Transparency in Building Materials
How Architects, Certified Industrial Hygienists, and Manufacturers Inform Client Choice BY CATHERINE BOBENHAUSEN
As a certified industrial hygienist, I was recently asked to contribute to the American Institute of Architects’ Sustainability White Paper, “Materials Transparency and Risk for Architects: An Introduction to Advancing Professional Ethics While Managing Professional Liability Risks.” The AIA White Paper suggests ways that architects can meet their clients’ expectations for more information about what goes into their building products. This interest builds on innovations from the 1990s, such as Hewlett-Packard’s Design for the Environment program, which focuses on optimizing environmentally-related characteristics of its products. Similarly, retailers such as Walmart, Target, and IKEA are addressing concerns about the materials in consumer products by conducting systematic reviews of their supply chains and procurement policies. The AIA White Paper presents materials transparency as a growing opportunity for architects and offers strategies for them to communicate with their clients, modify contract documents, and collaborate with technical experts such as CIHs and toxicologists. The context and background in the white paper will help architects engage intelligently with legal staff and answer questions related to this part of their practice.
As explained in the AIA White Paper, architects have always had a profound connection to the materials they specify—for example, by visiting quarries to select specific stones and accessing product samples to feel the finishes they are considering. Architects typically vet products based on aesthetics, cost, availability, and compatibility, and by asking manufacturers which products hold up better over time, how they reflect or refract light, and how they transmit or block sound.
The AIA concluded that architects must develop a more robust understanding of manufacturing and ingredient sourcing processes, to further inform their choices. In this context, CIHs are viewed by architects as specialized consultants to the architect’s client, the building owner. We are capable of applying our training in the discipline of anticipating, recognizing, evaluating, preventing, and controlling health and safety hazards to the emerging field of product disclosure.
CATHERINE BOBENHAUSEN, CIH, CSP, AIHA Fellow, LEED AP BD+C, and Authorized GreenScreen Practitioner, is a Senior Consultant with Colden Corporation. She can be reached at (347) 435-3561 or via email.