Highlights of the New AIA Healthier Materials Protocol Guide

Posted On: 
Sep 25, 2018
Highlights of the New AIA Healthier Materials Protocol Guide

Designing and constructing buildings that are sustainable and healthy for the earth and people should be a goal of everyone in the AEC industry. The AIA (American Institute of Architects) believes this, stating that, “Opting for healthier materials shouldn’t be a lofty goal for the well-resourced few.” They have just released a new AIA Healthier Materials Protocol, created to “…provide clear, practical methods and tools to navigate the maze (of healthier materials) and effectively translate awareness to practice.” The protocol, Prescription for Healthier Building Materials: A Design and Implementation Protocol, is written in a clear and concise manner that is interesting and easy to read.

It’s not the first time the AIA has recognized that building materials impact the environment and human health. In 2014, they adopted the Materials in the Built Environment position statement: “The AIA recognizes that building materials impact the environment and human health before, during, and after their use. Knowledge of the life cycle impacts of building materials is integral to improving the craft, science, and art of architecture. The AIA encourages architects to promote transparency in materials’ contents and in their environmental and human health impacts.” This new Healthier Materials Protocol guide they’ve now released is intended to put this 2014 statement into action.

It doesn’t seek to declare any bans on specific things but hopes to offer guidelines for the best practices in choosing healthier products in projects. The guide states: Unlike chemical avoidance list approaches, which have their place, this guide does not declare any bans on specific materials or product content. Instead, we seek to:

  • outline a framework for designing and building with healthier materials on projects
  • identify useful resources to aid project teams in the selection of safer alternatives
  • educate readers about the harms of certain types of substances found in building products

How This Guide Helps

The role of architects and designers is big when it comes to reducing the negative affects of building product selection. The less chemicals we surround ourselves with, the healthier we are holistically. The fact that the AIA recognizes that, even though they serve more than just the sustainable industry, is a great move toward making green building a norm. This guide will help in a variety of ways. It explains the background and context of choosing healthier materials; it outlines how to create and implement a plan; it walks through understanding and using transparency documents; offers suggestions on how to handle common barriers; and looks at how a few companies are already implementing the healthier materials protocol.

The section on transparency documents titled, “Understanding and utilizing product disclosure and optimization tools” is especially helpful. It offers a wide variety of information on transparency documents, breaking down the differences between them all, how to use them, and where to go to get them. It is a slow process changing the manufacturing business, so the importance of HPDs, EPSs, LCAs, and the few other transparency options there are is often a hard sell. And it makes sense why! It can be expensive, it often has a lot of steps to complete, and a product manufacturer may worry that they go through the trouble and spend the money all for nothing. This new AIA guide is evidence that product transparency documents are necessary and worth the effort and is a great resource to support your current efforts to use healthier materials, or to get you started on the journey.

Other Resources

There’re other resources available to work with the new AIA guide. Our Spec Shaman blog has a few posts for your reference about transparency documents:

Elixir Environmental is also a great resource. They work with building manufacturers and can make the transparency document process a smooth one.

Have you read through the AIA Healthy Materials Protocol guide yet? What do you think is the most helpful aspect of it?

For more information or to discuss the topic of this blog, please contact Brad Blank