Materials Petal

by Lori Walewski, Wolf Ridge Naturalist

“What about our lunch wrappers?” This question was put forth by trade workers during a meeting while discussing the Conservation + Reuse Imperative of the Materials Petal. It seemed like an innocuous question but it belied the complexity of the “Challenge” behind the question.

Wolf Ridge is currently involved in several construction projects with the renovation of the West Dorm being registered to be built to Living Building Challenge (LBC) specifications. In the February 2017 Almanac article, “Petals Opened: Living Building Challenge,” we explained most of the standards involved in the LBC. Wolf Ridge’s West Dorm project must meet 15 Imperatives (standards), which fall under 7 Petals. We discussed 6 of these Petals then and left the Materials Petal for this issue because of its detailed nature.

The intention of the Materials Petal is to encourage non-toxic manufacturing processing of materials, promote the sustainable use of materials, and endorse fair labor practices. This guides all material decisions. The Materials Petal is divided into 5 Imperatives.

Red List

The Red List contains a directory of chemicals and materials that were deemed most damaging to our health and the environment.

Embodied Carbon Footprint

This Imperative is fairly straightforward. Using an approved carbon calculator, we are required to calculate the total amount of carbon emitted during construction, then a one-time carbon offset is purchased. Because Wolf Ridge’s project is a renovation, the amount of carbon offset is reduced by 50%.

Responsible Industry

Here the intention is to reduce the extraction of raw materials such as minerals, rock, metals, and trees while meeting fair labor practices. Additionally, the Forest Stewardship Council must certify timber.

Appropriate Sourcing

This Imperative requires us to essentially buy local. Resources consisting of materials and services are divided into 7 zones based on weight and size of the resource. Heavier materials manufacturing facilities need to be closer to the project site. If necessary supplies are not available it is allowable to zone jump.

Conservation + Reuse

This Imperative calls for a cutback in the extraction and use of raw materials as well as a reduction in trash. A Materials Conservation Management Plan needs to be written that describes how the project will conserve materials and eliminate as much waste as possible during the design, construction, operation and end of life phase (demolition). During construction, only 20% can end up in a landfill. Imagine, for instance, the window shipment arriving; window corners protected with corrugated cardboard, stacked on a wooden pallet, encircled in plastic wrap, secured with metal banding straps and all the window panes topped with cling and adorned with manufacturers stickers. To meet the LBC requirements we sort all this packaging into the appropriate “waste” category (metals, paper and cardboard, soil and biomass, rigid foam/carpet/insulation, and all others combined), weigh it and track it. Once the building is in use, all organic waste must be composted.

The extensive need for documentation makes this particularly challenging. Every Imperative has its own list of required documentation. Trade partners are obligated to make sure that the products chosen by the architects are compliant with LBC and supply the appropriate documentation. Documentation might include a Red List Free Declare® number, chain of custody documents, due diligence, narrative and photos, advocacy letters and responses. Exceptions need even more documentation. At least three advocacy letters need to be sent to request changes in materials used to meet the LBC.

This brings us back to the meeting involving discussion by construction companies on the challenges and strategies of the Living Building Challenge and the Materials Petal in particular. “Can we un-package products before we bring them to the site?” That would be missing the point. It would still be in someone’s backyard.

Although the process of LBC can be tedious, the point of LBC is easily summarized as RETHINK, REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE. Paint is a great example a product that has undergone rethinking due to advocacy for the betterment of society. By choosing to build and renovate to LBC standards Wolf Ridge is pushing all of us and the construction industry to rethink and advocate for better products and production methods to make the world a healthier place for all its inhabitants.

Yeah, so what does one do about their lunch wrappers?