Updated: Sep 25, 2018
Our society is held together by our ideas, concepts and beliefs. Sometimes these systems feel so alien to the natural world, it’s as if humans are divided from the rest of the planet. Recently an awareness of this schism has grown. We talk about climate change, the depletion of natural resources, and how the ways we live are at odds with our environment. Our geological era has been coined the Anthropocene age– viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment. One can look at this as paralyzing and defeatist, or one can look at our current situation as a signifier of human potential.
The green building movement has accepted this responsibility with open arms, recognizing our need to adapt and our capacity to innovate. It has realized that the built environment not only affects the health of the planet and is responsible for over 40% of US energy consumption, but also has a tremendous effect on our immediate health. We spend 90% of our time indoors. Ninety percent! What’s more is that studies have shown indoor air quality can be 10 times more polluted than outdoor air.
Fortunately, the building sector is not sitting idle. There are strong organizations guiding builders towards healthy materials selection, water conservation, and energy efficiency. There are innovators taking on the challenge of creating new, intelligent products and systems. And there are people like you who choose to use and enact these practices. Below are some of the organizations and certifications to look for when trying to create a home that supports optimal indoor air quality.
When choosing which products to use, we can look towards the Living Building Challenge’s Red List Free Declare Label, the Greenguard Environmental Institute’s Greenguard label, the Forest Stewardship Council’s FSC certification and the Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Institute’s certifications.
I. The Living Building Challenge’s Red List Free Declare Label assures users that a product does not contain toxic chemicals that undermine our health. The criteria for this standard is set forth by the International Living Future Institute, founder of the Living Building Challenge, which is one of the most stringent green building certifications in existence. Manufacturers who earn the label have to know the chemicals that comprise their product (which can be hundreds), as well as make sure that these chemicals comply with LBC’s standards. Products with the Red List Free Declare Label meet some of the highest health standards.
II. The Greenguard Environmental Institute’s Greenguard Label addresses the volatile organic compound (VOCs) emissions of a given product. Manufacturers must meet rigorous emissions standards in order to comply. Volatile organic compounds are primary indoor air pollutants. They also produce smog, which exacerbates global warming. There are two different levels of certifications: Greenguard and Greenguard Gold. Greenguard Gold certified products have been tested for a greater number of VOCs and also meet California’s Department of Public Health’s indoor air quality testing criteria and levels.
III. The Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Institute is based on the work of William McDonough and Michael Braungart. Their groundbreaking book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, discusses the importance of not simply recycling materials, but upcycling them so that they can be continuously used, thus avoiding the landfill. A product can be Cradle to Cradle Certified or Material Health Certified. In order to be Cradle to Cradle Certified, a product must meet standards in five categories including Material Health, Material Reutilization, Renewable Energy & Carbon Management, Water Stewardship and Social Fairness. Similar to the LBC Red List Free Declare Label, C2C’s Material Health Certification must avoid a list of toxic chemicals. In order to achieve C2C’s Material Health Certification, manufacturers must comply with all criteria of the Material Health category in the Cradle to Cradle certification.
IV. The Forest Stewardship Council protects our trees! Products that are certified by the FSC originate from forest management practices that counteract deforestation. FSC certified forests prohibit logging of old growth trees, employ measures to protect water sources and forbid the use of the toxic herbicide atrazine– which has been linked to causing birth defects and water pollution. Atrazine is banned in Europe, however it is still legal in the US. Aside from being some of the most peaceful and nurturing places to spend time in, forests are incredibly important to the health of the planet. They produce oxygen, take in CO2 and filter pollutants. By purchasing FSC certified products such as lumber, we can be stewards of the earth, as well as defenders of the forests that support our survival.
The Green Materialist prioritizes the selection of materials meeting or exceeding these certification standards.