The mindful MATERIALS Movement: Five Years of Growth, Transparency and Industry Commitment

By Allison Smith

mindful MATERIALS (mM) began at HKS in 2014 as a project of passion and purpose: we wanted to know more about the ingredients in the materials and products our designers were specifying on their projects.

Why? Here’s just one eye-opening statistic: of the more than 83,000 known chemicals, just five are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And in our current era of deregulation, the EPA is considering new uses for one regulated known carcinogen — asbestos.

As architects and designers, it matters that we’re making informed choices that not only meet baseline performance criteria for durability and aesthetics, but environmental and human health impacts must carry equal weight.

From the air we breathe and the water we drink, to the people who construct and occupy the buildings we design, material transparency — much like food packaging nutrition labels — helps designers make responsible decisions to protect the health and well-being of people and the planet.

Launched as an in-house materials resource library labeling initiative, mM began as a straightforward spreadsheet-based program. It served as a practical means to incorporate transparency information into designers’ everyday work process, providing easy-to-access product ingredient information where designers were searching for it most often: on resource library shelves. The simplicity of the labeling system soon generated interest in the greater design community. HKS understood the power that a united A&D industry could have to scale the initiative and drive the demand for material transparency data much faster, so it made its data publicly available.

In late 2015, education within individual design firms and city-wide networking events in Chicago, Dallas and other major metropolitan areas encouraged wider implementation of mindful MATERIALS, though many of these efforts were siloed and moving forward independently. Collectively, participants recognized the confusion that multiple program variations meant to manufacturers – while at the same time, it shined a light on the opportunities associated with developing a common strategy. This launched the mindful MATERIALS Collaborative, a unified national endeavor. The mM website launched in June 2016, and less than a year later, the Collaborative had grown to more than 600 user and manufacturer members.

In 2017, the mM Collaborative partnered with GIGA to move the growing product Google spreadsheets to a Cloud database, powered by the Origin Data Hub. This partnership created a more efficient way for manufacturers to share product information and for industry users to access it. It also allowed, in a single Cloud platform, direct access to a variety of integrated Reporting Body databases, including SCS Global Services, HPD Collaborative, Intertek, Cradle2Cradle, Declare, the Carpet and Rug Institute, ClearChem, Global GreenTag and more. This transition transformed the way architecture and design professionals identify and search for products across brands, product categories and certifications.

Phenomenal Growth 

The mindful MATERIALS library experienced 500% user growth in 2018, and 2019 is on the same upward trajectory. Working closely with manufacturers to build robust content, today design professionals can find transparency documentation boasting 168 published manufacturers and 7,900 product listings. mM regularly features new manufacturer content and receives daily account requests from AEC practitioners and owner representatives. Users can search materials by CSI Division, specific transparency programs, LEED v4 compliance, WELL Feature compliance and more. The mM Collaborative’s goal is to reach 20,000 materials in the library by the end of 2019. 

The average A&D firm is estimated to waste at least $40,000 annually on time consuming, sometimes redundant or erroneous product research efforts. As a product sustainability education tool for the entire industry, the mM Library not only helps busy designers reduce billable hours in their quest for sustainable, brand-agnostic products, it helps firms demonstrate health and sustainability leadership in the industry and on their projects as well. The mM Collaborative, with the support of our manufacturer partners, host events and workshops around the country to introduce and immerse diverse industry players on how to engage with the mM Library.

mM’s partnership with Origin enables manufacturers to connect to unlimited integrated certifications and upload performance and sustainability data, ensuring that the mM Library is robust and current. Origin welcomes international certification bodies and program operators to integrate their public test reports and product certification data directly into Origin, where manufacturers can connect their materials. These connected materials then link to the most credible source of information, ensuring reliability and accuracy of certification data connected to products.

Today, 4,332 individuals from the A&D and manufacturing industries are mM members. In 2018, A&D usage surpassed manufacturer usage — a trend indicating that designers are hungry for the information.

HKS is an active mM Collaborative participant through leadership on the Advisory and Steering Committees and the Outreach Working Group. Also, we recently made a financial commitment to the mM Catalyst Founders Circle to contribute to the movement’s shared vision for a built environment in which all buildings and materials support human and environmental health and well-being throughout their lifecycles.  

Taking Action

It’s been nearly five years since mindful MATERIALS left the confines of HKS. In celebration of mM’s birth year, I fondly think about the initiative as an active, ever-curious 5-year-old absorbing vast amounts of knowledge, growing and learning every day. Working together with our purpose-aligned Collaborative stakeholders – the architecture and design community, manufacturers, contractors and owners – we’ll have an indispensable industry resource that will make a meaningful, measurable impact on the health and well-being of the earth and the people who build and use the spaces we design.

Selecting better materials must become standard practice, and mindful MATERIALS is the pathway to informed decision making. Our efforts aim to make mM the first place the industry goes for all things building green, vetted by experts and guided by practitioner need. Like the organic food movement, the potential of our industry’s collective purchasing power, reach and influence is profound: the more we specify and drive demand for better, healthier materials, manufacturers will respond in kind.

In honor of Earth Day, take a mM action that will contribute toward the mM Collaborative content goal of reaching 20,000 materials. Sign-up for an account, add materials, make a materials transparency request of your manufacturers. mM is free – there is no charge to participate, use the library or add content. For resources to help facilitate your mM actions:  www.mindfulmaterials.com | outreach@mindfulmaterials.com

Allison Smith

Allison Smith is a Sustainable Design Manager at HKS. She promotes responsible material selection firmwide. Allison supports industry-wide materials transparency initiatives and is the social media liasion for the mindful MATERIALS Collaborative. She is a founding member of the Texas Materials Initiative.