Recently graduated from a liberal arts institution, my ideas of advocacy were strong but limited. I began my time at Integral Group as the sustainability intern who was certain advocacy only meant pressure through political and social avenues. With this strong belief, I felt skeptical of the Living Building Challenge intent for economic “good,” until I dived deeply into Imperative 10: Red List Vetting.
International for Living Future Institute (ILFI) hosts the Living Building Challenge (LBC) to advance rigorous performance standards for the built environment. Their design framework includes 7 petals (think categories) including place, water, energy, health + happiness, materials, equity, and beauty. Under these 7 petals, are known as Imperatives. Imperatives are details on how to address how to specific LBC requirements. Under the Materials Petal, Imperative 10: Red List vetting calls for a transparent market. One form of advocacy under Red List includes pressuring manufacturers to share the ingredients they use in their product.
Red List Vetting Process
In the past three months, I have spent sifting through various products from toggles to poke-thrus to then confirm if ingredients such as PVC, lead, asbestos, chromium VI, and BPA  were present in these items. These ingredients are known as the “worst in class materials,” also known as Red List. The center of the process includes pressuring manufacturers to explicitly list the ingredients in each product. In response, if Red List ingredients exist we mention to the manufacturer that their products will not be used on our projects. This is a critical piece to demonstrate the gravity of Red List-free options. Through this process, I have learned the importance of perseverance especially if manufacturers have not heard of LBC before or are very defensive of the ingredients in their products (proprietary exception may apply).
I was one person in this vetting process explicitly stating how environmentally-conscious products are a priority. Now imagine hundreds of individuals advocating for a healthier future. This is what market pressure looks like.
While federal climate policies are under attack, a question we need to address is what other change-making processes can we take to progress the climate movement forward? State, municipal, academic and business leaders across the country, including Integral Group, have pledged to commit to the Paris Climate Agreement despite what the administration believes. LBC’s red list imperative is one piece of an overall movement that can shift the current market to a more transparent one.
As I went through the vetting process, I asked myself, Why is transparency important? In arguing for corporate transparency, businesses hope that this will impact their bottom line as customer trust increases. CEO of ICreon Tech, Himanshu Sareen shares in his article “An Economy of Trust: How Transparency is Changing the Tech Industry,” that customer trustworthiness is spreading across industries.  According to Tristan Roberts and Paula Melton at Building Green on their article “Why Chemical Transparency Matters,” transparency is critical to optimization of health impact and performance. Transparency leads to the collection of data in which we can start analyzing which materials and chemicals are harmful to our built environment.
After presenting on the vetting process in addition to lessons learned, many individuals at our firm have asked me about the impact that this challenge can have nationally. One of my co-workers noted, if we seriously advocate for transparent and healthier options, California will lead the way.
After this process, I am exposed to the diverse routes of advocacy. ILFI’s equity petal states, “the term of citizen above that of consumer.” This intent paves way for equity in the green building movement today, but I am also excited to see longitudinally the waves of impact it will create for the green building movement in the future.