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One of the most important areas in understanding acceptable attributes for products used in green building is the emergence of “green chemistry” and its focus on the ingredients used in manufacturing. Because of green chemistry, we now know to look for products with no added formaldehyde and low- or zero-VOCs. And because of green chemistry standards and manufacturers who’ve adopted them—we can find them. But formaldehyde and VOCs were just the beginning, and, as transparency increases and new evaluation tools develop, we’ll get a deeper look into more and more ingredients that may be better to avoid—things like semi-volatile organic compounds, phthalates and halogenated flame retardants, heavy metals, antimicrobials, bisphonal A (BPA), and perfluorochemicals.

This science will become the basis for more specific evaluations on the health impacts and unintentional consequences of using products that, by other measures, appear to be appropriate choices.

What started with pioneering research by the Healthy Building Network and Cascadia Green Building Council, groups that collaborated to develop the Pharos Project and the Living Building Challenge Red List of products to avoid, has evolved into a new initiative with BuildingGreen called the Materials Research Collaborative. The Collaborative is working toward developing a new open standard for reporting called a Health Product Declaration that will complement Environmental Product Declarations and life-cycle assessments by addressing product content and health information in a standardized reporting protocol.