“I think we have scale and capacity challenges,” Owens notes. “The resources to do a lot of this work are emerging and they’re changing and they’re getting better, but they’re not industrial-scale at this point. That’s typical of any type of new concept that’s hitting the market, and it’s no different than the state of the market when LEED was first launched in 2000 and we were asking for VOC content of paints and coatings.”
As was the case then, pushback is coming from industry stakeholders that aren’t necessarily interested in disclosing their manufacturing processes and are placing the burden of proof on the consumer to prove the connection between material and human health.
“The way the chemical industry operates today it’s almost like the criminal justice system, meaning all materials are safe until proven unsafe,” says Glazer. “We just don’t understand why manufacturers are so hesitant to disclose what’s in their products. Why shouldn’t they have to prove it’s safe before using it rather than the reverse?”
While Glazer notes it’s extremely difficult to empirically prove a direct health connection from one building material to a health impact, he notes most people in the developed world spend 90 percent of their time indoors, and building occupants deserve to know whether the products they use are healthy, non-toxic and safe.
“At this point, all we’re asking for is full transparency, meaning if your product has unhealthy materials or substances in it we’re not going to stop you—we’re not regulators—but, at the very least, tell us what’s in it,” he says.
By disclosing the chemical make-up of products and creating a knowledge base available to everyone, including consumers who may have no idea a product could be harmful to their health, Glazer believes it will create the demand needed to drive regulation and to push market transformation forward past the tipping point.
In the meantime, while the Harmonization Task Group has existed for only 18 months, it has already had a positive impact on the marketplace by including more consistent messaging and simplifying processes across different platforms. As the process for manufacturers continues to be streamlined, the path to transparency will continue to improve into the near future, when we can hopefully all breathe a little bit easier in the spaces we inhabit.