Materials Transparency: Past, Present and Future

HBN | June 2020 | Newsletter

Transparency plays a huge part in the work of Healthy Building Network (HBN). It is ingrained in our work and our mission: To advance human and environmental health by improving hazardous chemical transparency and inspiring product innovation. Our colleagues at the Health Product Declaration Collaborative recently implemented the newest version of the Health Product Declaration Open Standard, v2.2. At HBN, we thought we’d take the opportunity to consider where we currently are with respect to transparency in the built environment, reflect upon how far we have come and look forward to where we are headed.

The Past:
Starting in 2009, HBN’s Pharos pioneered analysis of product health hazards based upon full disclosure of product content information. In order to help the industry standardize the disclosures needed to do this type of analysis, HBN conceived of the Health Product Declaration (HPD), and together with BuildingGreen, convened the HPD Working Group in July of 2011. The idea was to create an easier way for sustainability leaders to make informed decisions about the products they purchased and their impacts on human health. Further, the effort was designed  to reduce the burden on product manufacturers, who had to respond to multiple types of information requests and reporting formats. This working group developed the first draft HPD Open Standard and led a pilot program to test and refine to the standard.1 In 2012, the Health Product Declaration Collaborative was created as an independent, nonprofit  member organization and officially released Version 1.0 of the standard. By 2014, there were 113 published HPDs.

The Present:
Fast-forward to May 2020 when v2.2 of the standard was implemented.  More than 6,300 HPDs have been published, representing more than 20,000 building products from over 550 manufacturers.2

Graphic courtesy of the Health Product Declaration Collaborative

Several exciting new features have been introduced to help move the standard and transparency overall forward.  

The biggest advance in HPD v2.2 is supply chain integration. The Supplier HPD Extension allows building product manufacturers to directly request content information from their own suppliers within the HPD Builder. Suppliers can control the disclosure of their chemical content and more easily share with multiple manufacturers that are generating HPDs. 

“The innovations in HPD Builder 2.2 greatly reduce the cost and complexity to gather and understand chemical ingredient information from the supply chain,” said Wendy Vittori, executive director of HPDC. “This makes it much easier, especially for smaller firms that do not have dedicated, sustainability resources and cannot afford consultants to prepare these reports. For many manufacturers, transparency reporting has been a daunting proposition because just getting started has required a detailed understanding of their entire supply chain together with expertise in chemical ingredient reporting. With the improvements in HPD Builder 2.2 it is easier than ever to gather and report this information.”3

Another new addition with v2.2 is a drop-down list of substance role options for manufacturers to choose from, such as flame retardant, surfactant, and biocide. Anyone who has puzzled over a chemical with the assigned role of “additive” will appreciate this new feature, which is expected to improve data quality and consistency. HPDC notes that, “More consistent use of this field is important to understanding how a substance is being used. As collective use of HPDs continues to grow, researchers can use that data to identify which substances are less hazardous for a given role.”4 HBN is also working to use this list of functions in its Common Product research. With common terminology, Common Product records can more easily be compared to HPDs as a quality control check for additional substance roles that may be missing and to consider alternate content that may be more or less hazardous for a given role in a product.

For more information on additional new guidance and features of the latest version of the HPD, see the v2.2 Open Standard and the recorded webinar series from HPDC.

The Future:
The industry has come so far since the fledgling effort to transform the built environment thanks to the dedication of so many architects, designers, building owners, product manufacturers and other ecosystem partners. Given the progress of the last ten years, where will we be ten years from now and how do we keep the momentum we’ve built? 

  • Architects, Designers, and Building Owners - Keep asking for HPDs and preferring products that fully disclose product content and hazards.
  • Manufacturers - Keep working to understand the content and hazards of your products and improve transparency within your supply chain.
  • Suppliers - Just as manufacturers have seen increased requests for transparency with respect to their products, you can expect to see more requests from product manufacturers about the materials you supply. Engage within your supply chain to help create safer building materials and greater transparency about their constituent compounds.

Everyone can come together to help improve the industry’s collaborative, user-designed open standard, the HPD. The Collaborative wouldn't exist without the work and input of HPD users, manufacturers and other ecosystem partners. HPDC is already hard at work on the next versions of the standard with visions of making the HPD and the data within it more interactive, accessible and visual. Reach out to get more involved and subscribe to HPDC's newsletter for updates and opportunities to provide specific feedback in the future.

For more information on why transparency matters, what you can do and resources to help (including a disclosure request template and specification language on transparency in our paint and flooring specs), see our Transparency page



[2] Per graphic provided by HPDC.