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Take an inside look into emerging markets and trends. Gain valuable new perspectives from HBN experts and our partners. Be inspired to know better.

Petrochemical Companies are Burying Black History. The Building Industry Can Help Resurrect It.

Bill Walsh | February 2020 | Newsletter

In Louisiana, the factories that make the chemicals and plastics for our building products are built literally upon the bones of African Americans. Plantation fields have been transformed into industrial fortresses. A Shell Refinery1 sprawls across the former Bruslie and Monroe plantations. Belle Pointe is now the DuPont Pontchartrain Works, among the most toxic air polluters in the state.2 Soon, the Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics Group intends to build a 2400-acre complex of 14 facilities that will transform fracked gas into plastics. It will occupy land that was formerly the Acadia and Buena Vista plantations, and not incidentally, the ancestral burial grounds of local African American residents, some of whom trace their lineage back to people enslaved there.3 Virtually every building product we use today contains a petrochemical component that originates from heavily polluted communities, frequently home to people of color. As the green building movement searches for ways to enhance diversity, inclusion and equity, how might it address the legacies of injustice that are tied to the products and materials we use every day?

Banksy & Building Products: The Justice of Full Transparency

Bill Walsh | January 2019 | Newsletter

The powerful new Banksy mural that appeared in a small town in Wales just before Christmas 2018 seems at first to be a timeless and global statement. But like the Dickensian dystopia it evokes, it is also particular to a place and time – Port Talbot, a town situated hard against the Tata Steel mill on Wales’ southwest coast.  People, especially those of us who define what healthy buildings and healthy products are, have a right, and an obligation, to know where building products come from, and what life is like there.

Tom Lent Announces His Retirement After 18 Years of Leadership and Friendship

Bill Walsh | December 2018 | Newsletter

A letter from Bill Walsh, Founder and Board President, and Gina Ciganik, CEO

With our deepest appreciation and respect, we announce that Tom Lent has decided to retire at the end of the year after 18 years as Healthy Building Network’s policy director and, most recently, senior advisor. In our very first year, Tom worked side by side with HBN founder Bill Walsh to create our programs, tools, policies, and, most importantly, the spirit that is HBN.

Tom has served on virtually every significant advisory body in the green building industry, influencing the evolution of building rating systems including LEED, Living Building Challenge, and Green Communities Criteria; product certifications including Cradle to Cradle and Living Product Challenge; and the Green Screen chemical hazard assessments. Just a few highlights from his HBN career give you a sense of his impact.

The Not So Secret Formula: a Major Milestone for Transparency?

Bill Walsh | December 2018 | Newsletter

Did you know that the first ingredient listed in many name-brand infant formulas is corn syrup? I learned this during a late-night run to CVS in search of a post-Thanksgiving feast for my infant granddaughter. Her mother, my daughter, admonished me, “Make sure you read the label; no corn syrup.” In the end, she came with me. Just to make sure.  

That got me thinking about how far the building industry lags behind the sort of basic transparency we expect in virtually every other aspect of our lives, and how the recent Greenbuild announcement by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Health Product Declaration Collaborative (HPDC) could change that. 

From Climate Change to Health: Material Selection Has Never Been More Important

Bill Walsh | November 2018 | Newsletter

With apologies to T.S. Eliot, October was the “cruellest month.” On October 7, 2018, the global scientific consensus on climate change was revised by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to conclude that catastrophic climate disaster is irrefutably underway and requires a level of “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”

Five days later, the world pumped more oil and petroleum liquids than ever before. And the International Energy Agency forecast that “the largest driver of world oil demand” will soon be petrochemicals, led by plastic materials. Building materials are the second-largest use of plastics after packaging.

NOMA Panel Addresses the Role of Race in Pollution Exposure

Bill Walsh | November 2018 | Newsletter

Last month, HBN Board Member Brad Grant moderated a panel at NOMA Unbounded, the annual conference of the National Organization of Minority Architects. The panel coincided with recent studies by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that found race, more than poverty, was most closely associated with the heaviest pollution exposure from the fossil fuel industry; and a National Academy of Sciences report that found blacks and Hispanics endure greater exposure to toxics from industrial facilities, while gaining fewer jobs from those facilities than white populations. How can we close these gaps?

Now That We See, What Will We Do About Fly Ash?

Bill Walsh | October 2018 | Newsletter

When celebrated Victorian painter Edward Burne-Jones learned that a favorite pigment—it was called Mummy Brown—was in fact manufactured from the desecrated Egyptian dead, he banished it from his palette and bore his remaining tubes to a solemn burial in his English garden. Once you know better, you have to do better. Transparency in the supply chain can reveal inconvenient truths about favored products. Take the fly ash that’s used to gain recycled content credit in LEED and the Living Building Challenge . . . .

Look for us at NOMA Unbounded, October 17-20

Bill Walsh | October 2018 | Newsletter

HBN Board Member Brad Grant will lead an expert panel on environmental health and justice at NOMA Unbounded, the annual convention of the National Association of Minority Architects to be held in Chicago, October 17-20. Grant, a professor of architecture at Howard University, will be joined by award winning architects Roberta Washington and Tony Crusor, HBN Founder Bill Walsh, and Cecil Corbin Mark, Deputy Director of the West Harlem Environmental Action Group (WEACT). They’ll discuss Materials Composition, The Design Process and Human Health, Welfare, and Environmental Justice.

Learn more about the conference and schedule

The High Cost of Cheap PVC

Bill Walsh | September 2018 | Newsletter

Healthier, more sustainable alternatives have a hard time competing with a PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic industry that is not held accountable for the costs of its environmental and human health impacts. These costs are paid by people like Delma and Christine Bennet, of Mossville, LA.

Learn more about the implications of chlorine as a feedstock in plastics in our Chlorine and Building Materials report.