental impacts. Initially, some of Google’s vendors and manufacturers hesitated to supply that much information, but simply asking the right questions sends a signal to the manufacturer that customers want greener products.

  3. “What do you buy a lot of? What are the materials in your facility that people often come in contact with? Where do you have leverage points and relationships?” Ravitz explains. “You might buy a lot of carpet and furniture, for example, but maybe you know your furniture vendor better than your carpet vendor. Find the practical issues where you have leverage points.”

  4. Strive to maintain and constantly improve this relationship into the future, Lent says. There may not be good substitutes available for some products right now, but consistently driving home the message that the marketplace needs sustainable alternatives will help push manufacturers of building materials and supplies toward better, healthier products.

Urge manufacturers to take advantage of the same resources you use, whether that involves applying for a green product certification or simply sharing product ingredients with Pharos.

“It’s time to start raising the flags – for example, telling manufacturers to put resources into getting away from bisphenol A chemistry,” Lent says. “We know we don’t have a lot of options right now, but we’re going to be watching for them.”

LEED v4: Timeline of a Chemical Controversy

The upcoming LEED upgrade was criticized by some this summer for discouraging the use of certain materials - but why? Here’s how it happened.

Where the Problem Started: USGBC released the first draft of LEED 2012 (now known as LEED v4) for public comment in November 2010. The new LEED offering proposed a voluntary Materials & Resources credit, Avoidance of Chemicals of Concern, which was based on European Commission EC No. 1907/2006 Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), according to the USGBC’s breakdown of LEED v4’s changes over previous versions.

REACH requires safety assessments, labeling, and eventual restriction or phase-out for certain chemicals marketed and distributed in the European Union. The LEED credit based on REACH rewards participants who can show that at least 20% of the materials in their buildings avoid materials with component chemicals and breakdown products that have high levels of persistence (time to break down naturally), bioaccumulation (how a substance builds up in a living organism and becomes concentrated in the food chain), and human and/or ecotoxicity as defined by the GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals Benchmarks.

This hazard assessment tool is produced by Clean Production Action, which designs and delivers green chemical compounds, sustainable materials, and environmentally preferable products.

Enforcement is still being implemented, but the current version of REACH calls for the phase-out of “high priority” substances that include PVC, vinyl, and some phthalates used in roofing membranes.

How the Conflict Arose: During the third comment period in summer 2012, the new credit drew fire from the newly formed American High Performance Buildings Coalition (AHPBC), a collective of 27 trade organizations that included the American Chemistry Council and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The group was formed around the same time that the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) reviewed the use of green building standards for federal facilities. The AHPBC urged the government to switch to Green Globes, a green rating system it felt was fairer and more business-friendly, and charged in a public statement that the development process for LEED credits wasn’t transparent or consensus-based.

What Happened Next: USGBC opted to delay the release of LEED v4 until 2013 to help stakeholders more fully understand the changes. The fifth public comment period for LEED v4 will be open until Dec. 10 so that USGBC can spotlight the changes in forums and educational sessions at Greenbuild in November. LEED 2009 will remain available to projects for three years after LEED v4’s release, according to


Janelle Penny is associate editor of BUILDINGS.




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