Resources for Materials Transparency

In recent years, a new concept of what it means to define a building product as “sustainable” has taken hold. Focus has shifted to consider whole-life (i.e., “cradle to grave”) environmental impact, prioritizing the disclosure of ingredients that may be hazardous to human health. 

Novel standards, such as Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and Health Product Declarations (HPDs), have been instrumental in advancing this new definition of sustainability. Designers’ adoption of what has been labeled the "Materials Transparency Movement," coupled with the integration of the aforementioned standards into green building-rating systems, has prompted manufacturers to slowly, but steadily, move toward more health- and eco-friendly production.

As these newly compliant products have come online, resources for finding them have been limited.

In response, a diverse group of industry experts—designers, construction professionals, specifications writers, and consultants—from a variety of design and technical practices—Kalin Associates, Inc.; Columbia Construction CompanyRichard Moore Environmental ConsultingHMFH Architects, Inc.; and The Green Engineer, Inc.—convened to standardize the process, keeping it in line with the movement’s goal of transparency. Drawn together by their shared experience incorporating these standards into past projects, the group offers guidelines for fellow designers, developers, and building owners to develop projects that take into account the effects of materials on the environment and building occupants.

The group set out to accomplish three primary goals: Provide a unified language that can be used across disciplines, from design to construction; ensure that this language can be applied to specifications, regardless of whether the subcontractor is a materials expert; and publish materials in an easily shareable format.

The following resources are the results of their efforts, offered here in the hope that their use will encourage collaboration and conversation. 

Product Data Reporting Form

  • Created to integrate new materials transparency options for all product data submittals, this form can be included on any project and provides resources and definitions for subcontractors. 

Specifications Language for Materials Attributes

  • Contains generic language outlining the attributes of each different material, and can be copied into any specifications book or project manual.

Sample Subsection for Division 1 of Specifications

  • Outlines the sustainability requirements of projects and includes all new materials requirements.

Sample Specifications: Aluminum & Carpet

  • Sample spec sections on carpet and aluminum, which then serve as examples that can be applied to other chosen materials.

EPD Cheat Sheet

  • Key elements for confirming an EPD, including the standards with which it must comply, the certification period, and credits.

Substitution Request Form

  • Ensures that when a subconsultant wants to find an equivalent substitution, that substitution takes into account sustainability requirements.

Tip Sheet for LEED

  • Presents an overview of the group’s findings in relation to LEED credits.

Google Spreadsheet for Tracking EPDs and HPDs

  • A comprehensive spreadsheet of all materials that fit the above criteria.