• The Pharos online system rates green building products on a scale of 1 to 10, based on 16 key attributes that fall within three sections of a circular lens: Environment and Resource, Health and Pollution, and Social and Community.
    The Pharos online system rates green building products on a scale of 1 to 10, based on 16 key attributes that fall within three sections of a circular lens: Environment and Resource, Health and Pollution, and Social and Community.

Vision 2020 Materials + Products chair Tom Lent is currently spearheading the Healthy Building Network’s Pharos Project, working to create an online catalog tool to help developers identify and evaluate hazardous content in building products and materials. He recently participated in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Summit on Green Buildings & Human Health, which Lent described as “more an open brainstorm than a disciplined work session,” but one that established a foundation for much-needed coordination between the public health community and green building professionals.

As Lent sees it, a groundswell of action is taking place today—such as the Pharos Project, the coming LEED Version 4 (v4) credits targeting hazardous materials, increased cooperation between the health and building industries, and other initiatives—that will inevitably result in profound changes to our building and built environment over the coming decade. 

“By 2020 we will have integrated public health assessment into our assessment of the built environment at all scales, from the design of materials and products to the design of buildings and communities,” Lent says. “We can’t yet predict what the full impact on health will be, but we will have robust systems integrated into our project management tools that make it easy to track all the materials going into our buildings, know what is in those materials, and correlate them against biomonitoring and health assessments of the occupants.”

The building blocks of this system are already in development thanks to initiatives like USGBC’s Green Building Information Gateway, along with partnerships with government and NGOs such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Institutes of Health, and academic institutions like Carnegie Mellon University. Such efforts, he predicts, will not only lead to an improved understanding of how building materials affect health, but also improve our ability to design products—and the buildings in which they are installed—to help address public health challenges like autism, asthma, ADHD, and breast cancer. “We’ll look back at this time and be amazed by how difficult it was to get information on materials and pull documentation together for a LEED project,” Lent says.

Looking forward, Lent notes that LEED v4 should be finalized later this year and that  it “will set up some interesting dynamics and product activity in areas that are still very poorly developed now in material assessment, ranging from the toxics we’ve discussed to issues such as low-impact mining and sustainable agriculture.” He notes that “although these items will be flagged in this round of LEED, any actionable results may take years to play out—but should result in some big changes by 2020.”

Building on its successful launch in 2012, ECOHOME’s Vision 2020 program continues in 2013, focusing on eight critical areas in sustainability. Track our progress all year as our panel of visionary focus-area chairs, our editors, and leading researchers, practitioners, and advocates share their perspectives on initiating, tracking, and ensuring progress toward sustainable priorities and goals in residential construction between now and 2020. The program will culminate in an exclusive Vision 2020 Forum in Washington, D.C., in September 2013, and with a special edition of ECOHOME in Winter 2013. Click here to see the 2012 Wrap-Up.