When it comes to building materials and resources, there are three daunting words that most green builders have at least heard about—The Red List. A critical component of the Living Building Challenge (LBC), the bulleted list of “worst in class” materials and chemicals give builders a guide of what to avoid when building sustainably.

And while some of you might not be ready or even thinking about taking on the LBC, the Red List is a tool every builder should use as we move toward the goal of truly sustainable materials. As Eden Brukman, vice president of the International Living Future Institute, will tell you, the list starts at the end, “shining a light on where the industry needs to go.”Right now, there are limitations that prohibit any builder from truly complying with the Red List, but Brukman says the point is to push the industry in the right direction, fostering innovation and communication.

“The Red List is providing people with a shifted mindset that is going to really impact the way we think about products,” Brukman says.

Currently, the Red List encourages project teams to avoid the following materials or chemicals:

  • Asbestos
  • Cadmium
  • Chlorinated polyethylene and chlorosulfonated polyethylene
  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
  • Chloroprene (neoprene)
  • Formaldehyde (added)
  • Halogenated flame retardants
  • Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)
  • Lead (added)
  • Mercury
  • Petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides
  • Phthalates
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
  • Wood treatments containing creosote, arsenic, or pentachlorophenol

And while this list provides the industry with a quantifiable end goal, the more exciting aspect of the list is that it is not static. Brukman says a key goal, of course, is to see some of the items retired and phased out, but future research will most likely prompt more items to be added. Two items to be on the lookout in the short term are electromagnetic frequency (EMF) and nanotechnology. “It is really critical to start those conservations because they also have impact, particularly since we are moving in directions on both of those fronts at a fast pace,” Brukman says.
Within the LBC framework, the Red List also pushes product manufacturers to start rethinking how they build their products. If a project team is unable to find a substitution for one of the Red List items, a letter needs to be sent to the manufacturer stating that the builder does not endorse the product.

Why is this an important detail? Brukman believes this type of communication is a critical step in getting materials to where they need to be by 2020. “In a typical product procurement process, it’s a pretty linear connection. There’s not a lot of communal understanding of a product,” she says. “We all need to take a step back and get to know one another. We need to understand where everyone else is coming from and understand each company’s expectations and needs.”