The Health Product Declaration Collaborative is a customer-led organization for companies and individuals committed to the continuous improvement of the building industry’s environmental and health performance, through transparency and innovation in the building product supply chain. The HPDC has introduced the Health Product Declaration Open Standard, launched at GreenBuild 2012, with the goal of creating a systematic language to enable transparent disclosure of information regarding building product content and associated health information.
Here, we talk with HPDC’s interim executive director Meredith Elbaum, AIA, LEED AP BD+C.
What was the genesis for developing the Health Product Declaration (HPD)?
We were interested in a couple different things. First, we wanted to understand what’s in building products, since there isn’t really anything that’s a standard right now for manufacturers to report what’s in their products. Often, architects and designers were sending their own version of forms to manufacturers, who were then filing out the information 100 different times in different variations. So we wanted to develop a standard, one form for all manufacturers, to provide them with a way to report what’s in the product and what the environmental and, more importantly, health impacts are. The HPD is not about saying products are bad; that is for the user to decide. The HPD is simply about knowing what is in the product and if there are associated health issues.
The biggest thing we’d been seeing is that building product consumers are becoming more concerned about what’s in the products they specify and what they’re putting gin their buildings. The industry itself realized there was a lack of a standard, and the HPD Collaborative was a result of the industry coming together. We are a group of architects, contractors, interior designers, building owners and manufacturers coming together and saying “This is something that we need.” The collaboration & cross-discipline involvement is one of the biggest aspects, we are really going across the whole industry.
Were there particular challenges?
There have been a lot of challenges, and there still are. Funding is a challenge, as always. We are primarily funded by support from the industry, sponsor corporations, design firms, manufacturers, contractors, etc.
The next challenge is to have the HPD adopted as industry standard. There can be some resistance because manufacturers — and even designers and building owners, for that matter — may not always want to know what’s in the products they’re creating or specifying. Understandably, manufacturers may not want to give away their content and disclose 100 percent of what’s in a product, both for fear of competition and trade secrets, as well as from a public or legal standpoint about saying there’s a known carcinogen. And of course, that goes for the specifiers as well, who are knowingly using these materials. In many cases, there may not be a better or healthier alternative out there. But it makes it hard to plead ignorance.
A lot of the time, there are supply chain issues … a manufacturer may be putting together a product, but they’re buying it from other people. For a door, they’re using MDF, so then they have to go back to the glue company, and the company that provides ingredients to make the glue. The complexity of the supply chain is really difficult, so this is really getting down to what’s used in the product. Building products often have so many ingredients that it’s very complex to understand and address. We have about 30 different references that we pull from & cross-reference all of the ingredients against a list of references that list material or chemical toxicity linked to studies of health & environmental impact. On the one hand, it sounds simple but on the other, it’s quite complex and involved.
So, what is the HPD? And what isn’t it?
It’s important to emphasize that it is not a rating system, it’s not a judging system. It doesn’t distinguish between 1 part per trillion versus 1 part per hundred; it just asks if it’s in there. The HPD is really a first step, because it’s not judgmental. We are just saying that we want to know what’s in the product and what are the potential implications or hazards. With the HPD, we’re starting the movement. Consider it akin to a nutrition label. Obviously, this goes a little further than what we see on our food, since it might indicate what the possible health links are. But when it comes down to it, it is still up to the consumer to decide, we are simply providing the transparency needed to make an informed decision.
What do you see as the next steps?
We’d like to see more manufacturers complete the HPDs. It’s a lot of work for them, so we need to be able to support manufacturers in completing the HPD. Part of that means getting the word out about what it is and not confusing it with a rating system.
In the future, we’d like to have third parties who would certify that the HPD was completed properly, as opposed to right now it’s all self-reporting. Ideally, there would be consultants who would work with manufacturers to complete it and a third party that would certify that it was done properly. Then another subsequent step would be to use the HPD as part of rating systems or plug into other programs, like Pharos.
Luckily, we have a strong collaborative, which really helps. For instance, the Healthy Building Network has developed a tool to easily fill out the HPD, they provide an HPD Toolkit so that manufacturers don’t have to cross-reference as much information on their own.