Designing Green and Recognizing Red

Posted by D/P/S Continuum | November 12, 2018

D/P/S employees are lifelong learners driven by a desire to share information. Friday Focus, an informal, bi-weekly group discussion with morning coffee and treats, brings staff together to talk about design, ask questions, and share the things that inspire them.

Past Friday Focus discussions have ranged from "Ask Me Anything" circle time with Bill Sabatini to dialogue about Facade and Enclosure design and trends in interior design.

This Fall, after a year of intensive research, Sarah Noble, intern interior designer, and Stasha Thompson, interior design administrative assistant, shared their understanding of red list products and building materials. They coined this research “Red or Green”, a common phrase in New Mexican culture, to emphasize the distinctive difference between designing “green” and recognizing “red.”

While D/P/S is very knowledgeable in green design, we also take a proactive approach to discovering where we can eliminate “red” design. And, we are committed to pursuing greater transparency in product labeling. 

Friday Focus: Designing Green, Recognizing Red

Did you know that the government is not required to regulate cancer causing chemicals in the products we use on a daily basis?

The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 authorizes the government to step in only after a substance’s potential for harm has been demonstrated.

Manufacturers are under no requirement to submit products for federal blessing in advance of marketing them. Nor is the chemical structure of these compounds detailed on consumer labels.

What are Red List Chemicals?

Green design pursues initiatives such as recycling, water conservation, and energy efficiency in order to reduce overall consumption. However, just because a design is “green,” doesn’t mean it’s not “red”. It may have recycled content, but still contain red list chemicals.

The International Living Future Institute (ILFI) has developed the most comprehensive list of chemicals that are prevalent in the building industry and have been designated as harmful to living creatures, including humans, or the environment. The goal of this “Red List” is to advocate for phasing these materials out of production, including common chemicals like mercury, phthalates, chromium VI and formaldehyde.

Some chemicals on the Red List are harmful to workers during the manufacturing process, some can bio-accumulate within the food chain until they reach toxic concentrations, and some pollute the environment in different phases of their life, including during production or disposal. All of them are considered by ILFI to be dangerous.

Why Do We Care?

Recent research published in nature International Journal of Sciencerevealed that 70% of cancer is environmental. And, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans spend up to 90% of their time indoors.

D/P/S recognizes  that the materials used in buildings have the potential to impact users and endeavors to stay on top of changing industry practices and scientific research. We care deeply about the health of our communities and as design professionals, we have the opportunity to not only provide beautiful and functional green buildings, but also design for the short-term and long-term physical health and wellbeing of all of their users.

What Can We Do?

Our firm, and other architects can seek out labels that reveal honesty in material ingredients, have intentional conversations internally and with our clients, and continue to explore healthier alternatives to products commonly used in the industry.

At D/P/S we start our specifications by looking for products that can be found within the Mindful Materials library, and we dig deeper to find supporting documents.

Awareness spreads faster than knowledge. We work to spread this awareness in our firm by having internal discussions with our team, starting with the Interior Design group, and being available for consultation with others.

And, we talk with our product representatives, asking for transparency labels in order to know what is in the products we specify. These conversations build awareness within the industry and guide manufacturers to not only be socially accountable but to remove the hazardous ingredients in their products.

We will continue to push beyond being content with “green” design and make the effort to educate our staff and our clients about options for eliminating the “red” as well.

Want to Learn More? Start Here:

Mindful Materials Labeling Initiative
The Red List

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