The Bullitt Center by Miller + Hull Architects in Seattle has called itself the “greenest commercial building in the world” and aims to meet the Living Building Challenge by going beyond energy and water efficiency towards a ‘restorative’ building that makes more than it uses.  The Living Building Challenge includes ‘the red list’ (see our previous post) a list of chemicals and materials that are not to be used in construction due to their harmful environmental impacts.  One chemical on the list is phthalates, which are primarily used as plasticizers.  Denis Hayes of the Bullitt Foundation describes a very difficult process trying to find a fluid applied waterproof membrane that did not contain phthalates. After researching all the big names, and not finding a single product that would work, they approached several manufacturers with their conundrum, as part of the Living Building Challenge protocol.  When they spoke with Prosoco, one of the manufacturers, said they would look into it. A few weeks later Prosoco came back to the team and said they too were startled by what they read about phthalates, so they were going to see if they could make their product without it.  Sure enough, a few weeks later Prosoco came back and said that they had reformulated their membrane formula to be phthalate free.  Not only that, they would be able to provide this new formula with the same warranties, AND it would replace their previous formula going forward.  They are now advertising that they have ‘phthalate-free’ membranes, when a few months prior no one was even talking about phthalates!

By bringing this little-known chemical to the manufacturer’s attention, they ultimately helped the a pro-active manufacturer get a jump on the market.  I love how quick and effective this change took place with the pull of a large and famous project. It drove a positive change in the market because the right people were involved. Can you imagine how long it would have taken to effect change with a more traditional top-down model? Lobbying the government, getting someone interested in taking the issue on, working through the departments and agencies involved, and finally the writing and approval of the legislation.  The moral of the story: always ask about the green credentials of products and push for greener options.  We are really vocal with our suppliers about our sustainability goals. With enough buyers (architects, builders, and home owners) raising the right questions and emphasizing a desire for greener and higher-performing products the requests will work their way up and impact change.

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