Materials Library Manifesto

Ann Rolland, FAIA, LEED AP
Partner, FXCollaborative Architects LLP

“If others use this as their guide too, we can transform the industry.”

FXCollaborative is committed to being advocates for change in order to have a positive impact on our profession, our community, and the planet.  Key tenets that are critical to our mission are:

  • Advocate for positive change in the AEC industry by acting as a resource to firms, organizations, and clients.
  • Actively support initiatives and movements that focus on equality, anti-racism, cultural literacy, and gender inclusivity.
  • Vigorously address the degradation of our planet by product manufacturers in the AEC industry, specifically the impact on Climate Crisis (embodied carbon) and environmental and health issues.

Our resource library should reflect these tenets and articulate our values and commitment to issues of social justice, sustainability, and the health and well-being of our planet and the inhabitants of the environments we create.  The resources we select must contribute to the creation of a healthier, more equitable future for human-kind and the planet. What we specify has significant and lasting impacts on the ecosystems of our planet and the human condition.  As designers, we can influence and look to our practice to insist on industry accountability and change. By signaling to manufacturers and product suppliers our firm values, we send an important message and convey our sense of responsibility to collectively advance manufacturing practices and industry resources.

Finding clear, simple, and transparent information about materials is difficult. Databases are incomplete, and the issues are often complex, technical, and can seem insurmountable. We lead busy lives, working to tight deadlines and often don’t have the luxury of time, nor the resources to research in depth. We rely on supplier information which can be ambiguous and selective as it comes with its own agenda. Without the right information, we are prey to whitewashing and/or greenwashing. 

How can we make informed choices and advocate for better outcomes in our objective? This manifesto is our action plan for doing so, and we encourage our peers and faculty at universities to create a manifesto too.

As we prepare for our move to Brooklyn, it is a time to reflect, edit, and re-formulate our resource library. Our goals are:

  • To cultivate an awareness in the AEC industry and to be advocates for change. 
  • To help designers make better informed decisions in the selection of the products and materials that we specify.

We want to know what we are specifying.  To do so, we will ask manufacturers and product suppliers to divulge information related to their production and practices.  Below is an outline of the criteria – three primary lenses – we will use for evaluation:  social justice and ethical sourcing, human health and well-being, and embodied carbon and sustainable practices.

Social Justice and Ethical Sourcing:

  • JEDI initiatives and commitments – strategies and educational programs currently in place or an indication of specific timelines toward these goals
  • Anti-racism stance – public record against racism with actionable items to implement positive and restorative change
  • Corporate structure and leadership – report of current leadership, work force, and recruiting policies that promote equitable gender and diverse representation
  • Ethically sourced supply chains – confirmation that the products are created without the use of child and/or enslaved labor

Human Health and Well Being:

  • Disclosure of material ingredients – transparent disclosure of material ingredients and health impacts using industry recognized standards such as Health Product Declarations, Declare Labels, etc.
  • Optimization of material ingredients – efforts to reduce the number and quantity of products with harmful content and to avoid using Red List and High VOC materials
  • Life-cycle health – inclusion of effects in all stages of a material’s life: extraction, manufacturing, installation, finish product, re-use, and disposal.
  • See FXCollaborative’s Base Green Specification for specific preferences

Sustainability and the Climate Crisis:

  • Embodied Carbon / Global Warming Potential – provide Environmental Product Declarations and use carbon reduction and sequestering practices
  • Recycled Content – maximize pre-consumer and post-consumer recycled content
  • Responsible Disposal and Reuse Efforts – provide materials and assemblies that can be disassembled and recycled. Offer take-back programs, Cradle-to-Cradle certifications, and similar circular-economy activities.
  • Local Materials – provide locations of raw material extraction and harvesting, and manufacturing of material components and finished products.
  • Responsible Sourcing – utilize responsible sourcing certifications.
  • See FXCollaborative’s Base Green Specification for specific preferences

Editor’s Note: The Materials Library Manifesto is a working example that can serve as an achievable Action Step for Architects and Faculty/Students.