UBC Undergraduate Research

Framework for the UBC-Relevant Red List of Materials Polovina, Lorena


The University of British Columbia is renowned as a leader in sustainability and is committed to constructing sustainable buildings. To continue innovating, UBC is introducing a Green Building Plan that focuses on actionable items that promote human and ecological wellbeing in building design. A part of the plan focuses on creating a UBC-relevant Red List of Materials, which compiles all the worst-in-class building material ingredients. These ingredients or chemicals are harmful because they damage the environment, off-gas chemicals in the atmosphere and bio-accumulate in humans and the eco system. Since humans spend most of their time indoors, it is important to construct healthy buildings that will not have a negative impact on human health. There are many firms and organizations that are studying the effects of material health, such as the International Living Future Institute, who came up with the original Red List, Transparency @ Perkins + Will, Healthy Building Network, LEED and much more. The challenge is to synthesize the information across these organizations to create a UBC-relevant Red List of Materials that the university can use to inform its decision making process. The proposed tool is a framework for consultant audiences that assembles and categorizes building material information. While the industry standard is to identify harmful ingredients, the framework looks at specific building products throughout different life cycles. The specifications of Center for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) are used to compile a list of common products, which are researched and analyzed to determine if they contain suspect chemicals and at what level of concern. This gives a clearer idea of how healthy a product is which can inform users to determine if the product should be used or an alternative option is better. Building materials that are potentially harmful to occupants when installed should have a higher priority compared to those that are harmful in their manufacturing phase. There are different ways to use the framework to understand building products. One way is to find information on a specific product and see if there are any health and environmental concerns. Another way is to compare and contrast different product categories (for example vinyl vs. aluminum vs. fiberglass windows). This method could be helpful in the design phase of the project as it gives the designer an idea of the health risks associated with certain products, if there are any. Consultants can also compare and contrast different brands for a certain product type and by doing this they can select the best option. Research challenges included being unable to find product ingredients or forms that were incomplete, inaccurate and out of date. Encouraging manufacturers to declare their product ingredients is important in the future of material health. It is recommended that industry facilitates material declaration for manufacturers and makes this information accessible. UBC-specific recommendations include continuing to expand the framework by researching other UBC building specifications and incorporating both institutional and residential buildings. A UBC-relevant list of ingredients should be created based on the research. The most harmful chemicals should be eliminated first along with products that are most harmful in the occupancy phase. Disclaimer: “UBC SEEDS provides students with the opportunity to share the findings of their studies, as well as their opinions, conclusions and recommendations with the UBC community. The reader should bear in mind that this is a student project/report and is not an official document of UBC. Furthermore readers should bear in mind that these reports may not reflect the current status of activities at UBC. We urge you to contact the research persons mentioned in a report or the SEEDS Coordinator about the current status of the subject matter of a project/report.”

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