better building materials guide pdf

Most people do not give much thought to what buildings are made of and how materials are
chosen. Building professionals, however, make several major materials decisions (e.g., concrete
versus steel structure) and many small choices (e.g., tile versus laminate flooring) for each building.
Such decisions are often based on aesthetic and functional requirements, like color, texture,
strength, and durability. Information about these attributes is readily available for any building
product. The green building movement has motivated project teams to consider basic human
health and environmental information as well, like VOC emissions, recycled content, and local
sourcing. However, these isolated, single-factor considerations leave many issues unaddressed.
Ensuring human health and protection for the environment across a material’s life cycle involves
much deeper and broader considerations.

The challenges related to materials selection are important, but specific solutions are often
unclear because of the complexities of supply chains, building life cycles, and the underlying
science. There are almost always trade-offs to consider (e.g., between embodied energy and
chemical toxicity), missing scientific information (e.g., the absence of toxicology data), and
limited ingredient information (e.g., the inability to obtain complete data from complex,
multitier supply chains)..

The result is an inadequate supply of timely, relevant, actionable information. At the same time,
demand for this critical information is weak because decision makers across the supply chain are
unfamiliar with the consequences of their choices. The deficiencies in both supply and demand
mean that the market fails to systematically account for human health and environmental impacts
associated with building materials.


Chapter 1 introduces the history of thinking about materials as they relate to human health and
the environment. This includes the evolution toward multiattribute, life cycle considerations that
underpin current tools, notably the LEED rating systems of the U.S. Green Building Council.
Chapter 2 highlights human health and environmental impacts across the life cycle of the built
environment, with emphasis on their breadth and importance.
Chapter 3 describes the green building movement’s theory of change, the role of policy, and the
concept of market transformation through a cycle of disclosure, evaluation, preferential selection,
and innovation. It also introduces the tools of life cycle assessment, environmental product
declarations, materials health assessments, and Health Product Declarations.
Chapter 4 takes the selection and innovation discussion a step further by explaining the principles
and goals of materials optimization and innovation and associated approaches. It also highlights
examples of how other industries are tackling similar issues as they address human health and the
Chapter 5 provides personal perspectives: insights from each of the guide’s main authors, and
Chapter 6 consists of case studies from leading practitioners and manufacturers on how they are
using human health and environmental information.