October 31, 2013
By Kirk Teske, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Principal and Chief Sustainability Officer, HKS, Inc.

"HKS is dedicated to making environmentally informed decisions regarding architectural building products used in our designs.” 

That’s the first sentence of the public letter campaign we launched last year to building product manufacturers in our quest to encourage them to disclose their material content through tools such as a Health Product Declaration (HPD).  Like-minded firms in the industry have since issued similar letters and have held numerous forums with manufacturers to promote the conversation and collaboration.

This topic also was discussed by Katie Weeks, editor of Eco-Structure, in a recent article:

The market forces are clearly having a positive effect on the building products industry. The design process for our new Dallas corporate headquarters began in the midst of this transformative era of Healthy Building Network’s Pharos tool, HPDs, EPDs, LEED v4 and more. Although the transformation is in its infancy, there are healthier alternatives emerging on the market.  Throughout the development of our new 140,000-square-foot space in One Dallas Center, we seized the opportunity to further this market transformation by specifying and installing healthier alternatives. The headquarters team researched and selected products that eliminate or minimize use of “red list” chemicals that have a potential for toxicity, persistence and bioaccumulation in the environment.  Our new corporate home is seeking dual certification under both LEED v3 and v4 rating systems.  The application for LEED v3 Platinum certification is under review, and the LEED v4 documentation process is currently underway. 

Below are a just a few examples of healthier alternatives that became a part of our new workspace.

Toxic-free Deck
One of our employee amenities is an outdoor deck to provide a fun alternative workspace when the weather allows. Material choices were numerous and included exotic wood species, plastic-wood hybrids, and treated lumber. We chose TimberSIL® – a non-toxic, durable and fire-rated material that I consider to be a poster-child example of a high-tech healthy building material.  Unlike “treated” lumber that is impregnated with a nasty cocktail of carcinogens and developmental toxicants, TimberSIL® is a fusion of wood and sodium silicate (glass) that is totally nontoxic and VOC-free. Better yet, the silicate is a derivative of agricultural waste (rice husks) and greatly reduces the product’s environmental footprint.  Plastic-wood hybrids are often touted as a “green” product due to their high recycled content; however, to use a phrase coined by Michael Braungart and William McDonough, these are “monstrous hybrids” that are not recyclable or decomposable. 

Healthier Window Shades and Fabrics
Commercial office building window fabrics and wall coverings containing Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) have been  mainstays for commercial office buildings for years.  In addition, many textiles used for these applications have historically included halogenated flame retardants and perfluorinated chemicals to repel dirt. Due to the growing health concerns associated with these compounds, HKS sought safer alternatives. Fortunately, the market demands created by firms like HKS and green rating systems have had a positive impact on this product category in recent years, spurring healthier alternatives.  We opted for Mermet’s Greenscreen® Revive.  This product is 100 percent recyclable polyester fabric that averages 89 percent recycled content. It is also Greenguard Children & Schools-compliant and is Silver-certified under the Cradle to Cradle product standard. These standards indicate a healthy and minimized lifecycle environmental impact. Similarly, in lieu of vinyl wall coverings, we opted for Maharam Tek-wall, a 61 percent polyolefin, 39 percent post-consumer recycled polyester fabric wall covering that is Greenguard Gold-certified with a PFOA-free stain-resistant finish. 

Healthy Floors that Last
There is more carpeting in U.S. landfills than almost any other product, and most of it is toxic, according to the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. Interface, one of the world’s largest carpet manufacturers and a pioneer in sustainable business, anticipates eliminating PVC from its entire product line by 2020. To achieve our PVC-free office environment, we installed Interface’s SuperFLOR carpet throughout the headquarters. The rich, mohair-like carpet tile line is free of PVC and is renowned for its durability – there actually is a vibrant resell market for previously installed product.

Bio-based Wall Surfaces
Architectural firms thrive on collaborating and sharing. Tackable surfaces are prevalent throughout our space and provide surface area to post sketches, inspiring imagery and highlighting work in progress. Forbo Bulletin Board linoleum was the healthy choice for these surfaces. The product is made of renewable raw materials. The combination of oxidized linseed oil, rosin, cork and pigments gives it flexibility and resilience, which prevent crumbling and loss of grip often associated with traditional materials. Linoleum is also hygienic, does not attract dust and is bacteriostatic. Bio-based materials hold the promise of true sustainability and regeneration.

Socially Responsible Furniture
From workstations to chairs, HKS sought system furnishings that were free of “red list” chemicals and exhibited holistic environmental stewardship.  The Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) Level® sustainability standard drove our selection of Knoll workstation products.  BIFMA Level® 3 products are analogous to LEED Platinum building certification, and all furniture pieces for the new work environment had to meet this high standard.  This decision assures that our employees have furniture that is top-rated in waste and greenhouse gas emissions reduction, human and ecosystem health and socially responsibility.  

These products are early adopters of the rapidly changing building product market. However, HKS and its industry colleagues continue to reach out to more building product companies to help shape the market transformation. Asking for a large shift in the industry is like moving a mountain. Currently, some manufacturers see Health Product Declaration and Environmental Product Declaration as another set of hoops in which to invest to stay in the market. And, they see transparency as a means of sharing their guarded trade secrets. Others are jumping in with both feet, seeing it as a way to differentiate and stand out in the marketplace. HKS and our industry colleagues applaud those that are embracing the change.

Want to learn more? Check out our knowledge center with a post explaining more about the Health Product Declaration Collaborative at http://www.hksinc.com/insight/first-open-standard-format-for-reporting-content-hazards-in-building-products-launched/.

HKS also will host an HDP forum at its corporate headquarters in early December. Stay tuned.

For more information, contact Kirk, the 2013 President of AIA Dallas at kteske@hksinc.com or follow him @KirkTeske on Twitter.

Posted in All Markets, Green Places
Tagged Eco-Structure, Health Product Declaration (HPD), Healthy Building Network, Kirk Teske, LEED v4