Why Materials?

It all starts with people and where we build our lives.  When our buildings get healthier, so do we.

Our wellbeing begins where we live our lives—in schools and offices, in sports stadiums and shopping malls, in the places where we give birth, eat, sleep, wake and celebrate. The health of our buildings directly affects our own health.

The EPA estimates that people spend up to 90% of their time in buildings. Buildings are built almost entirely with materials that are synthetic, chemically processed or treated. Designers, builders and building owners often don’t know what building materials are made from and only learn about health concerns after a project is completed. HBN is changing this.

Every construction project is a new opportunity to get buildings healthier. In the United States alone, over 300 million people live, work, and play in five million commercial buildings. Increasingly buildings are being judged on how well they contribute to people’s health and wellbeing. We’re helping the building industry learn how to make buildings healthy.

Buildings with orange endpoint icons

Office building hallway with windows

Wellbeing starts when we know what we’re building with.  The chemicals in building materials are as invisible as greenhouse gases and can be equally harmful.


The materials we build with can affect our wellbeing as much as the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. For the most part, we can’t see the toxic chemicals that leak into our indoor air.

Most chemicals used in building products are not tested for their impact on human health. We may assume everyday building products won’t harm us, but we still can’t reliably know that they won’t.

Healthy environments start when people can make healthy choices.
When people have a way to identify healthier buildings, they’ll choose them.


We spend billions on organic foods, safer cleaning products and healthier cosmetics because when we have a choice, we choose healthy.

For years, the chemical composition of most buildings products—from concrete to carpet—has been kept secret. Not even the manufacturer always knows that hazardous ingredients are present. Without full disclosure, it has been virtually impossible for anyone— builders, architects, specifiers and building owners—to know which building products contain materials that are potentially harmful to health.

Hospital hallway


The Pharos Project enables people to make healthier, more informed choices.


Now there’s a tool that enables people to make healthier, more informed choices—HBN’s Pharos Project. The Pharos Project offers in-depth independent analysis and information on more than 1,600 building products and 34,000 chemicals. It is a web-based materials evaluation tool that helps building owners, product manufacturers and designers avoid chemical hazards in building materials.

By using HBN’s Pharos Project, decision-makers can reduce risk by identifying products with suspect chemicals, avoiding products known or suspected to impact health and substituting healthier choices. The upshot: the market chooses healthier alternatives and everyone benefits, including the fence-line communities that feel the toxic fallout first.

We’re reaching critical mass, with more global decision-makers making healthier building products a priority.  Commercial buying power can bring about rapid change on a large scale.


We began our environmental justice work in communities that abut factory fencelines, where levels of cancer and asthma are highest. The health of a building affects not just its occupants but also those who work and live where toxic chemicals are created and where they end up. By bringing the consciousness of fence-line communities into the boardroom, we can accelerate large-scale change and eliminate these health hazards for everyone.

And we can encourage manufacturers to find superior alternatives to the toxic chemicals for which demand is diminishing. Using market-based campaigns, we’re creating new incentives for manufacturers to make healthier products. HBN’s investigative research is dedicated to revealing the contents of building materials so that healthier choices become clear.


A healthy planet starts with healthy communities. The day is coming when every community can insist on healthy buildings.


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