The mindful MATERIALS Cloud Library: Navigating the maze of transparency information

Materials - Architects chatting at Bonstra | Haresign

Two architects engaged in conversation at the Bonstra | Haresign Architects office in Washington, DC.

The time is now for materials data to be transparent, easily accessed, and efficiently updated; enter the mindful MATERIALS Cloud Library

Material health equates to healthier spaces for building occupants and the planet. For designers, that requires an understanding of—and a willingness to sift through—material transparency data. And as important as the availability of that data is developing an understanding of the information. As more architects begin to value, request, and utilize transparency information, our profession has the ability to influence and reward innovative manufacturers who produce materials that reduce negative environmental and health impacts.

New material considerations

Five years ago, most designers’ checklists of building selection factors would not have included materials transparency considerations, such as:

  • Disclosure of product ingredients to at least the 1,000-ppm level
  • Identification of optimized products with eliminated chemicals of concern
  • VOC emissions testing
  • Lifecycle environmental Impacts (measured by the EPD)
  • Embodied carbon metrics
  • Manufacturers’ sustainability stances (their environmental and social priorities)

Today, the list of manufacturers providing material transparency information is expanding. The challenge now is to factor this information into material selections and specifications, particularly in finding enough products with transparency information to write a competitive specification for public projects.

Projects are fast-paced; a design team’s go-to products are familiar and easier to reselect; and integrating new data into the process is challenging. Not only are there many different sources for transparency information—on manufacturer websites, on certification databases, within certification scorecards, and in multiple material ingredient disclosure formats—but the body of information grows every day, meaning a data search from a month ago could already be outdated.

Enter mindful MATERIALS

Mindful MATERIALS (mM) began in 2014 as a transparency data-focused product labeling initiative at HKS, a large firm headquartered in Dallas. By highlighting products on design library shelves with easily accessed transparency information, the initiative sought to drive more health-centric and environmentally focused product selections on projects.

The initiative quickly gained traction and generated interest, in both the broader industry and among manufacturers looking to promote their transparency efforts. Three years later, mM has grown into a volunteer-led collaborative movement promoting assembly and storage of transparency data. In February 2017, the mM Collaborative launched the mM Cloud Library, developed by GIGA, the technology partner and creator of the ORIGIN material data hub. To date, thousands of products, representing nearly 100 manufacturer brands, are in the library. Hundreds of users from dozens of design firms and other user entities—from academic institutions to property leasing management corporations—access the mM Library.

Manufacturers upload their product data for free in GIGA’s ORIGIN material hub and then request a mM review of the data before it is published in the library. Volunteers within the Collaborative, along with BuildingGreen, review the product data for accuracy before it is published for public consumption.

The mM Collaborative and GIGA are committed to keeping the cloud-based library free to user and manufacturer alike. As the data hub manager, GIGA is fully committed to both receiving information from manufacturers and certifying bodies, and to allowing information to flow out of the mM Library to other resources to use and share, maximizing its reach.

GIGA is actively developing integration collaborations with certifying bodies and data sources like SCS Global Services, the Cradle to Cradle Certified Products Registry, HPD Public Repository, and the International Living Future Institute’s Declare Products Database. Groups can connect their database digitally to Origin and the mM Library to ensure the latest transparency data can be searched and linked to manufacturer’s product entries, within a single industry access point.

Advocacy

As more designers and architecture firms use the mM Library and advocate for manufacturers to provide and maintain their transparency information, the effectiveness of the tool will continue to grow. Asking manufacturers to upload their product information to the library increases the demand for transparency, and also signals that architects want to choose the best products for people and planet. Furthermore, encouraging manufacturers that don’t yet have health and environmental transparency information to develop and promote their business will help them stay competitive in a quickly changing marketplace.

The future of mindful MATERIALS

Mindful MATERIALS is an evolving tool. Some of the brightest minds in the building product transparency and optimization space are contributing to it by serving on working groups. With increasingly detailed material information required for certification programs like the WELL Building Standard, the mM Collaborative and GIGA are working toward showcasing product optimization, even to the chemical level. A working group dedicated to furniture and textiles is finalizing the unique criteria to help designers evaluate these product types. Some end-user groups are considering using mM as their data source for purchasing guidance.

The mM initiative began as a product labeling system for physical libraries in design firms, and has now become a leading tool to view transparency information online. As of today, material ingredients, EPDs, and emissions data testing are highlighted, but additional categories such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified, FACTS (for textiles) and phthalate-free (phthalates are chemicals used as plasticizers in vinyl products) are in development. GIGA will be guided by industry feedback to build new features for both users and manufacturers.

Whether you’re new to product transparency, already use transparency data to make more informed product choices for your clients, or fall somewhere in the middle of the transparency experience spectrum, sign up and create a free login to access the mM Library and try it out for your next project. Incorporating transparency information into product selection is where the industry is heading, and the mM Library can be a potent tool for maintaining relevance in the rapidly evolving building material marketplace.

Nancy Hulsey is the former sustainable materials specialist at HKS, where mindful MATERIALS began.

Image credits

Materials - Architects chatting at Bonstra | Haresign

Carl Bower

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