Considering the environmental impacts of building materials has never been more important than it is today.
The potential environmental impacts of construction materials are an important element of the evaluation of alternative products. However, the presentation of environmental data by individual manufacturers is inconsistent and direct comparisons are difficult.
Fortunately, there are a number of independent bodies that carry out construction product research and provide a framework to benchmark alternative materials. One of the most influential of these in the International Living Future Institute (ILFI).
The ILFI is a non-profit organisation working to build an ecologically minded, restorative world for all people. Using principles of social and environmental justice, ILFI seeks to counter climate change by pushing for an urban environment free of fossil fuels.
The ILFI conducts educational programmes to equip architects and designers with a framework to achieve Zero Carbon - both operational and embodied. Alongside this The Living Product Challenge (LPC) is the world’s most advanced product sustainability standard.
There are two key transparency tools that are the basis of the product analysis:
The Red List
The Red List represents the “worst in class” materials, chemicals, and elements known to pose serious risks to human health and the greater ecosystem that are prevalent in the building products industry.
The ILFI believes that these materials should be phased out of production due to human and/or environmental health and toxicity concerns.
Products that do not contain any of these chemicals are designated as Red List Free.
Chemicals on the Red List are widely used in many flooring materials. It's impossible to avoid the conclusion that these products are damaging to the planet and people.
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
PVC is the basis for widely used flooring types including safety flooring, sheet vinyl, woven vinyl and luxury vinyl tile (LVT). It's been included on the Red List because PVC’s vinyl chloride monomer building block is a known human carcinogen. In addition, PVC is a Persistent Organic Pollutant Source Material. Due to its chlorine content, PVC often contains other Red List ingredients, such as cadmium, lead, and phthalates.
The manufacture and disposal of chlorinated polymers can result in the production of dioxins and disposal phases. Dioxins are some of the most potent toxins known to humans, with no known safe limit for exposure and a strong propensity for bioaccumulation. In addition, dioxins are highly persistent in the environment.
These are used as plasticisers to increase the flexibility of many types of plastic including flooring. Mounting evidence from animal studies shows the hormone-disrupting potential of phthalates, primarily ortho-phthalates, prompting the National Research Council to urge the US Environmental Protection Agency to pursue a “cumulative risk assessment” of this class of chemicals to determine their interactivity. Testing by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention shows that phthalates are nearly ubiquitous in the population, with highest concentrations in women and in children aged 6 to 11 years. The endocrine-disrupting nature of phthalates has implications for childhood and reproductive development, as well as cancer incidence.
This is used in the manufacture of epoxy resin floors. Recent testing and epidemiological studies in humans have shown that early life exposure adversely affects neurological function and development, as well as male sex organs.
Antimicrobials (marketed with a health claim)
Antimicrobials are a class of chemicals designed to kill or inhibit the growth of microbes. Antimicrobials are frequently used in building materials, including flooring. Nineteen antimicrobials were banned in soaps and body washes by the FDA in 2016. Antimicrobials used in building materials are regulated by the EPA as a pesticide, falling outside of the scope of the FDA’s ban. Antimicrobials are often used as a preservative in building materials, but the health benefits of their use have not been established or substantiated. Some antimicrobials are endocrine disruptors, and have been shown to impair learning and weaken muscle function.
Declare is a nutrition label for building products. It is designed to help specifiers quickly identify products that meet their project requirements. Declare labels disclose all intentionally added ingredients and residuals at or above 100ppm (0.01%) present in the final product by weight. Each ingredient must be reported with a chemical name, CAS number, and percentage or percentage range.
By facilitating and simplifying the exchange of complex ingredient information, Declare has positively changed the materials marketplace to enable the creation of buildings that support human and environmental health.
All active Declare labels are accessible on a free and searchable database. The database is used by leading designers, large real estate owners, and conscientious homeowners to specify products they know they can trust and that meet the requirements of leading green building standards, including the Core Green Building, LBC, LEED, and WELL Certifications.