Volume 5, Issue 2 (February 2008)
Rethinking Green Building Standards for Comprehensive Continuous Improvement
Climate change is only one of a series of challenges for which members of the scientific community are suggesting urgent action on a global scale to avoid irreversible health, environmental, and social damage. Labels and standards can play an important role in transforming our material economy to address these problems. Current trends in standard setting, however, threaten to confuse consumers and may actually stifle innovation. The problems of climate change and persistent bioaccumulative toxicants (PBTs) and the host of other resource depletion, toxicity, and social justice issues presented by current building material practice are urgent but complex. A rethinking of our approach to standards and labeling from a goal-oriented, strategic perspective can help resolve tradeoffs and energize markets to deliver better goods that strive toward sustainability ideals. Effective standards and labels must be: clear about their ultimate goals, comprehensive in scope, able to deal with uncertainty and data gaps, transparent, and designed to reward continuous improvement. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has initiated a process that demonstrates components of this strategic approach in addressing climate change. HBN’s Pharos Project is seeking to provide a framework to help map out and facilitate that strategic approach by establishing ideals in each category of impact and a roadmap to score progress toward that goal. The project models the use of this approach on a building material product database with a full range of environmental attributes and tools for evaluation.