Perkins+Will, the architecture and design firm that ignited the industry movement toward healthier building materials with its 2008 Precautionary List and 2011 Transparency website, unveiled updated and improved versions of both tools.
The enhanced Precautionary List—a compilation of the most ubiquitous and problematic substances that people encounter every day in the built environment—now functions more like a user-friendly digital database than a static list. It allows design professionals to search for key substances and chemicals of concern using filters like project type, product type, and health and environmental impacts. It is hosted on a retooled Transparency website (transparency.perkinswill.com), where the user experience is more refined and the site navigation is more intuitive and mobile-friendly.
More Robust Information
The information contained in the site is also more comprehensive. For each substance featured on the Precautionary List, Perkins+Will provides a repository of new data, including descriptions and overviews, health and environmental hazards, ways in which people can be exposed (“pathways of exposure”), relevant government regulations and industry rating systems, and associated building products.
Perkins+Will has also added a “Watch List” and a “Sunset List.” The Watch List includes substances suspected of being harmful, but where scientific data about their health impacts has only begun to accumulate. (Manufacturers looking to innovate their product formulations are urged to pay special attention to the Watch List.) The Sunset List includes substances previously on the Precautionary List, but now seldom or no longer in use by the industry—for example, the ozone-depleting refrigerants known as chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs. Asthmagens and flame retardants, which formerly appeared on the site in separate lists, are now incorporated into the Precautionary List.
Additionally, the site offers several new educational components, including a section to understand why material health matters, a section that gives users direct access to the Precautionary List, a section that offers a library of white papers, case studies, and other recommended reading, and a section for FAQs.
“Our goal is to spur further industry transformation so that, one day, we can have peace of mind that all materials used to build and furnish our homes, workplaces, schools, hospitals, and other places are healthy and safe,” says Mary Dickinson, senior associate at Perkins+Will and one of three co-chairs of the firm’s Material Performance Research Lab. “With our updated Precautionary List and Transparency website, we’re helping fellow designers take note of new, emerging, and known health hazards so that they can make more informed product decisions.”
The Precautionary List will be incorporated into Portico, the web-based healthy products identification and project management tool currently under development by the Healthy Building Network (HBN), Google, Perkins+Will, Harvard University, Georgia Tech University, the Durst Organization, and Home Free. Perkins+Will announced its role as a partner on Portico last year. In addition, anyone can search for products whose ingredients have been disclosed by using industry tools like the Mindful Materials database and the HPD Repository, and then using the Precautionary List to further screen those products for chemicals of concern.
“This cross-pollination of industry tools marks the beginning of what we hope becomes widespread consensus about which materials are healthy and which are harmful,” says Suzanne Drake, senior associate at Perkins+Will and the second of three co-chairs of the firm’s Material Performance Research Lab. “And consensus is essential if we, as a global community of designers, are to make a meaningful, positive, and lasting impact on human health and well-being.”
While not an exhaustive compendium, the Precautionary List highlights harmful and potentially harmful substances in many of the products available to designers today. As more product reformulations and transformations occur, the Precautionary List will evolve accordingly.