On Wednesday at Greenbuild in Boston, architecture and design firm Perkins+Will unveiled a revamped Precautionary List. First launched in 2008, the list is a compilation of those chemicals found in building materials that are known or suspected to have an adverse impact on human and environmental health. The aim of the project is to help designers and others make more informed decisions about specifying, maintaining, and disposing of the products in their buildings. With this overhaul, the firm and its partners—the environment advocacy nonprofit, the Healthy Building Network, and the real estate departments of Google and Harvard University—hope to make the resource, which is available for anyone to use at no charge, more accessible. “We wanted to develop a site that works for everyone, not just Perkins+Will,” said Mary Dickinson, a firm senior associate at a reception and panel discussion held at the firm’s Boston offices.
At the event, the collaborators walked guests through the new site. It relays sobering facts such as the number of chemicals in use in the U.S.—more than 82,000—stating that only about 200 of these have been tested for threats to human health and safety. “We are legally allowed to poison ourselves in the U.S.,” said Heather Ann Henriksen, director of Harvard’s office of sustainability.
The new Precautionary List site also includes a searchable list of substances with an overview and description of each and an outline of the kind of hazards each represents: i.e., a carcinogen, a threat to reproductive health, or an endocrine disruptor. But the part of the redesigned site that designers and architects are likely to find most useful is examples of typical applications, including offices, residences, and hospital rooms. The pages devoted to these hypothetical case studies have call outs that help users understand where in the built environment the chemicals of concern are commonly found and identify more benign alternatives.
The ultimate goal of the endeavor is to raise awareness and create demand for better and healthier products. “The decisions we make have implications,” said Paula McEvoy, a co-director of Perkins+Will’s firmwide sustainable design initiative. “Let’s push the industry in the right direction.”
Also at Greenbuild, Perkins+Will announced that the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has formally adopted RELi, the resilience consensus standard that the firm helped develop with the Institute for Market Transformation to Sustainability. RELi is intended as tool for designing buildings, neighborhoods, and communities that better withstand shocks and stressors, like hurricanes, super storms, drought, and earthquakes. RELi’s adoption by the USGBC means that the standard will soon become a rating system under the USGBC’s purview, similar to, but independent from LEED.